By: Joshua Lenahan, Practicum Reporter
Blue Sky Basin at Vail opened Nov. 29this year – more than a month earlier than last year. Aspen Highlands had the earliest opening since 1992. As of Nov. 9, the Loveland Ski Area had had the best opening in its 81-year history, passing the 10-foot mark before December. Breckenridge had fewer than five runs open this time last year; now nearly 100 percent of the runs are open.
“It’s absolutely dumping, and has been since October,” said a 10-year ski patrol veteran at Copper Mountain. “It doesn’t even compare to last year and we’re loving it.”
The heavy snowfall seems to have caught every major ski area in the state. The totals are nothing short of jarring compared to last season’s snow tally.
Keeping in mind the records that so many ski resorts are reporting, how good is this season? How does it compare to normal years (surely, the totals could feel exaggerated when compared to last year’s extreme lack of snow)?
Well, Colorado is still in a drought, but it’s beginning to catch up. With 20 percent of the state, mostly in the Southwest, in extreme drought, according to the National Integrated Drought Information System, there’s a lot of catching up that needs to be done. Vail has the most ski terrain open than any resort in North America right now with 4,200 acres in total, and they’re considered to be in a severe drought.
The high snowfall totals were only one piece to the puzzle that is this season. Consistent cold temperatures has kept the snow on the ground and blessed snowmakers with ideal snowmaking conditions. Snowmakers were able to blow snow to form safe bases for early season skiing. Some high winds earlier in the season helped pack down the snow and form a base for the areas that snowmakers can’t get to. This was important for places like A-basin, which rely heavily on natural snowfall instead of man-made snow. It also helped the higher and harder-to-access terrain elsewhere.
Early-season starts are heralded not only by ski resorts, but other businesses too. Restaurants, ski shops, dispensaries and hotels benefit from the massive flocks of tourists.
This season hasn’t been without challenges, however. A heavy early-season snowfall also means heavy early-season avalanches. With avalanches being reported as early as mid-October, the mountains aren’t messing around this season. Additionally, good ski conditions bring tourists, which means traffic, which means accidents. Mid-November brought its fair share of accidents on I-70, but the worst was a multi-car pile up that resulted in four tragic deaths.
With snow totals piling up fast, resorts are opening new terrain and new lifts, and new skiing opportunities are being offered. The Alterra Mountain Co. introduced the Ikon Pass, a new all-season option for riders, and coincidentally picked what most might consider the best season in years to do so.