The race is on: Snowmaking operations begin at Arapahoe Basin and Loveland Ski Area
September 26, 2017
Each year, there's a friendly competition between Summit County's two highest ski areas, Arapahoe Basin and Loveland, for who will start snowmaking first.
This year, it was a tie, and an early one at that. Snow guns at both ski areas started blasting late Sunday and into the wee hours of Monday morning, getting a jump on what some forecasters predict could be a good year for snow and possibly bouncing back from last season's sluggish start.
"In the last couple of years we haven't started till October, so we're excited to get a little bit of an early start this year," said Loveland Ski Area spokesman John Sellers. "We had snow all the way down even at the base area over the weekend, so our elevation certainly helps and makes it a little easier for us to make snow."
A-Basin started snowmaking just after 8 p.m. Sunday and kept the guns spraying for more than 12 hours.
"According to our snowmaking team, the first night was wildly successful in terms of both weather and output," said Arapahoe Basin Ski Area spokeswoman Adrienne Saia Isaac. "Our plan is to continue snowmaking tonight as long as the weather cooperates, and then to keep an eye on temperatures for the rest of the week."
Last season, A-Basin didn't start snowmaking until Oct. 3, and the lifts weren't spinning until Oct. 21. It takes about two weeks of optimal snowmaking to build a skiable base, Isaac said, although natural snow moves the process along much faster.
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Unlike other ski areas in Summit County, Loveland and A-Basin don't schedule opening days, opting instead to fire up the lifts as soon as the first runs are skiable.
A-Basin boasts having been the first ski area to open in Colorado every season since 2011-12 except for 2015, when it tied with Loveland.
"We've got a friendly competition going, but we're always just trying to get open as quickly as we can," Sellers said. "As soon as we have an 18-inch base and tree-to-tree coverage on our top-to-bottom runs, we'll fire up the lifts."
In Eagle County, Vail is slated to open for the season Nov. 17, and Beaver Creek plans to open Nov. 22.
Slightly lower down in Summit County, Copper Mountain got its own dusting of snow over the weekend, but snowmaking operations weren't slated until early October, a spokeswoman said.
Copper's opening day is tentatively scheduled for Nov. 10, along with Breckenridge Ski Resort and Keystone Ski Resort.
Unseasonably warm temperatures last year forced all of those resorts to push their opening days to Nov. 18 and 19.
The early start to snowmaking this year is a good sign, but forecasters caution against any long-term predictions about snow.
"In a nutshell, long-range forecasts that attempt to predict snow three to six months away are not useful because they are rarely accurate and, even if they are accurate in saying that we'll have above-average or below-average snowfall, they can't tell us when the snow will fall during the season," meteorologist Joel Gratz of OpenSnow.com said in early September.
Still, some very rough predictions suggest Colorado could be in for an average or above-average snow year.
The Farmer's Almanac, which came out in September and has been published annually since 1792, predicted the Intermountain Region from Arizona to Washington could get a colder, wetter winter.
The El-Nino Southern Oscillation, a fluctuation in ocean temperatures that can alter regional climate patterns, could also deliver some above-average precipitation this year, some meteorologists say.
Regardless, snowmaking teams will be pushing hard to be the first to get runs skier-ready. Sellers said that for Loveland, that mark is an 18-inch base and tree-to-tree coverage.
"We're always working hard to get open as quickly as we can," he said. "We're waiting until we have that deep base and tree-to-tree coverage on our top-to-bottom run before we turn our lifts, and if that turns out it's earlier than all the better. We're just trying to get open as soon as we can for all of the anxious skier and riders that waited through another long, warm summer."