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Early opening at Vail, ski races at Beav’ sound good, but it’s Mother Nature’s call

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August 31, 2021, 10:58 am
Snow on the Gore Range as seen from Vail Village a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately, it’s already melted.

It takes a certain degree of hubris to announce — as Vail Resorts and the Vail Valley Foundation respectively did last week — that there will for sure be lift-served, alpine skiing as soon as October at Keystone, Nov. 12 in Vail and early December for World Cup men’s ski races at Beaver Creek (it takes a hell of a lot of snow to host a downhill).

Sure, such announcements fire up the stoke machine for the coming ski season, maybe squeezing out a few more season ski pass sales and generating some early-season bookings, but the reality is that it’s Mother Nature’s call. And right now she’s fairly pissed off.

Don’t know if you’ve checked outside the window lately but it’s been pretty hot, smoky and dry for the last month or so. Yeah, we had some great rainfall (bit excessive at times) in July, causing fire-scar mudslides that shut down I-70 through Glenwood Canyon for weeks on end. But since then it’s getting pretty brittle out there.

I’m a little surprised we haven’t seen fire restrictions put back in place. Just look at what’s happening in the climate-ravaged, drought-stricken Lake Tahoe area, where massive wildfires are forcing evacuations in and around ski areas. All it takes is a couple careless campers or some VRBOer kids with fireworks.

Yeah, I love ski racing, too, and it sucked that COVID-19 scrapped last season’s races at the Beav’, but in previous seasons we’ve had to cancel due to a lack of snow, and this is once again shaping up to be an unpredictable La Nina winter. Remember, last season (also a La Nina) we were a full 100 inches of snowfall below our seasonal averages. It can’t get much worse than that, right? Right?

As for Vail opening on Friday, Nov. 12, with its awesome new snowmaking system leading the charge, sure, that would be great if it happens, although our increasingly stressed streams and local rivers can typically use a bit of a break that time of year. But the reality is that such early openings are becoming unicorns that we shouldn’t even try to chase as the world continues to super-heat due to heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions wreaking havoc on ecosystems and economies across the globe.

And trust me when I say that Nov. 12 would not at all be the earliest opening in Vail history (sorry, Vail Daily). My first season in Vail was one of the best in recent memory, and I have photographic proof (buried deep in a box in my crawl space) of myself in rear-entry Raichle boots and flared stretch pants skiing a foot of fresh on Kangaroo Cornice on Nov. 6, 1991. Those first four or five seasons I lived in Vail were legendary for the amount of natural snowfall pummeling the mountain.

But that was back when Mount Pinatubo was erupting in the Philippines, providing natural cloud seeding, and Al Gore was the only one talking about climate change. Now it’s such a solidly accepted scientific fact that I don’t even have to make the anecdotal argument that the seasons have shortened, December is the new November and March is the new April.

Naive, I know, but I would urge us to be more pragmatic in planning for ski-season openings and tell the consumers this is not your fault but we’ll open when Mother Nature allows (and please arrive, if you can, fully vaccinated and by electric vehicle if possible). Meanwhile, ski races in early December will not be something we can guarantee in coming decades, just as a full Lake Powell seems like a quaint relic from years gone by, so please take that into consideration, International Ski Federation, as you grapple with messy Democracies and environmentalists.

That being said, I hope to eat some serious (snow) crow on this blog this coming ski season and that I’m choking on powdery face shots as compared to last season. Optimistically, I did re-up my Epic Pass and will continue to pray to the Snow Gods so that I can actually ski down the Stone Creek drainage to my house in EagleVail this season without risking shin-shattering encounters with the abundant deadfall in those trees. But I’m also not going to hold my breath that will happen, unless it’s to keep from choking on smoke.

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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, Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Times, Beaver Creek Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, the Colorado Independent (formerly Colorado Confidential), Colorado Politics (formerly the Colorado Statesman), Colorado Public News, the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Colorado Springs Independent, the Colorado Statesman (now Colorado Politics), the Colorado Times Recorder, the Daily Trail (Vail), the Denver Daily News, the Denver Gazette, 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.

2 Responses to Early opening at Vail, ski races at Beav’ sound good, but it’s Mother Nature’s call

  1. Tom Boyd Reply

    September 1, 2021 at 11:30 am

    It’s true Mother Nature will determine if we can host the Xfinity Birds of Prey in December … I think our most recent announcement was more to do with the idea that, despite increasing concern about COVID variants, that we have a robust plan in place that should allow us (within reason of course) to be able to host the event even if there are heightened COVID-related restrictions. So, we are a “go” in that sense, but not a “go” on the snow-conditions until we can pass FIS inspection/snow control sometime in November.

    That said, all of us in the ski and ski racing industries should be very concerned about climate trends, and actively advocating for any corporate or personal behavior that reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

    Tom Boyd
    Press chief
    Xfinity Birds of Prey

  2. Fronz Klopper Reply

    September 2, 2021 at 7:27 pm

    I think the time has come to pull the plug on this event. They waste a tremendous amount of water making snow that does not return to the watershed for this event. It’s an ecological nightmare.

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