A dump truck unloads snow Friday at the base of Steamboat Ski Area as visitors to the resort ride Preview chairlift, the day's only available lift. High winds closed the gondola, but that was only a part of the ski area's problems. The resort spent the day trucking in snow from downtown stashes, hoping to pile enough to keep the lifts running through the planned April 15 closing day.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

A dump truck unloads snow Friday at the base of Steamboat Ski Area as visitors to the resort ride Preview chairlift, the day's only available lift. High winds closed the gondola, but that was only a part of the ski area's problems. The resort spent the day trucking in snow from downtown stashes, hoping to pile enough to keep the lifts running through the planned April 15 closing day.

Steamboat Ski Area, visitors 'making the most of it'

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Two sets of skis and seemingly endless empty racks were all that sat in front of the usually hopping Slopeside Grill at noon Friday as a dump truck drives by with a load of snow. Steamboat Ski Area used Friday to truck snow from downtown stashes, hoping to compile up enough to stay open until the planned April 15 closing day.

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A dump truck unloads snow Friday at the base of Steamboat Ski Area as visitors to the resort ride Preview chairlift, the day's only available lift. High winds closed the gondola, but that was only a part of the ski area's problems. The resort spent the day trucking in snow from downtown stashes, hoping to pile enough to keep the lifts running through the planned April 15 closing day.

— There simply wasn’t much to do besides sit at the bottom, watch and smile.

Friday added injury to insult for the end of the 2011-12 ski season, with brutal winds gusting as high as 45 mph and forcing Steamboat Ski Area’s gondola and just about every lift to close for most of the day.

With most of the rest of Mount Werner shut down because of a lack of late-season snow cover, it left just the Preview chairlift and two short, side-by-side trails ending in Gondola Square — Stampede and through what, before it was bulldozed and looted for its snow, was the Lil’ Rodeo terrain park.

“We still got to practice a little bit,” said Ximena Pemueller, who was vacationing from Guatemala and learning to ski for the first time. “It’s our first time in Steamboat, and we hear this is not typical. We’ve had fun, anyway.”

The plan all year has been for the ski area to stay open until April 15, and another week of unseasonably warm temperatures didn’t change that, ski area spokeswoman Loryn Kasten said. But she acknowledged that an email went out to employees Friday stating that a re-evaluation would take place Sunday.

“We are still planning on being open through April 15. Obviously we are having to deal with Mother Nature, but the plan is to stick it through to April 15,” she said. “We sent an email saying we’d re-evaluate our current situation to see where we stand and if we need to alter our terrain, but we have no plans on closing (this) Sunday.”

On Friday, the ski area continued to take measures to help ensure it could reach the planned April 15 closing.

A warm spring day usually means big crowds in front of ski-area staples like Slopeside Grill. This year, however, the base area snow melted so long ago that the ground wasn’t even muddy Friday. Instead, dump trucks rumbled by all day, backing down a driveway built where the Right-O-Way trail used to be.

They unloaded their cargo — snow from the city’s downtown rodeo grounds stash — near the base, where Friday’s most determined skiers waited in line for the one open lift.

The hope is that the pile of snow can last another week and make sure closing weekend festivities like the Splashdown Pond Skim competition and the annual Cardboard Classic are possible.

Despite the lack of available terrain, moods weren’t sour at the base.

Pemueller traveled to Steamboat Springs with her family — husband, Alejandro, daughters Alexandra, 12, and Raquel, 4, and son, Daniel, 10.

Like everyone else, the Pemuellers were making the most of it. Alejandro, the only experienced skier of the bunch, said the terrain available before Friday’s wicked winds kept him occupied. The rest of the family, meanwhile, was focused on learning the sport, and even Preview was enough to accomplish that.

They made up for some of the lack of skiing with a hot air balloon ride, and while assurances from everyone they met that “it’s not always like this” didn’t solve all their problems, the warm weather didn’t ruin their trip, either.

“It’s nature,” Alejandro said, undaunted. “It’s just bad luck. We’re still having fun.”

Still, other tourists didn’t hide their frustrations. Charlie Mack, from Plymouth, Ohio, and visiting with six other family members, said it wasn’t the weather or lack of snow that left him debating another trip to Steamboat.

He said he booked seven weeklong lift tickets in January as part of a package. Despite landing to find a mountain that bore little resemblance to the one he remembered from four other trips, he said the group has tried to get the most out of the terrain and the snow. He said the disappointment stemmed from getting no partial refund on the tickets to reflect the closed terrain.

“We thought we’d at least get some sort of discount,” Mack said. “Maybe we could have cashed in a day like (Friday) or gotten some back since only one-third of the mountain is open. That has to make their expenses so much less, but they wouldn’t do a thing.

“Still, we’ve been making the most of it.”

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com

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