Steamboat Springs Mount Werner will open Nov. 22, five days earlier than planned, Steamboat Ski Area officials announced Thursday.
After receiving 3 feet of snow in the past two weeks, a settled base of 14 inches was measured at mid-mountain this week. And weather forecasts called for a heavy snowstorm to arrive today and continue into Saturday.
The ski area tentatively plans to open with six lifts including the gondola and Storm Peak Express. Mountain managers will wait until they see how much snow accumulates during the next round of snowstorms before releasing a list of trails for opening day.
The snow began falling in earnest on Oct. 28 this year, in marked contrast to the fall of 2001, when the ski area was forced to delay its opening.
Ski Area President Chris Diamond said he hopes the early opening date will generate enthusiasm in the community.
"It's so exciting to have so many positives this year as opposed to last year," Diamond said. "It's important that everyone in the community gets excited."
Diamond said he recalls sitting on his deck in 60-degree temperatures the day before Thanksgiving last year, fretting about the mild weather.
"We know we always get the snow, we just don't know when," Diamond said. "Last year, post-Sept. 11 and with the economy, it was really scary. It's so much better this way. I'm here because I ski."
Scholarship Day, the traditional opening day benefit for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, will now be observed on a Friday. Lift tickets that day will be $15. School students, faculty and administration will be offered vouchers good for $15 lift tickets on Nov. 27, the originally scheduled Scholarship Day.
Andy Wirth, vice president of marketing for the ski area, put the early opening in historical perspective.
"This is the third time the resort has opened early since the 1996-97 season," Wirth said. "During that season, the resort set a record for snowfall topping out at 447.75 inches. The local resort management team felt it extremely important to open the mountain to skiers and riders, especially our local community, as soon as possible."
The published opening day of the ski area varies annually with the date of Thanksgiving typically it's on the Wednesday before the holiday. As a result, Steamboat's planned opening day has been as early as Nov. 18 in the past.
Steamboat's ability to move up its opening date this year is not just a function of the 3 feet of natural snow that has fallen in the past two weeks but of favorable snowmaking conditions as well.
While the ski area is holding off on announcing available trails on opening day, it's possible based on years past to predict that at a minimum skiers and riders will be able to cruise down Rudy's Run and ride back up to Thunderhead on Burgess Creek chairlift. Another good bet is sliding down upper Vagabond to the saddle at Betwixt and flowing off the mountain on an intermediate trail called Between.
The rest depends upon the snow gods.