Connor Smith, 13, of Steamboat Springs, skis in the Lil’ Rodeo terrain park Wednesday morning during Scholarship Day at Steamboat Ski Area.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Connor Smith, 13, of Steamboat Springs, skis in the Lil’ Rodeo terrain park Wednesday morning during Scholarship Day at Steamboat Ski Area.

Steamboat ski season off to a good start with Scholarship Day

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Opening Day terrain

Lifts

Gondola, Christie Peak Express, Burgess Creek Express and Four Points

Trails

Green: Arc, Big Foot, Boulevard, Flat Out, Park Lane, Right-O-Way, So What, Stampede, upper Why Not and Yoo Hoo

Blue: Blizzard, Chisolm Trail, Ego, Heavenly Daze, Jess’ Cut Off, Lightning, Rainbow, Rudi’s Run, Sitz, Skyline, Tower, upper Vagabond and Vogue

Blue/black: Norther and Surprise

Black: Burgess Creek Lift Line, upper Nelson’s Run, upper Hurricane, upper Twister and White Out

Terrain park: Lil’ Rodeo

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include additional lifts and trails that will be open Thursday for Steamboat Ski Area's official Opening Day.

John Moore couldn’t get his wife and children to join him for the first run of the season Wednesday on Scholarship Day at Steamboat Ski Area, but he wasn’t going to miss it.

Moore, who splits time between Steamboat Springs and Sedalia, Mo., said that after getting to town at 1 a.m. Wednesday, his decision to get up early was rewarded. He described his first run of the 2011-12 season as “absolutely fantastic.”

“This is great,” said Moore, 51. “Opening day is an event. It’s what we wait all summer for. ... It’s a beautiful blue-bird day on Day 1. How about that?”

A chilly early morning gave way to sunny skies and temperatures in the 30s by mid-morning on Scholarship Day, the 21st annual event that benefits the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. Proceeds from ticket sales allow the club to provide financial assistance to between 80 and 90 of its 1,000 athletes.

Season passes are valid Thursday, the official Opening Day of Steamboat Ski Area’s 49th season.

Ski area officials announced Wednesday that skiers Thursday would be treated to additional terrain with the opening of Four Points lift. Trails opening Thursday include blues Chisolm Trail, upper Vagabond and upper Rainbow as well as blacks upper Nelson’s Run, upper Hurricane and upper Twister. The new trails will bring the total skiable terrain to about 330 acres.

After experiencing Scholarship Days with less favorable weather in the past, Winter Sports Club Executive Director Rick DeVos said it couldn’t have been better than sunny skies and mild weather Wednesday. He was optimistic Wednesday would raise a lot of money for the club after last year’s record-setting year of $76,665.

“The great thing about today, it brings everybody out, from the guys who like to press glass to the families. It’s a great pre-Thanksgiving day.”

A crowd formed before the first gondola car took off at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday. The Yampa Valley Boys performed live while former Olympic medalist Billy Kidd, Steamboat’s director of skiing, greeted skiers and snowboarders anxious to hit the slopes. And there were coupons for freebies all across the mountain — from ski school lessons to dinner for two at Ragnar’s — tacked to the inside of each of the ski area’s 128 gondola cars.

Steamboat residents Will Peddie, 19, and Evan McCaulley, 21, were among the first in line for the gondola. They arrived in Gondola Square at 10 p.m. Tuesday to begin the wait.

“It’s a habit,” said McCaulley, a Steamboat native who attends Colorado Mountain College’s Alpine Campus. “I’ve been doing this since sophomore year of high school. It’s a lot of fun to say you got on the first gondola.”

Many skiers and snowboarders applauded the conditions. Three lifts served 26 trails on about 250 acres.

Steamboat resident Chris Vargoshe, 27, said that although Wednesday’s conditions weren’t quite as good as last year’s Scholarship Day — a powder day in which five lifts served 71 trails on more than 1,000 acres, the most terrain ever available for the fundraiser — he was glad to be on the mountain.

“It’s fantastic,” he said. “You couldn’t ask for a better opening day, except a good 18 inches. But you can’t get that every year.”

Suzanne Clore, 28, who was visiting Vargoshe from Breckenridge, said she was pleased with the conditions.

“I’ve been 10, 11 days already,” she said about snowboarding at other resorts. “This is better than Keystone, Breck, any of those places that have been open for weeks.”

Some of Wednesday’s skiers and riders said they paid the $25 for an all-mountain pass or $20 for a lower-mountain pass simply to ski and ride on the first day of the season. Others said they attended Scholarship Day specifically to support the Winter Sports Club.

After splitting time between Steamboat and Stevenson Ranch, Calif., 57-year-old Ron Vermillion said he was very familiar with the Winter Sports Club and its programs.

“I just think it’s a valuable part of the community here,” he said. “It’s a long-standing tradition, as well. Plus, how can you miss opening day?”

Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. spokeswoman Loryn Kasten said the total amount of money raised for the Winter Sports Club on Scholarship Day likely won’t be available until Monday.

— To reach Jack Weinstein, call 970-871-4203 or email jweinstein@SteamboatToday.com

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