Cold weather is finally moving back into Colorado’s high country this week, just in time for crews at Aspen to begin full-scale snowmaking efforts for the return of the Aspen Winternational women’s World Cup races Nov. 29-30.
It’s been a challenging early season so far for Colorado’s ski industry, with balmy fall temperatures and a lack of precipitation. But that all changed on Monday with an Arctic blast dipping south and more ski areas set to come online.
Both Keystone and Copper Mountain opened with limited terrain on Friday, and Wolf Creek was open for weekend skiing. All three joined Arapahoe Basin and Loveland ski areas – typically the first to open in the state.
This week, Winter Park, originally scheduled to open on Wednesday, has pushed back opening day till Saturday. Breckenridge, which delayed its scheduled Nov. 7 opening, announced on Tuesday that it will open for the season on Friday.
Meteorologist Joel Gratz of Opensnow.com isn’t calling for huge additional snow totals this week, but any little bit – along with a plunge in temps – will help at this point. Gratz predicted 2 to 4 inches would fall Monday, followed by another 3 to 6 on Thursday and another 2 to 4 Saturday – all accompanied by colder temperatures more conducive to snowmaking.
Monday’s forecast was pretty close, with A-Basin receiving 4 new, Copper Mountain 5, Keystone 6 and Loveland 7.
Aspen Mountain and Snowmass, which are scheduled to open on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, Nov. 27, also got a shot of new snow Monday. The best women’s World Cup ski racers will be in town Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 29-30, for slalom and giant slalom action.
Race favorite Mikaela Shiffrin, of Eagle-Vail, has been training at Copper Mountain since Nov. 1. She could be coming into Aspen on an early-season win streak after winning last month’s season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria. The defending Olympic slalom champion is a heavy favorite in Saturday’s slalom opener at Levi, Finland, before the World Cup circuit returns to Aspen Thanksgiving weekend.
“It’s pretty spectacular to get my first GS win of my career,” Shiffrin said Saturday. “To do it the first race of the season was even better because I definitely have more confidence going into the season now.”
Vail’s Lindsey Vonn, still on the comeback trail after a 2013 knee injury, most likely won’t be in Aspen.
“My knee is doing really well. Training has been going extremely well. I don’t have any pain or swelling, so that’s definitely a lot better than I had actually anticipated,” Vonn said Saturday. “My goal is still to start racing in Lake Louise [in early December]. To be honest, I wasn’t really expecting GS to be coming along as quickly as it has.
“I definitely have to ski on some different snow conditions, some injections and see where I stand. But if things continue to go as they are now, then I think I need to reconsider my schedule for the season and possibly start skiing GS earlier than I had expected. I am leaving everything open, but it is not likely that I will be racing in Aspen.”
The new snow and colder temps are great news at Copper Mountain and on Vail’s Golden Peak, where U.S. and other national team athletes are trying to get in early season training for upcoming World Cup races and the 2015 World Championships Feb. 2-15 at Beaver Creek.
The U.S. Ski Team named its alpine team for the coming season Saturday at Copper. In seasons past, the Copper Mountain Speed Center offered top-to-bottom speed-event training. This early season has been very different.
“We’ve been very lucky in the past years,” giant slalom standout Tim Jitloff said at Copper on Friday. “The training facility we have at Copper has been fully open. We’ve been able to run full-length downhill and super-G. Unfortunately, this year Mother Nature had different ideas and that’s totally OK. That happens and we’ve got to roll with it.”
Jitloff, of Reno, Nev., is coming off a very promising season in which he tied a career World Cup personal best with a fifth in a GS at Alta Badia, Italy. He was also 15th in the GS at the Sochi Winter Olympics and finished in the points with a 26th-place result in the season-opening GS at Soelden, Austria, last month. He seems poised for a breakout season.
“We do have the training opportunities on the very top [at Copper Mountain],” Jitloff said. “We’re able to utilize that for slalom and giant slalom currently, and hopefully in the next few days as they’re able to make more snow we’ll be able to run super-G and downhill as well.”
Crews will also be looking to blast snow at Vail’s Golden Peak – a prime technical event (slalom, GS) training facility that typically opens to the U.S. Ski Team and other clubs prior to the public opening of Vail Mountain on Friday, Nov. 21. Beaver Creek is scheduled to open the day before Thanksgiving on Wednesday, Nov. 26.