Season gets rolling with annual Scholarship Day to support the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club | SteamboatToday.com

Season gets rolling with annual Scholarship Day to support the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club

Lift operator Ryan Reda waits at the top of the gondola Wednesday morning as the first skiers and snowboarders of the year make their way up. This year's Scholarship Day offered top-to-bottom skiing at the Steamboat Ski Area. Proceeds from lift ticket sales were donated to the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club's scholarship fund. Wednesday marked the first day of regular operations at the mountain.

— It was just before 8 a.m. Wednesday morning, and Steamboat Springs Middle School student Oliver Caparelli was sitting on the stairs just outside the entrance to the Steamboat Ski Area's gondola.

Most days, Caparelli would be headed to class, but on the first day of his Thanksgiving break, he and his friends chose to get up early and carry on a tradition they started three years ago. That tradition means arising before the sun and camping out to be one of the first to ride the gondola up Mount Werner for the first runs of the season.

"My friend got here at 5:45 a.m., but I didn't show up until 6:30 a.m.," Caparelli said. "I like to be the first in line. I wanted to be on the first gondola car, and I wanted to be the first to make it to the top of the mountain. I love skiing, and I look forward to this all year."

This young man is not alone.

Just a few feet away, at the front of the singles line, Todd Matheis talked on his cell phone as he waited for the doors to open. His family moved to the valley in 1974, and his quest to be among the first on the mountain every year is a long-running tradition.

"This is the first day of the year,” Matheis said. “I want to ski 120 to 130 days this season, so I might as well get in as many days as possible."

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Matheis, who works as a bartender at Harwigs L'Apogee, said there have been better opening days, but he was thrilled with the idea of skiing from the top of the mountain to the bottom this early in the season. After taking a few runs Wednesday, the longtime local reported he was able to find a little bit of untracked powder near the top. He added that Heavenly Days was perfect for skiers hoping to get ready for the season on a nice groomer.

Also near the front of the line was Tom Barr, who has spent the past 40 years absorbing the Steamboat Springs lifestyle. He arrived here Oct. 24, 1975, in what he affectionately called his hippie van. At that time, he stopped to use the pay phone at Bob's Downtown Conoco to check in with his mom.

Barr celebrated his 40th year in Steamboat last month by calling his mom from the same gas station parking lot, this time using a cell phone — the pay phone has long since vanished.

"I told my mom that her 18-year-son had arrived and found his home and that he is still skiing in the ‘Boat," Barr said.

On Wednesday, he could be found sliding down the slopes with a huge grin on his face, loving every minute of this opening day.

"It is the opening of a new season, and everyone is excited to get started," Barr said. "What other communities have a day and an event that is so celebrated, and we celebrate by donating money to the kids in the Winter Sports Club. It's really a cool thing.”

Longtime Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club employee Sarah Floyd agreed, saying she loves to show up early on Scholarship Day and help set up. Floyd said she has seen it all over the years with the Winter Sports Club and has never lost sight of how special this day is for skiers and how important it is for the club.

"There is always a group that gets here early for the first shot at it," Floyd said. "But there is also just a lot of support for the club and the young skiers and snowboarders. If it's a sunny day, we tend to get people throughout the day, and if it's deep powder, people are here first thing and then head off to work."

On this day, a steady stream of skiers filtered into Gondola Square an enjoyed smooth-flowing lines and a good amount of room on most runs, owing mostly to the fact that skiers had 31 trails and 168 acres to explore.

"It's exciting," said Mike Lane, Steamboat Ski Area public relations director. "People are ready to get on the hill and support a great cause. This year, we opened up to the top, so that builds a little bit of extra excitement."

Lane said the Ski Area is always hoping for a big day to raise money for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club's Scholarship Fund.

"Hopefully, we will have a big crowd. We have blue sky and sunshine, we have top-to-bottom skiing, Four Points is open, Thunderhead is open and there is a lot to do. I think people will be out and enjoying it, and we hope they have a great and safe time," Lane said. "The best thing about Scholarship Day is that the ski season is here. You get to see the people you haven't seen over the summer, and everyone is back, and everyone is smiling. You get to see the Winter Sports Club kids out having a good time, and everyone is supporting them, and it's a really fun way to start the season."

Scholarship Day revenues from the day's specially priced tickets benefit the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club Scholarship Fund. Scholarship Day has raised nearly $930,000 since the 1991-92 season. The fund provides financial support for deserving local children participating in club programs.

"We've had great snowfall this year, and the temperatures have been great for snowmaking, so we are excited for a big day," Floyd said Wednesday morning "We are so appreciative of what the Ski Area does for us and has done for all these kids for all these years. It's remarkable."

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966