The Race to Open – Checking in with Loveland and Arapahoe Basin

on October 6 | in Uncategorized | by | with No Comments

Opening Day 2016 at Arapahoe Basin.

Opening Day 2016 at Arapahoe Basin.

Every fall, there comes a moment when you can detect a certain something in the air. It’s magical mixture of frost, wet leaves, and cold air, maybe a little wood smoke. I’m telling you, I can smell winter coming, and when I do, I get a little flutter in my belly. Ski season is upon us.

Up in the mountains, marketing directors at ski areas must be getting that little flutter, too. Especially at Arapahoe Basin and Loveland. The two Colorado ski areas battle it out annually to be in the Race to Open. (It’s a thing on Twitter. Follow along with the hashtag #racetoopen for pics and videos of snowmaking and lacy white ribbons of snow through stands of yellow aspen.)

While the list of opening dates are set for most Colorado resorts (see the list here), A-Basin and Loveland are currently listing nebulous “mid-October” opening dates. The race to open is especially exciting this year given the early snow. The earliest first openings in recent memory were October 7, 2009 for Loveland and October 10, 2007 for A-Basin.

Wolf Creek, which is advertising a November 3 opening for the 2017-18 season, is the wild card. Occasionally a big three-foot dump blankets Wolf Creek, and it’ll open first, scooping A-Basin and Loveland for “First-to-Open” bragging rights. That’s what happened in 2011, when the lifts started spinning at Wolf Creek on October 8. And it wasn’t just a ribbon of man-made snow. Skiers and riders that day had a full-on powder day, kicked off with the telltale rumble of avalanche bombs detonating above.

Opening Day 2011 at Wolf Creek. Photo by Scott Smith.

Opening Day 2011 at Wolf Creek. Photo by Scott Smith.

So who will open first? “It’s neck and neck,” says Adrienne Saia Isaac, marketing & communications manager for A-Basin. “We’re all working hard to open, but we can’t control the weather. Another mountain could get three feet of snow, and they’ll scoop both of us. It’s up to mother nature.” Right, but is the competition to be first cutthroat? No, says Isaac. “We all want to get open first, and there’s some good-natured ribbing that goes back and forth, but at the end of the day, we’re all in this industry together. If people are skiing in Colorado, that’s good.”

As of last Friday, 19 inches have fallen at A-Basin and 17 at Loveland, with a couple more inches of snow falling over the weekend. “Mother nature has made it clear that winter is coming,” says Isaac. A-Basin plans to have the High Noon trail open top-to-bottom for opening day with an 18-inch base on Day 1. “People should start waxing their stuff. Opening day is going to come soon!”

Things are looking promising at Loveland, too. To complement the natural snowfall, the snowmaking crew is hard at work. “We won’t open till we have an 18-inch base and tree-to-tree coverage. On opening day we will offer skiers and riders a top-to-bottom run off Lift 1 that is over a mile in length and nearly 1,000 vertical feet,” says John Sellers Marketing & Communications Director at Loveland. “We’ve had 17 inches in the last couple days. Last year, we didn’t get snow like this till mid-December. To have a full-on winter storm in early October is definitely a big help.”

Opening Day 2010 at Loveland Ski Area. Photo by Jack Dempsey.

Opening Day 2010 at Loveland Ski Area. Photo by Jack Dempsey.

“Natural snow really helps set us up for a long season,” says Isaac. The early snow will likely mean the resort can get more terrain open faster in those early months of the season. “We’re consistently making snow, so natural snow can cause a domino effect of opening new terrain.”  Plus the new snow gets everybody pumped up. “I know I was stoked when I saw fresh snow on the deck.”

What Isaac loves most about opening day is the vibe. “There’s this crew from the Vail Valley that comes over every year for opening day,” she says. “It’s cool to see such dedicated skiers and riders who just want to get out on the hill. Everyone is optimistic. It’s electric.”

There’s that same buzz at Loveland, which sends out a press release to announce opening day, usually no more than 48 hours prior to opening. A cadre of diehards will mobilize quickly and camp out in the Loveland parking lot, jockeying for that very first chair. “They sleep in their cars and their vans or drive up in the early hours,” says Sellers. “Sometimes they’ll dress up and get festive. People are so excited for the first turns of the season.”

Here’s a look at who’s taken “First to Open” honors since the year 2000. Sunday River snuck onto the list with an early opening on October 22, 2010. It was a rare day when Eastern skiers could make turns and leaf peep at the same time. Some question whether the record stands, given that the resort closed after the weekend when warmer weather moved in. No matter what’s on the record books, skiing in October is always a treat.

Resort Date Opened
Arapahoe Basin

10/21/16

Arapahoe Basin/Loveland

10/29/15

Arapahoe Basin

10/17/14

Arapahoe Basin

10/13/13

Arapahoe Basin

10/17/12

Wolf Creek

10/8/11

Sunday River ME

2010

Loveland

10/24/10

Loveland

10/7/09

Arapahoe Basin / Loveland

10/15/08

Arapahoe Basin

10/10/07

Arapahoe Basin

10/13/06

Loveland

10/14/05

Loveland

10/14/04

Loveland

10/23/03

Loveland

10/17/02

Loveland

10/18/01

Loveland

10/21/00

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