Steamboat Springs Devoted Steamboat skiers and riders will have to learn some new tricks Friday when the ski area opens for the season.
The resort ushers in a new era this week as it opens the 2007-08 season with its first six-passenger chairlift, the Christie Peak Express. The lift will open at 8:30 a.m.
Steamboat Ski Area officials also announced Wednesday that Scholarship Day lift tickets will cost $20. All proceeds will benefit the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. Season passes and value cards will not be honored until Saturday.
Skiing and riding Friday will be from Thunderhead down Upper Vagabond and then back to the base via a series of intermediate and beginner trails.
There's more to Christie Peak Express than its capacity. The new lift has a midway station where skiers can decide whether to get off the lift at the top of the Headwall trail or continue on their way to the top of Christie Peak.
That means learning how to use a new liftline maze that matches up groups of six, plus communicating one's intentions when preparing to get off the lift. Steamboat skiers should be up to the task.
Ski area spokesman Mike Lane predicted the Christie Peak maze would fall into place.
"If you can group in six, that's perfect," Lane said. "It's what Steamboat's about. Get to know your neighbors."
When it comes to getting off at the midway point, Lane said the lift would slow down as it enters the station.
"The way it is designed, there is ample time for those who want to get off to do so regardless of where they are sitting on the chair," Lane said.
As the chairs leave the midway station, the lift will make a dogleg to the right for the trip to the Christie summit.
The new high-speed chairlift was originally scheduled to open in mid-December. However, Christie Peak will be earning its keep from Day 1 this season - the gondola will be out of action while work crews install a new haul rope. Christie Peak Express will provide the critical link from the base of the mountain to the bottom of the Thunderhead Express chairlift, which will carry skiers to the top of Thunderhead Peak.
Skiers and riders will find the best turns on north-facing Upper Vagabond on Friday before winding their way down gentle cruisers like Betwixt, Eagles' Nest, Short Cut, Main Drag, Boulevard, Lower Yoo Hoo, Preview and Stampede. Also operating on Friday will be the newly extended Preview chairlift.
Parents dropping youngsters off to ski this winter also will have to adapt. The old drop-off in Parking Lot 1 is under construction. Vice President of Resort Services Mike DeGroff said the new alternatives are in the signed "Passenger Unloading Zone" in the Gondola Transit Center, a short-term drop-off zone at the Ski Time Square Roundabout, and a limited number of free 30-minute parking spaces in the lower level of the Gondola Square Parking Garage. They are reserved for Kids Vacation Center and ski school programs.
The run-up to the beginning of the 2007-08 season has been a challenging one for mountain crews as they worked long hours to regrade the lower-most slopes on the ski mountain at the same time they moved one chairlift and installed Christie Peak Express. An unusually mild and dry autumn aided the construction process but ultimately delayed the opening of the ski runs.
"Resort mountain crews have done a tremendous job working nearly around the clock to take advantage of the weather conditions this past week," said Doug Allen, vice president of mountain operations.
The Scholarship Day benefit has raised more than $525,000 for the club since its inception in 1991 and generated $47,000 during opening day 2006.
"The Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club has played an integral role in the development of young athletes by providing the support they need in order to achieve their life or Olympic dreams," said Chris Diamond, president and chief operating officer of Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. "I encourage everyone to come out and make a few turns, enjoy the new express lift and support a very worthwhile organization this Friday."
The $5 increase in the Scholarship Day ticket price this year was made after meetings among Ski Corp. and Winter Sports Club officials, Lane said.
"It has been $15 ever since I've been here," he added. "We think a modest price increase is appropriate."
Winter Sports Club Executive Director Rick DeVos said the scholarship funds help the club live up to its goal of ensuring no youngsters are prevented from participating for financial reasons.
"We provided scholarships for program fees to more than 75 families last year," DeVos said. "In addition, we have anonymous benefactors come into our office and say, 'We want to sponsor an entire family.' You would be surprised how often that happens."
That commitment to being all-inclusive is part of what gives Steamboat claim to being Ski Town USA, DeVos said.
Scholarship Day will benefit from a little added luster as a half dozen Steamboat Olympians - Billy Kidd, Nelson Carmichael, Erin Simmons, Travis Mayer, Todd Lodwick and Deb Armstrong - gather at the bottom of the lift. They will help the ski area with a second fundraising effort.
After resort dignitaries and VIPs board the first two Christie Peak Express chairs, the Olympians will join guests from local businesses that have combined to raise $4,000 for two local organizations, Steamboat Adaptive Recreational Sports and the Yampa Valley Autism Program. Participating businesses include Duckels Construction, Yampa Valley Medical Center, SmartWool, Steamboat Pilot & Today, One Steamboat Place and Colorado Group Realty.