Vail’s lift-line woes over weekend on heels of historic powder conditions
Vail Mountain enjoyed one of its top-five snow events on record from Thursday to Saturday.
All told, the mountain recorded 38 inches at Patrol Headquarters during a 48-hour period between Thursday and Saturday. Much of the mountain’s 5,300 acres were closed during the weather event, as ski patrol worked to mitigate avalanche danger. Vail’s Blue Sky Basin has yet to open following the blizzard.
“We want to thank everyone for skiing and riding with us as we dig out from this historic storm,” said John Plack, Senior Communications Manager at Vail. “Mountain Operations is hard at work mitigating terrain risks, and we want to remind everyone to stay out of closed terrain.”
Plack said skiers and snowboarders can anticipate more terrain openings on Sunday as ski patrol continues to mitigate the risks associated with the heavy snowfall.
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The lift closures caused crowds to funnel at the base areas in epic proportions on Friday and Saturday.
Friday’s scene at the base of Gondola One instantly went viral on social media, with national outlets sharing an Instagram post that showed a massive line of skiers and snowboarders stretching out of the maze and up the slope.
Vail acknowledged the situation, saying it was 10 a.m. before things finally dispersed at the base area on Friday.
“It’s a Herculean effort to dig out lifts and ensure terrain is safe when there is this much snow,” Beth Howard, Vail Mountain COO said on Friday.
Despite the fact that Vail Pass was closed due to avalanche mitigation, skiers and snowboarders still hit the slopes in big numbers.
In Vail, as 152 cars spilled out of the structures Friday and received free parking on the Frontage Road. For reference, following snow during Vail’s big holiday week, on Dec. 27, 171 cars were parked on the Frontage Road. On Jan. 2, 402 cars spilled over, which was the most for the 2019-20 ski season, until Saturday.
Saturday’s total was 456 cars. And the morning liftlines corresponded.
As chair openings rolled out, the crowds dispersed all over Vail Mountain, and then regrouped in other places.
Pictures of enormous crowds at the bottoms of chairs 5 and 7 could be seen on social media throughout the day.
Readers using the #vaillive hashtag on Instagram kept us updated on the lift line statuses of High Noon Express and Game Creek Express on Saturday.
In addition to heavy crowds, the snow itself was heavy, as well. By Saturday afternoon, the thermometers were reading 45 degrees at base areas in Vail and Lionshead.
“Heaviest snow I’ve ever ridden in Vail,” said Chris Tierney, a former podium finisher in masters division snowboard cross racing. “The run I took was sick, but you have to point it and not stop.”
Additional video from Tierney shows the moments leading up to the rope drop at Sun Down Bowl, where an excited crowd earned some unforgettable turns.
After the busy morning, Vail stayed open a half hour later on Saturday for skiers and snowboarders looking to extend their day.
“We know everyone was excited to get out on the mountain, and as a thank you for your patience while we continue to open more terrain, we hope our guests enjoyed the extended lift operating hours on Saturday,” Howard said.
Vail Daily’s Digital Engagement Editor Sean Naylor contributed to this report.
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Wayne Hall took a job as an air traffic controller at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport in 2003 thinking he would stay for a short time. Instead he stayed for nearly 17 years and was promoted up to the position of air traffic manager. He reflected on the experience upon retirement.