Saturday, November 29, 2003
Steamboat Spring's holiday cornucopia was stuffed with powder this week, but it hasn't always been the tradition at the Steamboat Ski Area. During the 1970s, a November opening day was unheard of.
"Back in the '70s, the ski area opened when it was able to," recalled retired Steamboat marketing executive Rod Hanna. "We hoped for the first weekend in December, and if not, we hoped for the second weekend in December."
Times have changed.
Steamboat charged to the top of the list on Colorado's snow report Friday, with a reported mid-mountain base of 32 inches and 44 inches at the summit of Storm Peak.
"We are on track with the big winters of 95-96 and 96-97," ski area spokeswoman Cathy Wiedemer said Friday. "As of today, we've had 77 inches of snow."
Those seasons wound up with mid-mountain snow totals of 441.25 and 447.75 inches. Although both of those seasons saw abundant snowfall in November, Ski Corp. also made snow. And it's too early to predict 400 inches of snow for this winter -- the month of January really made the difference in both those epic winters of the mid-'90s.
Hanna will never forget January 1981, when the snow didn't arrive on time.
"I remember you could have actually played a few holes of golf at the Sheraton on New Year's Day that year," he said.
That also was the winter that convinced ski area executives to begin investing in snowmaking equipment for the first time.
Steamboat installed a snowmaking system adequate to cover 160 acres of trails served by nine lifts during the summer of 1981.
Steamboat's abundance of early season natural snow is the reason skiers were floating through waist-deep fluff on Twilight last Thanksgiving Day. However, it was manmade snow that first allowed the resort to even contemplate cranking up a chairlift for the long Thanksgiving weekend.
Steamboat didn't attempt to open for thanksgiving in November 2001, Hanna said. But that first experience with snowmaking gave resort officials the idea that it might be possible.
"We said 'Gee, if we can guarantee a Thanksgiving Day opening, wouldn't that be a boost for the lodging community, the entire resort and the town?'" Hanna recalled.
Ever since, the ski area has managed at least a limited Thanksgiving opening.
"I remember once, it was free skiing on Headwall," Hanna said. "We've always been able to open with a loop including Headwall and one of the Christie lifts. It's even better when you can ride the gondola and ski Vagabond to Betwixt/Between. That's the next level."
The ski area added more snowmaking coverage in 1987 and in 1988. The addition of snowmaking to the top of Storm Peak covering Buddy's Run and Storm Peak in 1998 increased the likelihood of top-to-bottom skiing on Thanksgiving.
Then along comes a season such as this one when skiers and riders enjoyed deep powder in the Priest Creek glades Wednesday.
The only other time in the past 23 years that Steamboat opened with this much snow was in 1996, when the ski area recorded 78 inches at mid-mountain in November. December of 1996 came through with 108 inches and January 1997 piled on with 119.75.
Powder to the people!