The winter sports season began with a bang this year. Mother Nature opened the snow spigots early compared to last year when the season had a slow stutter-start. The crystal ball is cloudy on just how the season will continue but at least ski resorts are off and running. Many regional ski areas and resorts unveiled updated facilities from ski lodges to new lifts as well as increased snow making capabilities.

Snowy Range Ski and Recreation Area

The Snowy Range Ski and Recreation Area opened Nov. 30. Aaron Maddox, co-owner of the ski area, said they have been really, really lucky with the build-up to opening day.

“We’ve had lots of natural snow and even more snowmaking,” Maddox said. For the first time in Maddox’s nine years of ownership, they opened the entire “front side” of the ski area on the first day. Typically they open with just a few runs on the front side – not the whole thing. He anticipates opening the “back side” with the Sundance lift soon.

The big improvement at the ski area this year is the bar and café in the lodge where Maddox said they contracted with Deerwood Log Homes for renovations.

“It was due for a facelift but, more importantly, it improves the workflow in the kitchen so we can get food out faster,” Maddox said. “We have an improved menu as well. It is the biggest renovation to date since we took over ownership.”

As for improvements on the slopes, Maddox said they have some new equipment and they did some grading work on the secondary parking lot to keep it from getting so muddy late in the season.

Winter Park/Mary Jane

Winter Park kicked off their season November 14. As of mid-week, the ski area boasted a 37-inch base with 51 percent of the terrain open. That may not sound like a lot but at this time last year they had an 18-inch base with only 4 percent open.

Steve Hurlbert, director of public relations and communication at Winter Park Resort, said the season is off to a great start.

“We’ve already gotten over six feet of snow this season,” Hurlbert said. “It’s a great way to kick things off.”

The big improvement at Winter Park is their new 10-person gondola that will whisk riders up the mountain in just five minutes starting in mid-December. The lift replaces the aged Zephyr Express chair lift, taking off from the Winter Park base and ascending to the Sunspot Mountaintop Lodge.

The ski resort also renovated the Village Plaza located adjacent to the gondola. This area is the hub of base-area activities and now has what Hurlbert called “an open, comfortable feel.” It also has snow-melting capabilities, making it accessible even as the snow falls.

On-mountain improvements include additional snow-making to triple the previous acreage and allow earlier snow coverage on more runs. Improvements were also made to the Eagle Wind territory, one of the seven territories that make up Winter Park. Eagle Wind is known for what is called “glading” or glade skiing where skiers enjoy shooshing through the trees. Work over the summer removed dead and dying timber while also opening up the trees to improve the gladed skiing experience.

Steamboat Ski Resort

Steamboat also has had a great opening. As of mid-week they report a 38-inch base with 61 percent of skiable terrain open. By this time last year, like Winter Park, they were at only 4 percent open.

Loryn Kasten, Senior Communications Manager for the resort, said the opening was a great start to the season.

“Cold temperatures in November allowed our mountain crews to maximize snowmaking and set up trails from top to bottom,” Kasten said. “Now Mother Nature is adding to our foundation. We hope this is a sign of what’s to come for the rest of the season.”

The major changes and improvements for this season are at the base area restaurant with an overhaul of the centerpiece restaurant in Gondola Square, now known as the Timber & Torch. Improvements to the restaurant and bar include expanded indoor seating, a new heated patio, two indoor/outdoor bars, an exterior fireplace and a new outdoor grill.

Another change to the culinary aspect of skiing and snowboarding is the new Taco Beast, an on-mountain snowcat-type of food truck serving four types of trail tacos. It is mobile so that locations can vary from day to day. In addition, the Umbrella Bar & BBQ was moved from the base area to Rendezvous Lodge at the Sunshine Peak area.

On-mountain improvements focused on the replacement and relocating of all on-mountain signage. According to the resort’s press release “guests will notice easier to read signs, more effective sign placement and route finding, and new sign locations spread across the resort’s 2,965 acres.”

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort opened November 24. While snow depths were less than the amazing amounts both last year and the year before, they had plenty of snow on opening day with 18 inches of fluff to top off the 39-inch base. As of mid-week that already went up to a 43-inch base with 32 percent of terrain open.

The major improvement for the season is a big one: the opening of the new Solitude Station. This unique on-mountain facility is the Mountain Sports School hub where skiers and snowboarders get rentals and lessons away from the base area bustle. Customers ride the Sweetwater Gondola – no lift ticket is required if they are wearing street shoes – at the designated Solitude Station access line at the base.

In addition, Solitude Station has two cafeteria style dining rooms for those taking lessons and their families during the day. Other après ski events and special functions will take place there later in the day for all guests.

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort also added to their base area dining options with the new RPK 3, located adjacent to the tram. This restaurant and bar will offer fast-casual lunch and for après ski enjoyment.

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