Powderhorn opens Saturday with 27-inch base

When Powderhorn Resort cranks up the lifts Saturday morning, skiers and riders can credit the early opening to a fast-moving storm that dumped more than 3 feet of snow on the resort.

That means up to 80 percent of the resort will be open, according to spokeswoman Sarah Allen.

She said all lifts and most of the main mountain runs, including favorites Bill’s Run, Maverick, Equalizer and Lower Equalizer, along with many of the West End runs, will be open.

“We haven’t decided on the glades yet, but that’s only because the ski patrol hasn’t been able to get in and ski them” to check on snow cover, Allen said Thursday. “We may make a decision on the glades by this weekend.”

The mountain has a 27-inch base after the storm earlier this week that blanketed Grand Mesa with fresh snow.

“We got between two- and three-and-a-half feet on different parts of the mountain,” Allen said. “There is plenty of snow.”

The resort is opening five days ahead of schedule, which is fine with Tom LeValley of Traz Snow & Skate in Grand Junction.

“We were wondering if we had too much inventory this season, but the last two days have been incredible,” said LeValley, who has been running the snowboard shop since 1994. “People have been coming in, and everyone is getting pretty excited about the opening.”

Powderhorn is the only resort scheduling an early start, said Ari Stiller-Shulman of Colorado Ski Country USA, an industry trade association representing 21 Colorado ski resorts.

“Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk were already scheduled to open Saturday, and I don’t think they’ll open two days early,” he said Thursday. “Other than that, once Powderhorn opens, the only resorts not open will be Howellsen Hill near Steamboat and Sol Vista.”

Ski Cooper opens Dec. 18.

The 48-hour storm was particularly kind to southern resorts, with Silverton leading the snow report with 38 inches of new powder. Wolf Creek, annually among the state’s leaders in total snow, received 34 inches, leaving the resort with an 81-inch base.

Purgatory at Durango Mountain recorded 33 inches, and Crested Butte received 28 inches, enough that the resort is opening another lift, Paradise Express, providing access to more advanced terrain and to the midmountain Paradise Warming House.

Telluride, which is preparing for next week’s U.S. World Cup Parallel Giant Slalom and Snowboardcross events, picked up 17 inches of new powder.

“We opened all the runs in the Polar Queen Express pod (Chair 5) today,” Telluride CEO Dave Riley wrote on his blog Tuesday. “It was epic. The next pod we’re planning to open is the Plunge Lift (Chair 9). I can’t guarantee right now, but the odds look favorable for this lift to open (Wednesday) sometime. Patrol is working hard on it.”

Aspen Mountain received   8 inches of snow, and officials said more terrain will open this weekend on top of the 250 acres already open.

Front Range resorts didn’t fare as well, with most of them reporting 3 to 6 inches from the storm.

Still, any news is good news for the ski industry, which once was thought to be recession-proof but last year suffered a 6.9 percent decrease, approximately 500,000 skier visits, compared to 2007-08.

Even so, last year was the second-best season on record for skier visits, said Melanie Mills, president and chief executive officer of Colorado Ski Country USA.

“The travel industry as a whole was put to the test this past year,” Mills said.

LeValley said the new snow is exactly what the locals needed.

“It seemed (snowboard season) would never get here,” he said. “This is just what we needed to get going.”

Traffic on Powderhorn Ski Resort’s Web site has doubled in recent days, Allen said.

“It’s crazy here, but it’s a fun time,” she said. “This is what we’ve all been waiting for.”

The latest storm, with another expected to hit the state this weekend, has everyone in a winter state of mind, Stiller-Shulman said.

“We’re getting lots of media inquiries about the skiing and the snow conditions,” he said. “Winter is on their minds now, whether they like it or not.”


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