Ski areas work to get more terrain open amid a drier season as snowmaking wraps up
The goal of every ski area is to get as much terrain open before the holidays that typically bring crowds of eager skiers and snowboarders to Summit County. This year there is the added incentive that more terrain means more room to spread out and, at ski areas using reservation systems, more availability. Unfortunately Mother Nature hasn’t helped out much, but snowmaking has allowed resorts to get lower mountain terrain open.
At Breckenridge Ski Resort, terrain on Peak 10 opened last weekend with the Falcon SuperChair, which means four of the resort’s five peaks have open trails, said Breckenridge spokesperson Sara Lococo. She added that mountain operations teams are prepping Peak 6 — the last peak to open — and Peak 8’s Imperial Express SuperChair and T-Bar with snowmaking and patrol work. Lococo reported that Breckenridge had just over 750 acres open as of Tuesday, Dec. 22.
The difference in amount of natural snowfall this year versus last year is emphasized in the amount of open terrain at the resort — 850 acres of lift-served skiing were open by Dec. 13 in 2019.
Keystone Resort’s latest opening is the Outback. Keystone spokesperson Loryn Roberson said the intermediate Porcupine run opened on Tuesday, along with Elk Run, which is another intermediate trail. She added that hike-to terrain has also opened, including North Bowl and Bergman Bowl. Efforts at Keystone are being focused on the Frenchman intermediate run, Jacques St. James intermediate run and Starfire advanced run.
According to Roberson, Keystone currently has over 1,000 acres of total terrain open, including hike-to terrain and 633 acres of lift-serviced terrain. Last year, the resort had 750 acres of lift-served skiing and riding open on Dec. 13.
Both Breckenridge and Keystone are wrapping up snowmaking for the year. Lococo said snowmaking typically finishes up around the holidays.
“For Breck we’re working on filling in some areas in Peak 8 and Peak 9 right now, so we started our snowmaking at Peak 8, moved to Peak 9, then to 7 and 10,” Lococo said. “We’ve also filled in the runout — we do snowmaking on the runout from Peak 6 back over to Peak 7 as well — so right now we’re just filling in some areas back on Peak 8 and Peak 9 as we start to wrap things up. We’re really just putting the finishing touches on things. We’ve done most of the snowmaking that we would traditionally do in the early season already.”
Lococo said that while there has been a lack of natural snowfall, temperatures have been favorable for the snow guns lately, which has allowed the resorts to be more productive in terms of snowmaking. She said Breckenridge’s high-Alpine terrain needs about a foot or two of snow to get open, which will simply depend on weather.
Roberson said Keystone’s high-efficiency snowmaking system, which put the resort in the race to open for the 2019-20 season, has helped open terrain this year amid drier weather. The only lift that remains to open is Argentine. The resort currently has 40% of its total terrain open.
“We’re in a really good spot, all things considered and (are) just excited for Mother Nature to jump in,” Lococo said.
At Copper Mountain Resort, spokesperson Taylor Prather reported on Tuesday that 737.2 acres of terrain are open, which includes the entire front side of the mountain. Prather added that the Storm King T-Bar and Hallelujah Ridge advanced runs opened over the weekend.
Copper is also wrapping up snowmaking for the season, but is currently focused on Woodward Mountain Park, including building up the 13-foot halfpipe and Peace Park. The superpipe opened for public access over the weekend starting every day at 1:30 p.m., but will open fully to the public this week as training on the pipe wraps up.
“Obviously delaying our opening to meet our priorities of protecting the community was also to our advantage in a lighter snow season, but our snowmaking has been going really well, and we’re fortunate to be able to open up the front side of the mountain,” Prather said. “We just need a little more natural snow to be able to start opening up more terrain at this point.”
Prather noted that some of the trails that will require natural snow are Copper Bowl and Spaulding Bowl. Copper is also seeing some effects of the lighter snow year from a terrain standpoint. On Dec. 14, 2019, there were 917 acres of terrain open after a big weekend snowstorm.
“The priority this year was to be able to spread everybody out as much as possible, so we definitely prioritized getting West Village open as early as possible this season,” Prather said.
Woodward Express opened on Dec. 4 and Kokomo lift opened on Dec. 11, which Prather said is fairly early for the resort. The resort’s aim was to open the front side with all three villages. Now that this goal has been met, it’s up to the snow forecast on when the backside will open.
Arapahoe Basin Ski Area opened its new Pallavicini lift on Saturday and is focused on getting the Beavers opened next, A-Basin spokesperson Leigh Hierholzer wrote in an email. However, Hierholzer added that this next opening could be a ways away. According to A-Basin’s website, five of the ski area’s nine lifts are open and 21 runs are open. Much of the front side terrain is open, along with learning area terrain, but Montezuma Bowl is yet to open up. Last year A-Basin opened the Beavers on Dec. 14 and Montezuma Bowl on Dec. 19.
“We are slightly behind in regards to terrain openings, but with this new snow, we should be catching up soon,” Hierholzer wrote in an email. “We still have plenty of terrain to open, the Beavers, Pali terrain and Zuma Bowl being our next focus.”
As for snowmaking, Hierholzer said that the ski area will stop the diversion of the water from the Snake River for snowmaking purposes at the end of December due to restrictions.
“We’ll continue to blow snow until our reservoir is emptied which will take us through the beginning of the year,” Hierholzer wrote. “We are currently working on the west side of Molly Hogan so we can open the learning carpet as soon as possible.”
A-Basin is the only Summit County ski area that isn’t using a reservation system for getting on the mountain or parking. It states in its operating plan that if the number of guests approaches 85% of the target guest number, the ski area will close parking lots. Hierholzer said that parking closures have not yet had to be employed and anticipates being able to manage capacity over the holidays, despite expecting decent business.
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