VAIL — In a rare reversal, Born Free was one of the only runs that wasn't open on the frontside of Vail Mountain for Opening Day 2018.
The Wednesday, Nov. 14, opening occurred two days and 10 minutes prior to what was previously scheduled for the year, and it was far from your ordinary Opening Day.
More than 600 acres were available to skiers and snowboarders, much of it ungroomed. After receiving 4 feet of snow in early November, the slopes had another refresh of a few inches earlier this week. Cold temperatures kept the powder fresh, and an abundance of light, fluffy snow could be found throughout the day at Vail.
Locals praised Vail for the early opening, and pointed out that — with temperatures predicted to rise into the 40s over the next couple of days — opening Wednesday rather than Friday might have ended up making quite a difference in terms of snow quality.
Local Cesar Hermosillo, who has lived in Eagle County for more than three decades, said the abundance of snow and cold temperatures has made early November conditions among the best he can remember.
"It was also really sunny today, so really one of the best Opening Days you can ask for," he said.
Hermosillo is a regular on the first chair of the season at Vail; he often arrives in Lionshead Village 12 to 24 hours ahead of time and camps out, and this year was no exception.
Jen Natbony — who arrived two days early last year — was first to arrive again this year. She claimed her first-in-line status in Lionshead at about 2 p.m. on Tuesday.
Over in Vail, skiers and snowboarders didn't start arriving until 6 a.m. on Wednesday, and the Gondola One maze wasn't filled until well after 8 a.m.
Bob Aubrey was among the first to arrive at Gondola One.
Neither a skier nor a snowboarder that day, Aubrey's gear for his first lift-served turns at Vail was a Hovland snowskate with a large nose specially equipped for powder.
"Also, there's some hot groomers that I need to go ride," he said.
Top to bottom skiing was available in Lionshead Village via Born Free and Columbine; to access Vail Village a download on Gondola One was required.
The download only access to Vail Village changed the apres scene quite a bit; Lionshead Village establishments were lively with ski-in guests while Vail Village, a bus ride away, was much quieter. This was not only due to fewer crowds, but less of a live music atmosphere, as well, which is expected to ramp up by the weekend with the classic apres spot Pepi's saying guests can expect someone to be playing to an apres crowd by Friday, the formerly scheduled opening date.
The Opening Day was also unusual in that parking was free in the town structures. The Lionshead Village parking structure was full by 9 a.m. and the Vail Village structure filled at about 10:10 a.m. A total of 310 cars spilled out onto the frontage road.
Vail said normal season paid parking will begin at 6 a.m. on Friday.
With loading available from both Vail and Lionshead villages, crowds dispersed quickly in the morning and lift lines didn't exceed a minute or two throughout the day.
Chairs 2, 3 and 4 were also open in Vail, and from the top of the Gondola in Lionshead Village upper Born Free was open before being roped off at the Chair 8 access point, an ironic twist as for many years that section of the run is all that's available to skiers on Opening Day.
The powdery conditions found on so many places at Vail on Wednesday left skiers and snowboarders hopeful for more areas of the mountain to open in the days to come.
Throughout Opening Day, ski patrollers received a barrage of questions as to when Chairs 11 and 7 might open, with some hopeful chatter of "maybe this weekend" starting to spread among gossipers by the end of the day.
However, as one ski patrolman put it, "the newspaper finds out before we do."
Article courtesy of Vail Daily.