Upstairs in a quiet office away from the party, away from the beer-buzzed people who described themselves as “totally stoked” or “pumped” to be celebrating the first morning of Colorado’s ski season, Lizzy Schofield stared at a computer screen. It displayed charts and figures from the National Weather Service and Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
“Looks like it’s gonna get cold,” she told her boss, Bill LeClair, Arapahoe Basin Ski Area’s snowmaking manager. “Tonight looks marginal, but tomorrow it’s cold. Tomorrow night, (expletive) cold.”
While skiers and snowboarders hooted and hollered Friday morning at the bottom of a Summit County slope, raising their fists to the blue sky as if to wake the sleeping snow gods, A-Basin’s nature imitators plotted their next play.
Until the serious powder comes, the snowmakers remain vigilant.
“When the weather’s right, they gotta jump, and jump fast,” said A-Basin CEO Alan Henceroth, “especially in the early season here, where the weather windows might be shorter. They can’t afford to lose time or miss periods. They’ve really nailed it this go-around.”
Thank them for helping deliver the state’s earliest opening day in four years. Friday the 13th proved lucky for A-Basin. A prior week of cold, dry conditions prevailed over the ski area – perfect for the snow guns that compress air and spit water into the high-altitude atmosphere, which turns the falling particles to snow. Operators on noon-to-midnight or midnight-to-noon shifts hustled up the mountain for however many optimal hours they could snag.
“A lot of people love it because you feel like a mountaineer,” LeClair said. “Some people are like, ‘Boy, why’d I sign up here?'”
Snowmakers are the hidden game-changers in the industry that reports stirring nearly $5 billion in the state’s economy. However long, cold, dark and wet the job is, Schofield loves it.
“It’s fun having a tangible result,” she said. “You know exactly what you did, exactly what the payoff is, and that’s when people are stoked. They love it.”
The scene was familiar on opening day: Music blared, bloody Marys poured, commemorative pins were distributed and campers woke on the side of Loveland Pass, finally, for the morning they could get in line for the Black Mountain Express.
The media gathered around Nate Dogggg for his much-anticipated return to the front of the lift line. He was back to ride the first chair after missing what would’ve been his 22nd straight trip in 2016. He was flanked by the one known as Trailer Tom, the fellow snowboarder riding his 25th consecutive first chair.
“We wanna be here 90 years old with canes,” Nate Dogggg announced.
No day is like opening day, said Kelly White, the white-mustachioed Denver dentist known as “Doc” among opening-day regulars.
“I caught the disease 35 years ago,” he said of his skiing origins. “The problem with the disease is it can’t be cured. You can only get treatment.”
Colorado Springs’ Anna White got her first dose of opening day Friday. Real life – school, work – got in the way of her ever attending. Now she was in costume with many others, all smiles and proud to say: “I was the first to ski in North America.”
A-Basin regularly provides that privilege. It starts in a quiet office, where satisfaction was felt Friday.
“I don’t really wanna work now,” LeClair said. “I wanna watch all the people have fun.”
What We Believe
We are driven by our deep respect for our environment, and our passionate commitment to sustainable tourism and conservation. We believe in the right for everyone - from all backgrounds and cultures - to enjoy our natural world, and we believe that we must all do so responsibly. Learn More