Snow hits Steamboat ahead of new gondola debut
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The grand opening for Steamboat Resort’s new and improved gondola is set for Saturday, and meteorologists expect a fresh blanket of snow in time for skiers and riders to hit mid-mountain.
The event kicks off at 7:30 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 23, in Gondola Square with complimentary mimosas and Champagne powder donuts. The first 100 people to ride the gondola, starting at 8:30 a.m., will receive a free, specially designed T-shirt from Ohana.
During an opening presentation, resort officials will present a $50,000 check to the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, according to Maren Franciosi, the resort’s digital communications manager. The Ute Indian Tribe snow dancers and drummers will perform, and a bottle of Champagne will be popped to christen the gondola before guests take their inaugural rides.
Crews clocked the gondola’s ride time at just under eight minutes, according to Franciosi, two minutes faster than originally expected. That, along with newly designed walk-in cabins, will help get guests up the mountain faster during the resort’s more crowded days, when lines have historically snaked and stretched back as far as the ticket office.
Open terrain and uphill restrictions
Heavenly Daze, an intermediate trail, will be the only terrain accessible from the top of the gondola over the weekend, according to Franciosi. That means 11 total trails will be open for the gondola’s debut, including the open terrain below Christie Peak Express. Christie Express and the gondola will be the only two lifts running Saturday.
Franciosi warns that early season conditions persist on the mountain, meaning snow could be slushy or icy over the weekend and unmarked hazards may exist. A line of snowmaking towers also will be placed down the middle of Heavenly Daze, according to Franciosi. Those will stay in place over the weekend. Depending on temperatures, they may be producing snow during opening hours.
For that reason, ski resort officials are not allowing uphill traffic above Christie Peak Express on Saturday and Sunday, with consent from the U.S. Forest Service, according to a news release from Steamboat Resort. With the snowmaking towers, downhill skiers and riders will be pushed to either side of Heavenly Daze, adding more traffic to the area where people usually travel up the mountain.
“It’s just a safety concern for us and all of the downhill skiers as well,” Franciosi said. “If we had uphill travel as well, it would cause unsafe conditions.”
Franciosi is unsure when more trails will open on the mountain. It largely depends on the amount of natural and artificial snow the resort receives in the coming days.
Mix of snow and sun in the forecast
The mountain received 1.5 inches of snow as of Thursday morning, according to the resort’s snow report. Continuing snowfall is expected to bring anywhere from 1 to 4 inches of snow to the area by Friday morning, according to local meteorologist Mike Weissbluth, who runs the forecasting website snowalarm.com.
He predicts the inclement weather will subside by the weekend, meaning bluebird days for the gondola’s debut.
Friday should see a high of 39 degrees, according to the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, with an overnight low of 16 degrees. Saturday’s high is 42 degrees, with a low of 14 degrees. Sunday should be slightly warmer, with a high of 43 degrees and a low of 19 degrees.
Heavier storms will hit Monday and continue throughout much of Thanksgiving week, Weissbluth predicts. More snow could start falling as early as Sunday night, with 6 to 12 inches of accumulation expected by Monday. With that in mind, he warns anyone traveling for the holiday to watch the weather forecast and stay up to date on any travel advisories.
Wednesday should see a break in the storms, according to Weissbluth. That’s the day he recommends as the safest for traveling.