Vail’s ski season opens Friday with one run
Aspen, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colo. ” Ski patroller Julie Rust’s skis interrupt the uniform corduroy stripes down Born Free on Colorado’s Vail Mountain as she comes to a swift stop next to some barriers, where another patroller is setting up boundaries in the pristine snow.
It’s quiet on Thursday, except for the distant vibrations of snowguns, the occasional snowmobile carrying members of the mountain crew, or the passing snowcat lumbering down the mountain.
Skiers and snowboarders will show up Friday for the mountain’s 46th opening day to humming chairlifts and carefully groomed runs ” an end product resulting from days of behind-the-scenes work, nights of snowmaking and hours of slope sculpting by snowcats.
“It really is quite a bit of work to get this place running, and I think a lot of people take it for granted,” said Rust, the head of Vail Ski Patrol. “It’s an absolute science what these guys do with the snowmaking and grooming. Then we protect the perimeters and make sure people are safe.”
Friday Vail opens with one run, Born Free, accessible by Chair 8 out of Lionshead. Beginner terrain at Eagle’s Nest will also be open, accessible by the Eagle Bahn Gondola and Chair 15.
Rust knows the mountain, especially Born Free ” the trail opening Friday ” after 27 seasons at Vail. Still, opening day is always an exciting time for the mountain staff, who are always eager to get back on the slopes, she said.
“(Opening day) is absolutely exciting. There’s a sense of purpose, of working hard and having fun,” Rust said. “I’m thrilled (to be back on the mountain). What can be better? We’re skiing again.”
They’re skiing for sure ” and busy roping off boundaries, dragging rescue toboggans up the mountain, and stocking stations with medical equipment.
The team members, many who are longtime ski patrol veterans, have been practicing for the season, said Billy Mattison, ski patrol supervisor.
Over the past week, the patrol has been doing avalanche rescue drills, evacuating lifts and “searching” for missing skiers, he said.
Thursday morning, the patrol arrived at about 6:30 a.m. to comb over the place one last time, and over the next few days after the mountain opens, the patrol will scout and ski other potential areas ready for the public.
Rust cast a practiced eye over the mountain side covered with firm snow. Sure, there are some seasons that the ropes come down on acres on acres of terrain, she said, but this amount of snow is pretty typical for most years.
Since Nov. 1, Paul Fillion’s snowmaking crews have been at work around the clock right up until last night, spraying powder whenever the temperatures drop below freezing.
The pleasant weather ” sunny and in the high 30s ” before opening wasn’t good for snowmaking, but Fillion, director of mountain operations, said the cold spells earlier in the month really helped them make a good snow base.
“For sure there are nights that we’ve been struggling, but we’ve had some good nights recently, a couple million-gallon nights,” he said, referring to the amount of snow produced.
He said he thinks his crew of 35 snowmakers and about 90 snow cat operators are ahead of where they were opening day of last year.
Powder might be scarce on opening day, he admited, but all the open runs have “good, solid snow.”
With Born Free successfully opened, the crews will move onto getting a terrain park open and moving snow to the bottom of other nearly-ready runs.
“We just get ready and prepared for the next snowstorm. We’re waiting,” Fillion said. “The excitement builds when opening day gets closer. I think we all live for that. Let’s get the show on the road.”
Lines may be forming Friday at Chair 8, but on Thursday, the lift operators were manning mostly passengerless chairs.
Lift Operations Manager Steve Johnson said his staff of 45 lift operators, which will grow to about 90 by Christmas, were ready for opening day after about a week of classroom, lift training and ramp building.
The lift staff more than many other mountain crews tend to have new workers, and in the past, getting a full staff has been a challenge, Johnson said.
This year, however, he hasn’t had trouble hiring workers, he said. With the early-season excitement, it isn’t difficult to get things done on the mountain, he said, guesturing to the pleasantly sunny mountainside.
The crew is glad to be on the slopes, and when he tells someone to do something, it gets done, Johnson said with a grin.
“They were really excited to get out (on the snow) after being cooped up in a classroom,” he said. “This year more than in the past there’s a great deal of excitement. These guys are really fired up.”
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