Glacial ski areas in Europe opening even as Colorado resorts dust off snowmaking systems

By David O. Williams
Real AspenSeptember 7, 2010
Sometime in the next couple of weeks nearby ski resorts like Arapahoe Basin and Loveland will start cranking up their snowmaking systems and officially commence the Colorado version of the “race to be first.”

The unofficial competition to be the first ski area to open for the 2010-11 ski season is one that no Colorado resort will win worldwide because glacial resorts in the Alps will likely open in the next week or so. But A-Basin opened Oct. 9 last year – its earliest opening day ever.

But with a snowmaking system installed in 2003, “A-Basin will continue to be a contender in the first ski area in North America race to open,” reads the high-altitude Summit County ski area's website. “[And] with one of the longest ski seasons in North America, A-Basin typically stays open until the first week in June.”

True, “The Legend” -- as its legions of diehard snow-riding fans call A-Basin -- just shut down around three months ago, giving it about an eight-month season, but some ski areas around the world stay open nearly year-round. That includes Timberline in Oregon, where summer skiing is offered but the mountain shuts down briefly in September and reopens Oct. 1.

As the Skiinfo website aptly points out, it can often be hard to tell when one season begins and another ends.

“It's a question we are always wondering at, because tracking snowfall all year round, we know that somewhere in the northern hemisphere there's always somewhere open for snow sports,” the website posted last week.
The Pitztal Glacier in Austria, opening soon for the 2010-11 ski season.

According to Skiinfo, the Pitztal glacier in Austria, with that country's highest lifts and an “all weather” snowmaking system from Israel that can make snow in above-freezing temperatures, will likely open this week, winning the official title of first to open in the northern hemisphere. Then Tignes (France) will open soon after that, and it's off to the races. The glacial areas of Europe have seen a lot of early season snowfall, which bodes well for the World Cup alpine ski racing opener in Solden, Austria, later in October.

If you can't make it to Europe for the beginning of that ski season, consider heading down under for the end of the southern hemisphere's record-breaking season in Australia and New Zealand. Tons of late snow has the U.S. Ski Team heading back to New Zealand instead of to Portillo, Chile, which hasn't had the best of seasons.

"We'd really love to be in Portillo, but the snow pack is a little light to be sure we'd be able to have a full speed track through the end of September, so we're going to mix things up with Mt. Hutt this season," head coach Sasha Rearick said. "Portillo is always great to us and we'll definitely be going back there next summer."

The U.S. squad just wrapped up a three-week camp in New Zealand, and now the men's team is headed back. The U.S. women will stick to their Chilean plans with training in Portillo and Valle Nevado.

"It's tough in some ways because the speed training we have in Portillo is awesome," said Olympic gold medalist Ted Ligety, of Park City, Utah. "But New Zealand is a really fun place to live for a few weeks. I'm looking forward to heading back." Eventually, the men's and women's teams will train in Colorado prior to World Cup races in late November and the Birds of Prey men's World Cup at Beaver Creek in early December.

Closer to home, the major Labor Day weekend ski sales just wrapped up and now snow riders are optimistically eyeing the prevailing weather patterns, especially after a cold front Monday caused Colorado temperatures to plummet significantly. Fall is definitely in the air – along with a lot of smoke from wildfires on the Front Range.

When A-Basin does once again win the Colorado race to be first (a likelihood given its recent history), look for the new Black Mountain Express high-speed, detachable quad chairlift to be up and running. Crews have been working hard to install the new lift that will replace the creaky old Exhibition fixed grip triple chair out of the base area. Black Mountain will have a capacity of 2,000 people per hour and a vertical rise of 719 feet.

Local snow riders in the Vail Valley will have to wait till mid-November for the opening days of Vail and Beaver Creek, but A-Basin is only about a 45-minute to one-hour drive to the east, and Loveland – once it joins the fray – is even closer.

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Snow Report

  24hr snow mid dpth snow cond.
A-Basin n/a n/a
Aspen n/a n/a closed
BC n/a n/a closed
Breckenridge n/a n/a closed
Buttermilk n/a n/a closed
Copper n/a n/a closed
Crest. Butte n/a n/a closed
Eldora n/a n/a closed
Heavenly n/a n/a closed
Highlands n/a n/a
Howelsen n/a n/a closed
Keystone n/a n/a closed
Kirkwood n/a n/a closed
Loveland n/a n/a
Monarch n/a n/a closed
Northstar n/a n/a closed
Powderhorn n/a n/a closed
Purgatory n/a n/a closed
Silverton n/a n/a closed
Ski Cooper n/a n/a closed
Ski Granby n/a n/a closed
Snowmass n/a n/a closed
Steamboat n/a n/a closed
Sunlight n/a n/a closed
Telluride n/a n/a closed
Vail n/a n/a closed
WinterPark n/a n/a closed
Wolf Creek n/a n/a closed
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