The O. Zone
Massive inflow of moisture a reminder that ski season starts a month from now
A month from now all the rain falling this week on the northern Front Range of Colorado and the state's Western Slope will be frozen ice crystals wafting down gently in the form of snowflakes. Right now it's just causing a muddy mess in Boulder and other places.
Hard to believe another ski season will be upon us in a little over a month. Last year, Arapahoe Basin won the race to open first, cranking up the lifts on Oct. 17. Loveland followed about a week later on Oct. 23.
But last year saw an unusually warm and dry fall, with Indian Summer pushing well into November. Typically, A-Basin and Loveland open earlier in October, and the weather this week would seem to indicate that’s more of a possibility this year.
After searing temps in the upper 90s last week in Denver (70s and 80s in the high country), the weather worm has turned this week, with more seasonal, fall-like temps in the 60s and 70s and a few patches of color cropping up the willows and aspens – even in the lower valleys.
That’s the kind of thing that gets even aging snow riders like me looking at gear reports and fantasizing about new equipment for the coming season. And it also has me rewinding to see what the hot topics were in the ski world this time last year and what’s changed since then.
A year ago Lindsey Vonn was “just” the greatest women’s ski racer of all time. She was a few weeks away from making headlines by trying to take on the men in World Cup action in Canada, and the rumor mill had yet to kick into full gear regarding her relationship with Tiger Woods.
Now she’s tentatively back on skis for the first time in months, rehabbing a knee badly blown out in the World Championships in February. Vonn and Woods are an official item, and her bid to take on the men is a distant memory and casualty of stubborn FIS officials.
It will clearly be all Vonn can do to get back on skis and win on the new Raptor women’s course at Beaver Creek Nov. 29-Dec. 1 – a race that replaces the annual Aspen Winternational women’s World Cup on the calendar this season. That race will be back next season and will run at least through 2016, according to Aspen officials, but it will be strange not to have it this season.
A year ago at this time, the Vail Resorts Epic Pass “only” included ski areas in Colorado, Nevada and California. Since then the company’s been adding so many mountains to the season-pass product its own marketing campaigns can’t seem to keep up. Internet ads right now are touting 18 mountains, three countries and one Epic Pass.
But in the last 10 months the company has purchased two Midwestern ski areas, added Eldora in Colorado, assumed a management deal with the Canyons in Utah (and moved to evict the owners of adjacent Park City) and added five days of skiing at 13 ski areas in Austria and France. The tally is now up to 26 mountains, six states and four countries.
Will I ever ski them all? I’d love to try, although have a hard time seeing myself at Afton Alps, Minn. Still, that addition is aimed at getting Minneapolis skiers to head to Vail and Heavenly, not the other way around.
I find Aspen’s Mountain Collective a pretty compelling product because it includes some of my all-time favorites: Aspen/Snowmass, Alta, Jackson Hole, Mammoth Mountain, Snowbird, Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadow and Whistler Blackcomb (with the usual Aspen Skiing enviro bent).
But I also like some of the alliances smaller mountains like A-Basin are inking. If you buy a pass product just through A-Basin or Taos, N.M. for this coming season, you get a couple of reciprocal days at one of those resorts. And they are both two of my favorites in terms of steepness and challenging inbounds terrain. A-Basin is still on the Epic Pass, but the Taos deal is not, according to A-Basin COO Alan Henceroth.
Also, it’s good to remember that, while last ski season started slowly, it wound up being pretty decent – especially compared to the ultra-dry season before – and finished with a flurry in April that saw many resorts like Aspen and Vail re-open for a couple more weeks of late-spring skiing.
This season, I’m predicting a strong start and a big bounce-back season loaded with lots of killer powder days. Check back in a year and see how clear my crystal ball was.
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