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Ikon’s Arapahoe Basin beats Epic’s Keystone in race to open first

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October 11, 2019, 2:07 pm
Heaps of snow at A-Basin, which opens today (Oct. 11).

At first it looked like Keystone was winning the race to open first for the 2019-20 ski season, announcing early on  Friday that it will open on Saturday, Oct. 12, but then Arapahoe Basin jumped into the fray to say it will open briefly today (Friday, Oct. 11).

It’s an interesting twist if you’re a Vail Resorts Epic Pass-holder, because once A-Basin shifted allegiance to Alterra’s Ikon Pass at the end of last season, VR quickly pivoted to offer up Breckenridge as a very worthy late-season competitor to A-Basin and now Keystone as an early-season white-ribbon competitor. Ikon’s A-Basin wasn’t about to let Keystone open first.

But, let’s face it, that’s what we’re talking this time of the year: the white ribbon. And that takes all of A-Basin’s legendary terrain out of play compared to Keystone, whose Schoolmarm run may be just as good if not better than the Basin’s High Noon.

Still, kudos for A-Basin’s surprise afternoon opening with cheap beers. This season pass battle and race to open first is sure getting interesting … and snow riders will be the big winners. Here’s Al’s Blog from the Basin:

We Are Opening Today

“The race to be the first to open in Colorado and the country is always a treat. Vail has announced that Keystone is opening tomorrow. I know Loveland is right on their tail. Congratulations to both resorts.

“We are proud to announce that we will open Black Mountain Express today, Friday, October 11, from 3:30 PM to 5:30 PM. There will be $15 lift tickets, $5 beers and $5 apres ski dishes in the 6th Alley. Starting tomorrow, we will be open with normal operating hours. Mug Club sales begin Saturday.

“Our team has done an extraordinary job making snow, grooming snow, getting the annual tramway licenses, hiring staff, training staff, etc. etc. etc. We have been having fun. I can’t wait to get my skis on. As I write, the cat drivers are putting the finishing touches on the snow. The lift ops and the ski patrollers are getting their gear in order. The staff gets an A+ for this one.

“Today we will be hosting an extraordinary Friday Afternoon Club. Come join us for a few turns, a quick bite and a beverage with friends. Ski season is here. Thanks so much for being part of Arapahoe Basin.”

Now overall, head-to-head I’ll take A-Basin any day over Keystone, but early season it’s a toss-up, and late season I think I prefer Breck’s Whale’s Tail to the overcrowded confines of the Basin. Middle of the season, sorry, I’m not heading over Vail Pass to Summit County on a powder day. I’ll stay closer to home at Beaver Creek and Vail.

Essentially, Vail Resorts is trying to take A-Basin out of the picture in the Colorado snow rider’s annual internal debate over Epic versus Ikon. There will obviously be some diehard Basin devotees who will never give it up – and I get that (it’s a fantastic mountain) – but the Breck-Keystone combo is a pretty solid early-late-season one-two punch.

Anyway, very frosty here in Eagle County this morning (Friday, Oct. 11), with lows in the single digits and a half a foot or so of new snow. It’s supposed to warm up and dry out over the next week, but let’s hope the nighttime temps stay low enough for quality snowmaking.

Now here’s that Keystone press release on opening day this Saturday, Oct. 12:

Keystone Positioned to be the First Ski Resort to Open in North America on Saturday, Oct. 12 – The Resort’s Earliest Opening in More Than 20 Years

KEYSTONE, Colo. — Oct. 11, 2019 – Keystone Resort announced today that it will open for the 2019-20 winter season on Saturday, Oct. 12, the resort’s earliest opening in more than 20 years. This summer, Keystone made significant investments to its snowmaking infrastructure, installing a new state-of-the-art, automated snowmaking system that allows the resort to operate more efficiently and productively during the early season. Thanks to the investments in snowmaking and ideal early season temperatures, Keystone is positioned to be the first resort to open in North America. 

 “With Keystone’s early opening, and Breckenridge’s plan to operate through Memorial Day, the two resorts will offer one of the longest ski seasons in the country, providing even more value for our Epic Pass holders,” said Jody Churich, Keystone’s new vice president and general manager. “Our mountain operations team put in a tremendous amount of hard work to get our new snowmaking system ready for Keystone’s early opening. Heading into my first winter as GM at Keystone, I’m so proud to be joining this incredible team.”

 For opening day at Keystone, skiers and snowboarders will have access to the River Run Gondola and the Montezuma Express lift to enjoy terrain on Schoolmarm, Silver Spoon and Last Chance. Skiing and riding access will be offered from the top of Dercum Mountain to the bottom of the Montezuma Express lift. At the end of the ski day, guests will download the River Run Gondola back to the base of the resort.

Celebrate with the Keystone Kickoff – October through Nov. 24.

Kick off a new early season tradition with Keystone Resort, which begins Opening Day and lasts throughout most of November. With activities both on and off the mountain, guests can make their first turns of the season and also revel in their favorite fall activities. On Opening Day, Keystone will begin the season welcoming skiers and snowboarders with donut holes, hot chocolate and coffee at the base of the River Run Gondola. Guests will also have the chance to win prizes and the first 100 people in line will receive a free pancake breakfast at the Summit House atop Dercum Mountain on Opening Day. In addition, throughout October and November the Keystone Kickoff will be comprised of outdoor concerts in River Run Village, costume parties for Halloween, and fun competitions and games in addition to early season skiing and riding.

Ski Season Has begun and There’s an Epic Pass For Everyone

New for the 2019-20 season, Vail Resorts launched the Epic Day Pass allowing guests to ski world-class resorts for up to 50 percent off of lift ticket window prices. Starting at as little as $109 for one day of skiing at any of Vail Resorts’ North American resorts, the Epic Day Pass is perfect for those skiers and riders who may not need the unlimited skiing offered by traditional season passes. Guests can also lower their cost per day by adding more days.

 Also introduced for the 2019-20 season are the Keystone Plus Pass and the new Keystone Crested Butte 4-Pack. For $389, the Keystone Plus Pass, with certain holiday restrictions, provides unlimited access to Keystone, unlimited late spring skiing at Breckenridge starting April 1, 2020, and five days at Crested Butte. The Keystone Crested Butte 4-Pack offers any four total days between Keystone and Crested Butte, with holiday restrictions, for only $249.

 For guests looking to ski more days in a season, the Epic Pass and Epic Local Pass continue to offer the best value and variety for unlimited skiing and riding. Currently priced at $969 for the 2019-20 winter season, the Epic Pass provides unlimited, unrestricted access to all of Vail Resorts’ owned and operated resorts and additional access to partner resorts around the world. For skiers and riders willing to navigate around a few peak dates, the Epic Local Pass offers incredible value with access to many of the same destinations, starting at only $719. The entire lineup of Epic Pass options is on sale now at epicpass.com.

Sunday, Oct.13 is also the deadline for Colorado families to sign up for the FREE Epic SchoolKids Colorado Pack. The Epic SchoolKids Colorado Pack now includes 20 total free days for kids K-5 (four free days each at Keystone, Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, and now Crested Butte), plus one free lesson and one free equipment rental. This program means that a family of four could ski together for 20 days at just $350 per person when you bundle 2 Adult Epic Local passes with 2 qualifying Epic SchoolKids enrollments. It’s the perfect way for little ones to fall in love with the sport at little or no extra cost to their parents.

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David O. Williams

Managing Editor at RealVail
David O. Williams is an award-winning freelance reporter based in the Vail Valley of Colorado, writing on health care, immigration, politics, the environment, energy, public lands, outdoor recreation and sports. His work has appeared in 5280 Magazine, American Way Magazine (American Airlines), the Anchorage Daily News (Alaska), Aspen Daily News, the Aspen Times, Beaver Creek Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, the Colorado Independent, Colorado Politics (formerly the Colorado Statesman), Colorado Public News, the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Colorado Independent (formerly Colorado Confidential), the Colorado Springs Independent, the Colorado Statesman (now Colorado Politics), the Daily Trail (Vail), the Denver Daily News, the Denver Post, the Durango Herald, the Eagle Valley Enterprise, the Eastside Journal (Bellevue, Washington), ESPN.com, the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent, the Greeley Tribune, the Huffington Post, the King County Journal (Seattle, Washington), KUNC.org (northern Colorado), LA Weekly, the London Daily Mirror, the Montgomery Journal (Maryland), The New York Times, the Parent’s Handbook, Peaks Magazine (now Epic Life), People Magazine, Powder Magazine, the Pueblo Chieftain, PT Magazine, Rocky Mountain Golf Magazine, the Rocky Mountain News, Atlantic Media's RouteFifty.com (formerly Government Executive State and Local), SKI Magazine, Ski Area Management, SKIING Magazine, the Summit Daily News, United Hemispheres (United Airlines), Vail/Beaver Creek Magazine, Vail en Español, Vail Valley Magazine, the Vail Daily, the Vail Trail and Westword (Denver). Williams is also the founder, publisher and editor of RealVail.com and RockyMountainPost.com.

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