Record opening day on tap

Skiers, riders can enjoy 1,183 acres starting Friday

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— Office and construction workers all over town will be invoking the "powder clauses" in their contracts with employers on Friday, as the Steamboat Ski Area launches the season with an unprecedented opening 60 trails, seven lifts and almost 1,200 acres of skiing.

Steamboat will open its fabled tree skiing in Priest Creek on trails like Shadows and Closets trails that many years don't open until January. It's a dramatic reversal for a ski area that 10 days ago wasn't close to opening on schedule because of a lack of snow.

"What a difference a week makes!" ski area spokesman Mike Lane said. "It's gonna be big. It was worth the wait."

Ski Area President Chris Diamond said more than 4 feet of snow falling since Thanksgiving has allowed the ski area to open with more terrain than any other opening day in the ski area's history.

Skiers and riders who turn out for Scholarship Day on Friday can purchase lift tickets for $15, with the proceeds going to support the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. Season passes and value cards will not be honored Friday.

In a related move, Steamboat Vice President of Marketing Andy Wirth said Wednesday the ski area is issuing vouchers to all of the K-12 schoolchildren in Routt and Moffat counties so they can take advantage of $15 skiing on Saturday.

"We want them to stay in school," Wirth said. "It's an incentive to stay in school."

Skiers and riders who are able to hit the mountain on Friday will be able to enjoy top-to-bottom skiing riding the Gondola and Storm Peak Express.

The tree runs in Priest Creek will be open as far down as Duster, which leads skiers back to the saddle of Rainbow and ultimately to the Storm Peak Express again. Intermediate skiers may be more comfortable exploring the glade skiing in Big Meadow on the north side of the mountain.

Lane said skiers and riders will find intermediate trails groomed on Friday, but advanced trails off Four Points, like Hurricane and Twister, will be untracked, as will the tree skiing. Roughly 40 percent of intermediate and beginner trails will be available opening day, Lane estimated.

Wirth hinted that if a combination of snowmaking conditions and additional natural snowfall permit, the ski area may also open Heavenly Daze, bringing total acreage on opening day closer to 1,500 acres.

Wirth said the decision to open so much terrain took him by surprise.

"We just had a senior management meeting and when Bob Kuusinen (senior vice president of mountain operations) showed me the list of trails, my eyes went right to those tree runs. I said, 'Is this a joke?'"

Lane explained ski patrol and mountain operations personnel tested snow conditions and found it was dense enough near the ground to cover many of the natural obstructions in Priest Creek and allow a safe opening. Skiers will still need to use good judgment and beware of the possibility of hidden rocks and logs in the snow.

"Everyone needs to ski and ride with care, within their ability levels, and remember that unmarked obstacles and other natural terrain features may be encountered at any time," said Ski Patrol Director John Kohnke.

Steamboat is currently reporting a 32-inch base at mid-mountain and a 36-inch base at the summit with powder and packed powder conditions. Lift tickets will go to value pricing levels on Saturday. A single-day ticket during that time frame is $48 and a five-day ticket will be $42 per day.

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