Steamboat Springs Local powderhounds are in danger of being spoiled. For the second time in as many years, the Steamboat Ski Area will open the season on Friday with the tree skiing in Priest Creek on the list of available trails.
There was a time when local skiers didn't expect to access tree skiing in December, let alone November.
"In the '70s, for sure, we waited until January to ski the trees," longtime local skier Andy Hogrefe said Tuesday. "I can't remember it ever being good enough to ski the trees this early."
Officially, Steamboat opens for Scholarship day Friday with $15 lift tickets and 64 trails covering 1,284 acres, or nearly 45 percent of the resort's terrain.
Proceeds from opening day help local youngsters take part in the competitive skiing programs of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.
Skiing and riding will be open from the top of Storm Peak to the base. Among the available trails are Steamboat's gladed tree areas, including the upper portions of Shadows, Closets, Flying Z and Twilight.
Steamboat has a mid-mountain base of 24 inches and 35 inches at the summit. Friday's opening comes five days in advance of the scheduled opening date.
Ski area spokesman Mike Lane put this year's opening in historical perspective: "This is way ahead of the 32 trails we opened with in November 2000. You have to go all the way back to 1985 to match the 43 percent of our total terrain open on Scholarship Day."
Steamboat opened with similar terrain last winter after being forced to delay opening day because of a lack of snow. Things turned around dramatically in 2001 with four feet of snow falling the last week of November. Snow began accumulating in earnest on Oct. 29 this year.
Ski Patrol Director John Kohnke urged opening-day skiers to use good judgment .
"It's a long season," Kohnke said. "Be cautious is my main advice. Even with more than five feet of snow, early season conditions may still be encountered at any time, anywhere on the mountain."
Kohnke skied Three O'Clock, one of the widest trails in Priest Creek, on Tuesday and encountered snowpack that has set up in several layers. He also found tracks left by skiers ambitious enough to hike up the mountain to bag the early snow before the lifts opened.
"There's a lot of snow up there and there's been a little bit of wind," Kohnke said. "Most years with this much snow, you'd go right to the bottom, but I was kind of staying on top of it. It's not flying up and hitting you in the face, but we've got a good base."
Trails like Three O'Clock, Closets and Twilight are closed partway down.
As a result, skiers and riders will be required to take Duster back to the Saddle of Rainbow before catching another chairlift ride to the top.
Steamboat Director of Mountain Operations Doug Allen said Steamboat benefited from a combination of natural snowfall and cold temperatures this year.
"We have been blessed with a cooler-than-average fall, making ideal conditions for snowmaking," Allen said. "This mixed with some 60 inches of snowfall (measured at Thunderhead) will make for one of the best openings that Steamboat has seen."
Anticipating an opening day crowd, Lane said the ski area will begin running the free shuttle from the remote parking lot at 6:30 a.m. and continuing through 6 p.m.
Beginning Saturday, Nov. 23, through Wednesday, Nov. 27, lift tickets will cost $39. Lift ticket rates will go to early season pricing levels on Nov. 28, Thanksgiving Day. A single-day adult ticket will cost $49 and a five-day ticket will be priced at $48 per day.
"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," Kohnke said. "Skiers and riders should keep in mind that even though Friday is Scholarship Day; if they are caught on a closed trail, exhibiting fast, reckless behavior, or violating other aspects of the Responsibility Code, their season pass privileges will be will revoked," he added.
In addition to the extensive terrain, Steamboat plans to have a great number of mountain services and programs available. On-mountain dining options include the BK Cafe and the Stoker Bar and Restaurant.
Steamboat's Ski and Snowboard School and the Kids' Vacation Center will be offering half-day and all-day programs. The Ski and Snowboard School ticket office will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The Information Center will be staffed from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
The main lift ticket office will be open daily 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. beginning Friday.
Scholarship Day tickets are currently available for advance purchase at the main ticket office from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Skiers and riders are encouraged to pre-purchase Scholarship Day tickets as well as pick up season and value passes in advance of Friday.