Mother Nature, new chairlift wreak havoc at ski area | SteamboatToday.com

Mother Nature, new chairlift wreak havoc at ski area

Melinda Dudley

Snowboarder Andrew Merino tries to stay warm as he waits out an unexpected delay in service on the new Christie Peak Express six-passenger chairlift on Saturday afternoon. A mechanical problem with the lift was resolved by ski area employees and the lift went back in to service later Saturday afternoon.

Steamboat Springs — Neither the weather nor the new Christie Peak Express chairlift cooperated much with local skiers and riders Saturday, the first day of the 2007-08 ski season for which season and value passes were honored on the mountain. — Neither the weather nor the new Christie Peak Express chairlift cooperated much with local skiers and riders Saturday, the first day of the 2007-08 ski season for which season and value passes were honored on the mountain.

— Neither the weather nor the new Christie Peak Express chairlift cooperated much with local skiers and riders Saturday, the first day of the 2007-08 ski season for which season and value passes were honored on the mountain.

Christie Peak Express, the ski area’s new six-passenger lift, had a seamless debut Friday but went out of commission twice Saturday. The lift opened 45 minutes late Saturday morning because of ice buildup overnight, and it was shut down for about 1 hour and 15 minutes Saturday afternoon because of mechanical problems, ski area spokesman Mike Lane said.

A belt on the lift broke at about 1 p.m., leaving some passengers stranded and many other skiers and riders in a lurch.

With the gondola closed while awaiting installation of a new haul rope, Christie Peak Express is the only option for leaving the base area and providing linkage with the Thunderhead Express lift. The Preview lift is also open, providing access to a beginner trail at the base of the ski area.

During Christie Peak Express’ afternoon shutdown, shuttle buses usually used to ferry people from the Meadows parking lot were tasked with transporting skiers and snowboarders up Burgess Creek Road to the Thunderhead Express lift.

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When all the lifts were operating, lines were scarce at the base. Skiers and riders had no wait for the Preview lift, and single-riders were getting six-person lift chairs to themselves on Christie Peak Express.

The crowds were all farther up the mountain near Thunderhead, resulting in longer lines at the Thunderhead Express lift, Steamboat Springs resident Tracy Hoyt said.

Despite the lift interruptions and variable snow conditions – it briefly rained Saturday before turning to heavy, wet snow and occasional sleet – locals and vacationers alike said they were just happy the ski season had finally arrived.

Having the Steamboat Ski Area open is a relief, Stagecoach resident Amy Zutterling said, because she won’t have to drive two hours or more to ski at Copper Mountain or Winter Park.

Although 3 inches of snow fell on the mountain between Friday night and Saturday morning, overnight temperatures didn’t allow for artificial snowmaking, Lane said.

Steamboat Springs resident Steve Welsh described the slopes as “sloppy, soft and mushy.” However, Welsh said he couldn’t complain too much because he was just so thrilled to be back on the slopes for the first time since having knee surgery.

“Everyone’s been saying they’re hoping for more snow so it isn’t so slushy,” said Aaron Richards, a first-time skier from Savage, Minn.

Richards got his wish Saturday afternoon as the weather began to turn, bringing rain, snow and biting wind. People surrounding the Christie Peak Express lift let out a collective cheer as the first few flakes began to fall around 12:30 p.m.

Despite the unexpected problems with Christie Peak Express and the snow conditions, Lane said the ski area was pleased with turnout.

“All in all, I think it’s a pretty good opening weekend, given the conditions the mountain crew had to work with,” Lane said.

The National Weather Service has a snow advisory in effect for Steamboat Springs until 5 a.m. this morning. Total snow accumulation by this morning is expected to be between 5 and 10 inches. There is a 20 percent chance of snow today with a high temperature of 27 degrees.