Opening day lift-off | SteamboatToday.com

Opening day lift-off

New Christie Peak Express, no lift lines usher in ski season

Mike McCollum

Scott Gelbard flies off a jump in a small terrain park at the Steamboat Ski Area on Friday morning. Friday marked the first day of skiing in Steamboat with the ski area hosting the Scholarship Day fundraiser benefitting the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. For more photos, see page 11, and for a story about a strong storm system moving into the area that could bring six inches or more of snow, see page 3.

Steamboat Springs — The nine-day delay in kicking off the 2007-08 ski season at the Steamboat Ski Area did little to damper the enthusiasm Friday of those skiers and boarders who hit the slopes on Scholarship Day. — The nine-day delay in kicking off the 2007-08 ski season at the Steamboat Ski Area did little to damper the enthusiasm Friday of those skiers and boarders who hit the slopes on Scholarship Day.

— The nine-day delay in kicking off the 2007-08 ski season at the Steamboat Ski Area did little to damper the enthusiasm Friday of those skiers and boarders who hit the slopes on Scholarship Day.

Although everyone was there to cut some turns, the ski area’s new six-passenger Christie Peak Express lift was the day’s star attraction.

Ski Patroller Craig MacDonald described his first ride on the new lift as “quiet and fast,” while 3-year-old Caroline Landers may have summed up the experience best as she gripped the safety bar and yelled, “I’m flying.”

“It goes at a thousand feet per minute – you can almost get a speeding ticket it’s so fast, and you probably need goggles going up,” said Billy Kidd, the ski area’s Director of Skiing and a silver medalist at the 1964 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria.

“This lift is unique because it services beginner, intermediate, expert and even Olympian training,” he said. “The fact you can go up and race in the NASTAR finals, you can compete in the World Cup aerials and moguls, you can go up and get in the halfpipe – there is just a variety of skiing you can do on this lift, and you may be riding with some of Steamboat’s Olympians on the way up.”

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The Preview and Thunderhead lifts also were open Friday. The three lifts serviced nine trails. The opening of additional lifts and trails in the near future will depend on weather and snow conditions.

Today is the first day season passes will be accepted at the ski area, but those willing to pay $20 Friday for the first turns of the season to benefit the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club’s scholarship fund may have been treated with sharing a lift with an Olympian.

Six Olympians, including Kidd, Nelson Carmichael, Erin Simmons, Travis Mayer, Todd Lodwick and Deb Armstrong, helped usher in the grand opening of the Christie Peak Express lift.

The Scholarship Day benefit has raised more than $525,000 for the club since its inception in 1991, and it generated $47,000 during opening day last season. Proceeds from this year’s fundraiser won’t be available until early next week, ski area spokeswoman Heidi Thomsen said.

Clinton Galorath and Adam Peters were two of the first riders on the mountain Friday.

“There wasn’t enough snow, which was a bummer,” said Galorath, 17, who has spent some days carving turns at Copper Mountain.

“But it’s nice not having to drive two hours,” added Peters, 17.

Caroline Landers, who was clad head-to-toe in pink, exited the Christie Peak Express lift at the midway unloading station with her mother, Kelly Landers, and ski patroller Sharon Spiegel for some turns on the Preview run.

“This is actually her second year on the mountain,” Kelly Landers said. “The snow is pretty soft, and the lift is really fast. We’re having a pretty great day.”

Area students and teachers who weren’t able to hit the slopes Friday will be able to ski or ride for the Scholarship Day price of $20 today, if they do not have a season pass.

It was difficult to gauge exact attendance Friday, but if the lack of lift lines were any indication, Scholarship Day may not have been as well attended as it has been in past years.

Thomsen said ski area officials were thrilled with the participation.

“I think it went perfectly (Friday), and I don’t think it could have gone better,” she said. “It’s so nice to have the culmination of everything we’ve done since last spring – all the work on Headwall, the new lift and the new snowmaking pipe.”

Without the efforts of the ski area’s mountain and snowmaking crews, Thomsen said opening day wouldn’t have been as good.

“I thought the snow was very soft and great to ski on,” she said. “I couldn’t tear myself off the hill.”

Kidd said there is always electricity in the air on opening day, but this year seemed extra special.

“It’s surprising that some of us older, more mature skiers feel that same buzz the first day,” he said. “You think you’d outgrow it, but it was fun getting out there today.”

MacDonald said he couldn’t believe how wide-open the trails were.

“Only in Steamboat are there no lift lines on opening day,” he said.