By the middle of January, we felt we had waited long enough to take on our first ski slope of the season. We kept hoping for the promised big “dumps” of snow in the mountains associated with our Local Epic pass, which generally includes A-Basin to Beaver Creek. No matter how many times we heard reports of snow in the high country, most of the ski areas continued to report bases of measly 20-something inches of snow. And, that depended on where it was measured, which appeared to vary by ski area. Last year, our costly passes were barely worthwhile, as the months we considered skiable were only from late January to early March. Normally, the local pass is a great value, considering the lift ticket prices on most of the Vail properties, which tend to have good grooming and snowmaking.
Having viewed the first ski areas to open in November, the conditions looked less than inviting for those of us who have a well-developed sense of self preservation. Since there hadn’t been that much snow since then, we were a bit apprehensive.
Keeping that in mind, we opted for Keystone for our first foray, knowing their top to bottom runs are usually well maintained and well-regulated against breakneck speeders. They also have a separate snowboard area, which lures many boarders away from the general ski population. Our experience with Vail at the end of last season, with warm temps and little snow, taught us that getting down the lower part of the mountain could be quite challenging on the long, sticky and winding cat track.
The morning we decided to give it a try, we got up later than anticipated, but made our way to Keystone. Since last season was the first time we had skied there, it is still a bit confusing to us knowing where to head for the best lift and parking. Last season, we preferred the Argentine lift which requires a lift change to get to the top, but which is quite close to parking and always seemed less crowded. However, consulting the grooming reports the night before gave no indication that the Argentine lift was open. This meant parking next to the Village and going up on the gondola.
The parking there was convenient, and the gondola was relatively uncrowded and quite nice. Since we hadn’t taken it before, we had to be clued in by a gondola-mate that the first stop it makes is mid-mountain, and that we should stay on if we wanted to go to the top.
It was a beautiful sunny day, which felt great in spite of the forecast low temps. The Keystone mountain staff seemed to be out in full force, guiding people, photographing, monitoring no-speed zones, and giving helpful directions as to which runs would get us back to the gondola. The snow was not the least rocky or thin, and hadn’t turned to ice—nicely groomed, smooth and packed the whole way down.
All in all, it was a delightful place to experiment with our relatively new skis for our first ski outing of the season. The weather was so delightful; we were almost warm in our ski jackets and insulated pants. It was a great choice for us.
After our underused ski legs got wobbly, and we decided to leave, we drove by the Argentine lift trying to find our way out. It seemed to be up and running as usual, in spite of what we thought. Next time we may opt for that lift again, although the gondola ride all the way up was great.
We were looking forward to seeing Vail this season, so we set off for there next, intending to stay a quick dinner. Vail Village has always been one of my favorite ski haunts, but I wasn’t sure I wanted that mountain’s challenge on our first day out. However, that part of the mountains seemed to have considerably more snow than the Keystone and A-Basin area, so skiing there probably would have been a safe choice as well. As we approached Vail Village, the surrounding forest was picturesque with a fresh dusting of snow.
The temperature started to drop quite quickly as it approached sundown over the mountains, and by 5:30 it was bitingly cold. We ducked into the Ore House, one of our favorite places to eat there, and had a great no-nonsense carnivorous meal. After dinner we quickly gave up our plans to stroll around the Village, as it was 9 degrees according to our car thermostat. The Village seemed bustling, but not with the crushing crowds you expect in the high ski season. I’m guessing some ski vacations were put on hold for many of the resorts this year due to the relative paucity of fluffy white stuff.
By that time, the slow I-70 crawl back to the Denver area had abated, and we made good time getting home. Encouraged by the greater amount of snow we saw in Vail, we will likely try Beaver Creek on our next outing, to make sure we are ready for the more challenging Vail in any snow conditions. Vail did look promising, and I’m dying to try the Village’s new gondola, which has just opened.
It really is a good time to get out and ski, regardless of the relatively discouraging snow base reports.