Dust ’em off, wax ’em up

Ski season is here; weather uncertain

After a bone-dry summer and fall, the storm system that passed through southern Colorado last weekend was cause for celebration and relief among area ski resorts, which are gearing up for opening day.

First on the scene, as usual, is Wolf Creek Ski Area. The recent front, dubbed Winter Storm Brutus, dumped about 20 inches of powder on the slopes, and four of five lifts will be operational by Wednesday. The lone exception is the Raven Lift, which plans to start running around Thanksgiving. Rosanne Pitcher, vice president of marketing and sales, expected the fresh snow to settle to a base depth of 18 inches.

Nov. 14 is more than one month later than opening day last year. Early-season snowfall last year allowed Wolf Creek to open for business Oct. 8, 2011, and led to a record number of 227,000 visitors, although the snowy weather fizzled from February onward. Despite the later start in 2012, Pitcher is optimistic.

“We’re excited to open as much of the mountain as we are, about 500 acres of beginner, intermediate and some expert terrain. We don’t tell people to stay only on groomed trails, so we advise skiers to use caution and watch out for early-season obstacles,” she said.

Lift tickets will be sold at a discounted rate until more of the mountain opens.

Wolf Creek skiers and snowboarders will find two new hilltop respites from the cold this year. The Continental, a café at the apex of Treasure Lift, will dispense hot drinks and freshly baked pastries, and was designed for sustainability.

“The structure was originally going to be just restrooms, but we decided to make a food venue out of it. (The building) is made of Wolf Creek timber and features water-free composting restrooms,” Pitcher said.

The Raven’s Nest, a pizzeria and bar atop Raven Lift, was partly built last year and had a “soft open,” but will debut in full this season.

Skiers looking to take advantage of Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort’s opening day will have to shake off their tryptophan-induced stupor Nov. 23, the day after Thanksgiving. As of Monday night, snow cannons were supplementing the foot of powder that fell during the weekend.

Several new developments are underfoot for the 2012-13 season.

DMR’s Ski School is partnering with manufacturer Rossignol to incorporate the latest “rocker” designs into lessons to help expedite the learning curve for new skiers. The shape mimics water skis and is supposed to help beginners stay “afloat” atop soft powder and maneuver with greater ease.

Continuing to upgrade mountain conditions is another primary objective at Purgatory.

“Building on last year’s high angle grooming initiative, a new pick point for the state-of-the-art winch cat has been installed on Lower Hades (run),” spokeswoman Kim Oyler said in a statement. “During the off-season, the mountain operations crew has been removing brush and small conifers from the trails, which will create a better early season slope experience.”

In keeping with the emphasis on quality grub, DMR restaurants are now offering more choice for visitors with dietary restrictions, including vegetarian and gluten-free options. The resort also is making an effort to feature locally sourced products on the menu, Oyler said.

Purgatory is, again, selling a two-day punch pass for $89, valid from Jan. 7, 2013, to Feb. 15 (a full-price one-day adult lift ticket runs $75). The pass can be used on separate days by one individual or shared on the same day by two people. A new addition is the Local 50/50 Card, which skiers can pick up at the DMR office in Bodo Industrial Park. It allows skiers to purchase $50 lift tickets throughout the season, and is ideal for those who plan to ski three to five times, Oyler said.

Local Benefit Days, featuring $40 lift tickets, of which a portion is donated to charity, are Dec. 19, Jan. 16, Feb 13 and March 6.

DMR is extending an olive branch to senior citizens indignant about season pass price hikes that go into effect this year. The new Senior Days program allows those 65 and older to purchase a $59 package, on select days, that includes a lift ticket, valet parking and a lunch special. Those with season passes can get the deal for $19.

For the more ruggedly minded, Silverton Mountain is slated to open Dec. 1, but manager Aaron Brill said that date is flexible, and it could be moved up if conditions allow.

Telluride Ski Resort is targeting Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 22.

As for the long-term winter outlook, forecasters are ambivalent.

Temperatures are expected to be warmer than average, but precipitation is tough to predict, said meteorologist Chris Cuoco with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.

“We’re in an El Niño pattern, which in this part of the country doesn’t give a good signal or indication of rain and snow frequency,” he said. “So far, it has shaped up to be on the drier side.”

lgroskopf@durangoherald.com

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