The Race for First Lift: Ski Season Opens

The race to open first is on. And the winner for the 2016-17 ski season is … A-Basin. Here’s how the snow contest progressed.

Every year in the fall, skiers and snowboarders across Colorado place bets, do snow dances and dust off their gear, preparing to drop everything and hit the slopes at a moment’s notice. The question worth all the planning and wagering is this: where to go?

Firing up the lifts for the masses at a ski resort is a bit of a gamble in and of itself. Ski areas have to pay attention to fickle storm fronts and temperatures to make sure they have a deep enough base of snow to open and stay open for the season. Natural snow is usually flying up high, but getting enough to open early requires a human hand. And snowmaking can only occur when the mercury dips.

Resorts like Copper, Loveland and Arapahoe Basin were able to fire up the snow guns in early October this year. But as recently as Oct. 16, meteorologist Joel Gratz of snow prediction site OpenSnow wrote, “Temperatures have been 10-20 degrees warmer than average during the last few days, so there hasn’t been much progress when it comes to snowmaking.”

But Adrienne Saia Isaac, marketing and communications manager at Arapahoe Basin, says it best: “If the Colorado weather decides to go full winter, things will happen fast.”

Snow + Adrenaline = Good Times

Colorado skiers have a mixed relationship with snowmaking. On one hand, snowmaking allows resorts to open earlier than nature would allow, and skiing earlier is awesome. On the other hand, the result of preseason snowmaking can be as risky as it is exhilarating.

There’s a reason why skiers have affectionately nicknamed the first run to open the “White Ribbon of Death.” Those first snow-blanketed strips tend to be flanked by exposed rocks, trees or barren hillsides. It can feel like half of Denver has heard the call and lurched west on I-70, leaving behind a collective trail of stoke, saliva and Subaru sludge like a high-alpine slug. And all those frothing skiers and riders are confined to that same single slope. It’s not a place for newbies, who are liable to be passed like slow-moving slalom flags.

If you’ve ever been to an opening day in Colorado, then you know two things:

  1. The odds of ending your season early have never been higher.
  2. It’s really, really freakin’ fun.

Good times abound. Skiers who have been dreaming of returning to the resort since the chairs closed in spring wait for the historic first chair. Partygoers don costumes. Beers flow well before 5. The shared sense of stoke runs free and fast. Opening day is more than a day of skiing or riding; it’s a rite of passage and a celebration that snow days are here again.

arapahoe basin opening day ski season 2016
A-Basin ready to open 2016. Photo by Dave Camara.

The Winner Is…

So what resort will cut the ribbon first? This year it will be A-Basin, opening its intermediate High Noon trail via the Black Mountain Express lift Friday, Oct. 21. The Legend will claim the title for its fifth year running, sharing honors last season with cross-range rival Loveland.

“This is going to be a tremendous start to the ski season at Arapahoe Basin and in the state of Colorado,” says Alan Henceroth, Arapahoe Basin CEO, in a press release. “We’ve been fortunate to have optimal conditions for our snowmaking team to get a base on the High Noon trail, and offer our guests skiing and snowboarding in October.”

Release the powder hounds! Ski and snow season is here!

Opening Day History

In the race to Opening Day, Loveland leads the overall pack with 22 of the earliest opening days since 1982, according to information from Colorado Ski USA. While A-Basin has had more luck in recent years, it’s actually Keystone who is in second historically, with nine of the earliest Colorado opening days.

Earliest Opening: Oct. 6th, 1985, Loveland

Latest First Opening: Nov. 3, 1992, Loveland and Keystone

Last Year: Oct. 29, 2015, Loveland and A-Basin


Other Pre-Thanksgiving Openings 2016

Loveland: late October
Keystone: Nov. 4
Wolf Creek: Nov. 4
Breckenridge: Nov. 11
Copper: Nov. 11
Winter Park: Nov. 16
Eldora: Nov. 18
Vail: Nov. 18
Purgatory: Nov. 19
Beaver Creek: Nov. 23
Steamboat: Nov. 23
Aspen: Nov. 24
Crested Butte: Nov. 24
Snowmass: Nov. 24
Telluride: Nov. 24

snowboarders opening day ski season arapahoe basin 2015
A-Basin Opening Day 2015. Photo by Dave Camara.

Snow Trackers

Want to track snowmaking, forecasts and powder totals?

A-Basin: Pay attention to Al’s Blog for comprehensive updates.

Loveland: Odds are, Loveland will be next to open. Track the snowmaking progress with lots of photos here.

OpenSnow’s Colorado Daily Snow: Arguably the best snow predictions in the game with statewide daily forecasts that dive into everything from storm potential to snowmaking temperatures. If you’re a skier in Colorado, you should probably just make OpenSnow your browser’s homepage.



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