Steamboat Ski Area's opening day came with catcalls, plentiful powder and beverages, a few sore muscles and plenty of grins.
For some, such as Paulie Anderson and Scott Glackman, it started as early as 4:30 a.m. By 5 a.m., the two were pressing glass; only a family of four beat them to the front of the line.
For three years, opening day has been greeted by the Burrito Bandits passing out more than 120 burritos, 8 gallons of orange juice and a case of champagne to early risers. Hidden behind black masks, the Burrito Bandits remain as anonymous as Zorro.
"We do this just to celebrate and to support the locals," said a curly, red-headed bandit.
About 8:15 a.m., the cheering grew stronger as the glass doors slid open, and skiers and snowboarders inched closer to the gondola cars.
Chip Powers said opening day provides the same excitement he used to get as a kid on Christmas Eve. The tingle is still there, even on his seventh opening day.
On a scale of 1 to 10, opening day ranked about a 9 on the excitement level for Barry McKokine, who came from Boulder for the $15 lift-ticket and fresh serving of powder.
The day meant strategizing for Jim Hoff, who got in line about 7:30 am. Plan A was to get off the top of the gondola at 8:40 and take a quick run down Vagabond on the lower mountain. If he arrived at the top of Thunderhead Lodge after 9:50, Plan B was to head straight to the Storm Peak Express.
He went with Plan B.
This year's opening day came with 61 open trails covering 1,115 acres, dusted with 8 inches of fresh snow by 5 a.m. Four hours later, just as the masses started to roll onto Storm Peak, some said there was about a foot of fresh powder.
The mountain echoed with whistles, hollers and some people cursing their good fortune. Snow sprayed head-high behind skiers. Runs and clearings that are usually covered in bumps spread white and almost naked of tracks.
People poured out on the usually quiet Duster, the only cat track that led from Sunshine Peak back to the lifts. Snowboarders pedaled and skiers pushed polls, but the hike was worth the powder found between the trees in the Closet, Shadow, Priest Creek and Twilight runs.
Seventeen-year-old Joel Manzanares was like a kid in a candy store. He didn't know where to go first -- Triangle, Nelson's Run or Drop Out.
"It's awesome," he said. "It's like midseason."
Old friends caught up with each other on the snow, asking how summers were and starting to remember how to identify people by the color of their jacket and the shape of their hat.
But opening day doesn't come without its sacrifices.
One snowboarder from New Hampshire drove with his buddies all night from Ohio to Colorado, just so he wouldn't miss his first Steamboat opener.
Kari Novak gave up Thanksgiving plans with family so she could hit Steamboat's opening day. She was on her way from Indiana to California when she decided to take a minor detour that started with Steamboat and will head to Jackson Hole, Wyo., for its opener and then onto Park City, Utah.
For six years, Jeff Kostka and Jay Stefanowicz haven't missed an opening day, and they were not going to let a move to the Front Range stop them this year. They drove through Tuesday night's storm so they could stand in line at 7:45 a.m.
Once on the mountain, they visited some old favorites -- the Triangle Trees, 2:30 and Flying Z.
"Opening day's a must," Kostka said.
About 4,000 people shared his sentiment this year, according to unofficial ticket-sales numbers, said Ski Area spokesman Mike Lane. Lane said this could be a record-breaking year for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, which uses the proceeds from the first day of the season to help fund its programs. If the preliminary numbers are accurate, the club could get roughly $60,000 from Scholarship Day.
After the lifts closed and people left tired and sore but grinning from ear to ear, Lane dubbed opening day a success.
"There are so many happy people," he said.
-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229
or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org