Mountain-top skiing & riding on Memorial Day Weekend.
Most of this week has been cool and rainy in Boulder, meaning that winter is far from over in the high country. No one quite knows when Trail Ridge Road, the country’s highest continuously paved road, will be plowed out. Arapahoe Basin has announced a bonus weekend, June 9-11, and is being coy about possible open days beyond that. And that other rite of spring skiing continues as Aspen Mountain opens for skiing and riding Memorial Day Weekend, May 27-29.
The Silver Queen Gondola from the in-town base to the summit operates from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. for skiing and riding, and the Ajax Express chairlift runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for the season’s last laps on Aspen Mountain’s upper blue runs and such black runs as Summit and Blondie’s.
In addition to opening 130 acres of skiable terrain, Memorial Day Weekend marks the start of Aspen Mountain’s summer operations with access to sightseeing and food/beverage options at the Sundeck restaurant.
Norwegian ski champ & American ski legend left his mark.
The passing of Stein Eriksen, 1952 Olympic champion and 1954 three-time world champion from Norway, will be mourned by the entire skiing community. He was part of the growth of skiing in the U.S. in the go-go ’60s. He was ski school director or director of skiing at Boyne Mountain, Sugarbush, Aspen Highlands, Heavenly Valley, Snowmass, Park City and perhaps others I can’t recall.
In 1981, he joined Deer Valley, a new resort on the outskirts of Park City, Utah. No one will ever know what part his association with the resort played in its success, but it must have been considerable because the two were made for each other. The resort’s namesake Stein Eriksen Lodge is perpetually ranked as one of America’s top hotels for its location, elegance, service and cuisine. Stein remained as classy as the hotel named to honor him. He never wore a hat (and perhaps never a helmet either), and images of his full head of blond hair, Scandinavian sweaters and gracefully angulated, feet-together ski style epitomized his “Nordic god” image. He remained an elegant, gracious and classy icon of the sport.
In 2007, a day after celebrating his 80th birthday, he was injured in a collision with a 9-year-old resort visitor who reportedly “popped out of the trees” into Eriksen’s path. After surgeries related to that incident, he grew gaunt, and I frankly don’t know whether he continued to ski. Sadly, in 2013, he was hospitalized with some neurological issues. Even more sadly, Eriksen died on December 27 at the age of 88. He is survived by his wife Françoise and children Julianna, Ava, Anja, and Bjørn. Stein, Jr. predeceased his famous father. RIP.
Loveland and A-Basin tie for first-to-open honors.
Maybe I should have written, “Colorado Ski and Snowboard Season Kicks Off” because the riders on the first chairs at Loveland and Arapahoe Basin were snowboarders, though you can’t see that in this picture. Opening day is always exciting for snowsports lovers, even though these two areas on each side of Loveland Pass started, as the generally do, running just one lift and opening just one or perhaps a handful of runs.
The magic hour was 9 a.m. At Loveland, the first chair was appropriately Chair 1, delivering riders 1 to the top of the Catwalk, Mambo and Home Runtrails for a mile-long descent on 18 inches of packed powder. At Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, the Black Mountain Express high-speed quad chairlift unloaded snow riders to the top of the intermediate High Noon run. There’s been a lot of buzz about the potential for a strong El Niño weather pattern that historically meant a lot of snow. I’m hoping so.
Powderhorn Mountain Resort, on the north side of the Grand Mesa in western Colorado, has long seemed like an immutable ski area, few and infrequent changes. There was little need since the Mesa is the winter playground for the captive audience from the area around Grand Junction, which I think of as the capital of western Colorado. Now, it is due for some major upgrades — though, alas, lodging does not seem to be part of it.
Nearly four years after being purchased by Gart Capital Partners and Andy Daly, Powderhorn will be investing $5 million in the coming year to improve the slopes for winter and summer recreation. The big news is a Poma high-speed quad chairlift along the same alignment as the current Take Four lift to cut ride time and adding comfortable seats and footrests. The bottom terminal will be lowered by approximately eight feet for easier access to lift loading area. Also on the docket: additional snowmaking on the lower portion Bill’s Run, the intermediate trail for assure high-quality conditions on opening day in mid-December. The new quad will feature bike carriers to access the first phase of a comprehensive new mountain bike system.
For all sorts of reasons, what is not in the plan is additional lodging or anything resembling a village — just a mid-range condo development with a restaurant that is sometimes open, sometimes not. I love the notion of an upgraded lift along with base area improvements in the last few years, but using the word “Resort” as part of the name is really hyperbole. Grand Junction, with an abundance of affordable accommodations, is a doable commute, but it still doesn’t provide the feel of a ski destination.
My husband and I recently spent two days at Crested Butte — one on the mountain and one on the cross-country trails. Of course, we picked the wrong day for each version of the snowsliding sports.
On day one, with overcast skies, a lot of flat light, a bit of breeze and a need for new snow, we got on the chairlift and headed up the hill. It was not the best way to start 2015. We mostly skied the blues, sticking to the edges of the trails, and at certain spots on the mountain when the sky and the snow melded into one white sheet, we bailed for the greens when we could.
Wouldn’t you know it, but the next day was sunny and lovely. We had allocated for cross-country at the Crested Butte Nordic Center, and we stuck to our plan. Of course, it was delightful to be on the well-groomed trails and to stop at the congenial yurt. Usually, I say that I like cross-country and love Alpine, but my feelings were reversed this time. At Crested Butte, with a free bus connecting the venues for both, it’s easy to switch. I just wish we had done it the other way.
This time, rather than staying in town or on the mountain, we overnighted at the Inn at Tomichi Village in Gunnison, an easy commute by car or bus.
Smallest and oldest of the Banff area’s Ski Big 3 group.
Colorado’s Winter Park Resort is celebrating its 75th anniversary this season, but up north in Alberta, Mt. Norquay was a teenager when Winter Park was born. The ski area within Banff National Park is closer to its centennial than to its diamond jubilee as it launches its 89th season today. Earlier this month, the ground was bare, and Norquay actually pushed back its opening date. But that was then and this is now, and the season start is starting with an abundance of powder. The area reports that “snow has been falling continuously for the past 48 hours resulting in more than 45cm of accumulation.” That’s a foot and a half of snow.
Norquay is part of the Ski Big 3 consortium that promotes skiing in the Banff/Lake Louise area, markets a joint three-area lift ticket and operates free bus service between Banff and all three. Of the trio, Norquay is the smallest, oldest and closest to town. Many visitors focus on the enormous Lake Louise Resort and high-elevation Sunshine Village. This has given Norquay a reputation as a local’s favorite known for its flexibility and family-friendly services. And there are the eye-popping views — when it stops snowing, that is.
New this year are expansions of the beginner area within the extensive terrain park and the on-site tubing park. Located at the top of the North American Chair, the recently renovated historic Cliffhouse Bistro will open to skiers and sightseers alike on weekends and holidays throughout the season. Chef Morne Burger (isn’t that the best name for a chef?) will be serving up fresh flavors, craft brews and a unique wine list.
I have a framed “Colorado’s Lost Resorts” poster on my office wall. I enjoy looking at this Colorado Ski Country USA promotional item, because I do love ski trivia. There are 117 spots on the map, starting with Inspiration Point in Arvada and a couple of others that operated for a single winter before World War I to some that existed into the 1980s. Curiously missing are Berthoud Pass, Ski Broadmoor or Ski Hidden Valley/Ski Estes in Rocky Mountain National Park, which was still operating when I moved here in 1988.
Now I have another source that is more comprehensive than a poster could possibly be. A new book called Lost ski Areas of Colorado’s Front Range and Northern Mountainsby Caryn and Peter Boddie, both enthusiasts for Colorado skiing and Colorado ski history too. Printed on quality paper, it includes historic photos (both black and white and four-color), it is organized by county, with as much information as the authors could assemble about each ski venue. Sources include not only printed and online material, but also E-mail correspondence, personal interviews and reminiscences. When possible, they included GPS coordinates which help anyone who wants to locate a particular lost ski area. Some are easy to spot if you know where to look either for ghost trails or even building remains. Others are overgrown and exist primarily as dim memories.
The book is $19.99 and can be ordered online. The authors plan an additional volume covering the rest of the state. I’m already looking forward.
Colorado’s longest ski season getting longer than planned.
Arapahoe Basin is extending it season and offering top-to-bottom skiing. Nicknamed “The Legend,” the area on the west side of the Continental Divide is operating on three bonus weekends in June (June 6-8, June 13-15 and June 20-22, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays ONLY).
Arapahoe Basin ushered in the 2013-14 Colorado ski and ride season on October 13 and originally planned to close on June 1. But with 440 inches of snow, including 47 inches in May, there was no reason to stick to the scheduled closing date. This May, A-Basin had 15 days with measurable snowfall accumulations, totaling 47 inches of snow for the month.
During the bonus season (which the area refers to as Summer Season, though it doesn’t feel summery right now), the Black Mountain Express and Lenawee Mountain lifts run from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. All 2013-14 A-Basin season passes, the A-Basin Spring ’14 Pass and all Vail Resorts season passes good at A-Basin will be valid with no additional charge during the bonus weekends. Also, special two- and three-day tickets are available for the bonus weekends only. Purchase online or at the mountain. Two-day tickets are $72 for adults (ages 15+) and $50 for children (ages 6-14). Three-day tickets are $99 for adults (ages 15+) and $60 for children (ages 6-14). Guests can stay up-to-date on terrain, ticket pricing and skier services at A-Basin’s Summer Ski page.
A-Basin might even push the ski season to July 4, as it did 1993, 1995, 1996, 1997 and as recently as 2011.
Fantastic accumulations of snow make 2014 a winter to remember.
At the end of the day, no matter what else is involved, what makes for a fabulous ski season is abundant snow. This year, the Rockies have had it. I feel fortunate to live within a few hours’ drive of some of the best skiing on the planet, but I do have envy pangs when I think of vacationers or second-home owners in the high country who don’t have to do a same-day roundtrip, even though I never go on weekends and only ski on non-holiday weekdays. The flip side of has been challenging driving conditions. Much as the Colorado Department of Transportation works at keeping traffic moving, from aggressive plowing, chain laws for trucks and attempts to tinkering with traffic flow by various means, it’s often slow-going on Interstate 70. When I’ve been crawling along the highway after being delayed by an accident somewhere up ahead, driving into a blinding blizzard or debating whether to dare passing a fishtailing vehicle with plates from a flatland state, I wonder if it’s worth it. But then, I step into my bindings, shuffle toward a lift and know that it is. I had a back injury (not from skiing), spent two years in increasing misery and had surgery in January of last year. Bottom line is that I skied minimally in three years and got back on snow this year — tentatively and without being able to ski from first chair to last. But as the season continued, I’ve gotten stronger. I also have new appreciation for user-friendly lifts.
At Breckenridge, the BreckExpress gondola, which loads on the edge of town and unloads at what was the original base area of Peak 8, Keystone’s relocation of the River Run gondola a little closer to the Village at Keystone and therefore a shorter walk from the day skiers’ parking lot. Before I hurt my back, I never thought about such things. But even though I’m mostly mended, I think about them no — and I appreciate the consideration. Also, it helps me forget about occasional lousy drives.
High-elevation Val Thorens’ super-zipline crosses a glacier.
As I’ve written before, I love ziplines. And as I haven’t mentioned recently, I love the Alps, that magnificent range that stretches from France to Slovenia. Some of my best ski days and my very best long hiking trip have been in the Alpine countries. Now Val Thorens, the highest of the resorts comprising the Trois Vallées (the Three Valleys) has just debuted another attraction: the highest zipline in Europe.
Opened on Monday, February 17, the zip line soars some 800 feet above Val Thorens glacier, enabling riders to reach speeds of more than 60 miles per hour. The ride doesn’t come cheap. It’s €50 (about $68). The line runs from the top of the Bouchet chairlift at Orelle to the top of the Funitel de Thorens, and adds ziplining to the resort’s other non-ski, non-snowboarding winter options that already include France’s longest toboggan run, ice driving and something that translates to “karting,” whatever that might be.
Award-winning travel blog. Colorado-based Claire Walter shares travel news and first-hand destination information from around the corner, around the country and around the world.