Steamboat Springs Skiers and riders won't encounter the bottomless powder this morning that greeted them on opening day 2000.
But the untracked snow is deep by anyone's standards, and powderhounds are going to find that this year's snowpack has more staying power.
"We got the right kind of snow at the right time," ski area spokesman Mike Lane said.
Steamboat has tallied up more than four feet of snow since Thanksgiving, but when it finally started to snow last week after an unseasonably warm November, the snow was wet and heavy. The champagne powder didn't come into play for a couple of days.
Steamboat Director of Mountain Operations Doug Allen said it was the wet stuff that formed a solid base that covered up rocks and logs close to the ground. And that's the reason the ski area is able to open tree runs in Priest Creek on the last day of November.
"If you were to stand up there in your boots, the snow would be up to your chest. But standing on skis, it will be knee deep," Allen said about today's conditions.
"It's not bottomless like it was last year," Ski patrol director John Kohnke confirmed. "Last year, it was very, very dry snow."
Allen said ski patrol snow guru Jeff Hirschboeck reported that the snow Steamboat opened with last year had 7-percent moisture content compared to this year, with 12-percent moisture content.
"It was the temperature when it started to snow. It started as rain on Thanksgiving Day," Allen said of the five-day storm that powdered Steamboat.
The wet snow that fell at first packed thickly on top of natural obstructions on the mountain and gave Steamboat a solid base to start the season on.
Kohnke is urging skiers to look after one another in the tree runs today.
"Pair up with a partner. Go with a buddy system and take care of each other," Kohnke said. Injured skiers can become isolated in tree runs like Shadows and the Closets. A buddy who knows a partner hasn't emerged from the bottom of the run can get help sooner than it would arrive otherwise.
Kohnke is also cautioning skiers not to make the mistake of thinking they are immune from having their season passes pulled for ski safety infractions just because they are skiing on a one-day $15 pass issued for Scholarship Day.
Many runs will still be roped off today, signifying that they are closed for safety reasons. Skiing under ropes to get at the untracked snow on closed runs is a violation of law under the Colorado Ski Safety Act. Skiers who duck under ropes today will be risking their season passes.
"If that $15 ticket is pulled, we'll go and check to see if you have a pass," Lane said.
"There won't be any warning," Kohnke added. "It's a one-week automatic suspension of your pass."
The same laws apply to ropes that denote the ski area boundary.
Kohnke said ski patrol will establish an access corridor at the top of Buddy's Run as soon as possible to allow skiers and riders to access terrain outside the resort's permit boundary.
Until they accomplish that chore, it is prohibited by state law to cross any rope on the Steamboat Ski Area.
When the ski patrol completes the access corridors to the back country, skiers and riders should enter roped areas through designed gates marked for that purpose, and use designed access points for terrain outside the resort's permit boundary.
In spite of the abundance of natural snow, manmade snow is still factoring into the ski area opening, Allen said.
"We were way behind, but we're caught up now," Allen said. "When you have a week where you have round the clock maximum production, you make up a lot."
Three shifts of seven-worker teams have pumped 30 million gallons of water through the snow guns thus far, Allen said.
The snowmakers have completed their first pass on the key trails needed to ski and ride down from the gondola, as well as on heavy traffic areas like lower Buddy's Run and Tornado Lane.
Snowmaking began at noon Wednesday on the World Cup mogul course on Voo Doo.
"We're set to light up the (Heavenly) Daze tonight," Allen said Thursday. "We started the new Mavericks super pipe Wednesday."
Typically, Allen said, Heavenly Daze can be covered with manmade snow in three days, but with forecasts of warmer temperatures accompanying a storm front late this week, he anticipates it could require four to five days.
The new super pipe requires intensive snowmaking and Allen hopes to get it open as early in December as weather conditions will allow.
Snowmaking accomplishes more than just getting the ski area open in November, Allen pointed out.
"We want to make sure the mountain still skis great through mid-April," he said.