Skiing at Aspen and Snowmass may still be nearly two months away but ski season itself is literally right around the corner as fresh snow fell across the central Colorado Rockies this week and several nearby ski areas started snowmaking operations.
Copper Mountain cranked up its snow guns on Tuesday, followed by both Arapahoe Basin and Loveland on Wednesday night. A-Basin and Loveland typically battle to be the first to open in the state, and A-Basin won the race the last two seasons in mid-October.
Copper Mountain, isn’t scheduled to open until Halloween on Friday, Oct. 31 — the same day as Keystone — but top U.S. Ski Team athletes will likely start training before then on the U.S. Ski Team Speed Center at Copper Mountain in preparation for the regular World Cup season and the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships to be held at Beaver Creek Feb. 2-15.
Aspen will host women’s World Cup racing action again this season after a one-year hiatus. Both Aspen Mountain and Snowmass are set to open to the public on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 27, and the best female racers in the world will mix it up that weekend at Aspen, with the Aspen Winternational giant slalom on Saturday, Nov. 29, and the slalom on Sunday, Nov. 30.
This could be the season an American woman breaks the Aspen drought for U.S. winners. Eagle-Vail’s Mikaela Shiffrin, coming off a gold medal in slalom and a fifth-place finish in GS at the Sochi Winter Olympics, should be in top form. It remains to be seen if Vail’s Lindsey Vonn, who sat out most of last season with a knee injury, will participate in the physically demanding tech events, which kick off the World Cup season with women’s and men’s GS races in Soelden, Austria, Oct. 25-26.
Copper once again will introduce the full roster of Olympic medalists and World Champion alpine skiers while hosting the First Tracks Alpine Team Naming on Saturday, Nov. 8.
The top American men, including past winners and Olympic gold medalists Bode Miller and Ted Ligety, will be on display at Beaver Creek Dec. 5-7 during the Birds of Prey men’s World Cup races.
Recreational skiers only have to wait a couple more weeks to start taking turns at either A-Basin, Loveland or both.
“We are off to a terrific start,” A-Basin COO Alan Henceroth wrote Thursday morning on his blog. “The temps starting dropping just after dark [Wednesday] night and the crew fired up. The overnight low was about 20 F at mid-mountain.
“For a few hours we had the system operating at maximum capacity. I walked Lower High Noon already [Thursday] morning. In addition to what the snowmakers produced, there is a fair bit of natural stuff on the ground. Let’s hope the forecast for a couple more cold nights holds true. Good, good, good start.”
Loveland sent out a press release Thursday saying it had received 7 inches of new snow the last three days and that crews cranked up 17 snowmaking guns overnight Wednesday into Thursday morning.
Crews began making snow on the Catwalk and Mambo trails at the top of Chair 1 at 7 p.m Wednesday. Snowmaking crews will work their way down Catwalk and Mambo to Home Run, covering this top-to-bottom run with tree-to-tree coverage for opening day in mid-October.
“Our first night of snowmaking was very productive,” said Bobby Babeon, trail maintenance and snowmaking manager. “Mother Nature got us off to a good start and our team is ready to finish the job. We will keep making snow around the clock as conditions permit and the slopes should be ready for the first skiers and riders in just a few weeks.”
It typically takes about two weeks for Loveland’s snowmakers to cover the 1,000-vertical-foot run with an 18-inch base for opening day. Last season Loveland started making snow on September 27.
A-Basin cranked up its lifts on Oct. 13 last year and Oct. 17 the year before. Loveland followed closely behind on Oct. 17 and Oct. 23.
“While most people dream of a white Christmas, here at Loveland we are focused on a white October,” said John Sellers, marketing director. “The natural snow we received gave us a bit of a head start this year and now our expert snowmakers are chipping in to prepare the slopes for opening day. We look forward to starting up the lifts for all the skiers and snowboarders that have patiently made it through another long summer.”
Meteorologist Joel Gratz of Opensnow.com is calling for a drying trend for the next week after several days of snowy weather.
“About 4-6 inches of snow fell on Wednesday and Wednesday night and the mountains are white as the sun rises on Thursday morning,” Gratz wrote Thursday. “Expect dry weather for 7 days with the next chance for snow/rain around Thursday or Friday October 9/10.”
Breckenridge and Wolf Creek (tentatively) are scheduled to open on Friday, Nov. 7, Vail on Friday, Nov. 21, and Beaver Creek the day before Thanksgiving on Wednesday, Nov. 26. Buttermilk and Aspen Highlands both open on Dec. 13.