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Colorado’s Christmas Storm, Major Terrain Openings and a Ski Bum’s Faith in Santa Claus Restored

Pali lift opening (Adrienne Saia Isaac)

My name is Scott. I’m 43 years old. And I believe in Santa Claus.

No, not some jolly bearded guy from the North Pole with flying reindeer and an uncanny ability to squeeze down chimneys despite his girth. 

But how else can I explain the Christmas Miracle storm that hit Colorado? I am writing this on Dec. 28 after skiing six days in a row, from the second the flakes started falling on Dec. 21 through yesterday’s hiking to find leftovers at Wolf Creek Ski Area. (And you didn’t hear it from me but Step Bowl still has plenty of fresh lines for those willing to earn their turns….)

It wasn’t just that it finally snowed after a mostly dry December, but the timing of the snow. Holiday travelers and powder-starved locals alike were facing the prospect of very limited Christmas season skiing. Snow machines can only do so much and most of my favorite terrain was more rocks and grass than winter wonderland. 

Then the Miracle. The ridge of high pressure that had been deflecting storms over the Rockies – I call it “Heartbreak Ridge” – dissipated. High in the atmosphere above Colorado, moisture-laden clouds moved in, dropping ice crystals. These crystals bonded with others in the frigid air forming flakes heavy enough to fall to the ground. 

Powder snow. 

The first storm came on Dec. 21-22, bringing 5-10 inches to many areas. Then the skies barely had time to clear before another big storm dropped impressive totals on Dec. 23, including another foot or more at northern areas like Steamboat. And finally, on Christmas Eve through Christmas Day, yet another storm brought up to a 18 inches to northern resorts like Winter Park, Copper Mountain, Arapahoe Basin and Loveland, while all areas saw at least some snow. 

It all made for a very merry Christmas for skiers and snowboarders. And ropes began dropping on terrain all over ski country. Here’s a rundown of some of the major terrain openings:

  • Arapahoe Basin: Pallavicini Lift opened, offering access to some of the steepest and legendary terrain on the mountain. 
  • Copper Mountain: The Lumberjack lift began operating and Copper now has more than half its terrain open. 
  • Crested Butte: The East River Express Lift began running Dec. 28, bringing the total to 13 of 15 lifts spinning with 67 open trails. 
  • Eldora: This Boulder-area resort got a Christmas gift of 33 inches over several days and has all 10 lifts running with new trails opening regularly. 
  • Loveland: Thanks to 35 inches over the holidays, the area has seven of nine lifts running, and ski patrol was able to open Avalanche Bowl, Zoom and Bennett’s Bowl, among other terrain. 
  • Monarch: The central Colorado resort received 14 inches, allowing the opening of Breezeway Lift, which accesses a variety of terrain, from gentle groomers to some of the most popular black diamond runs. 
  • Steamboat: This northern Colorado resort was the big winner, with multiple feet of snow that allowed them to open 51 trails and 1,200 acres in just two days. The resort now has the most open terrain in Colorado. 
  • Winter Park: Santa delivered the goods to Winter Park, with 32 inches of snow, which allowed the resort to double the amount of open terrain at Winter Park and Mary Jane, including all but three lifts and even some upper terrain like Parsenn Bowl. 

But as important as terrain openings are, the snow boosted the morale all over ski country. Instagram accounts that were bemoaning the lack of snow were now full of powder plunges and face shots. That palpable feeling of excitement on the lifts and in ski town bars was back. 

So thank you, Santa, for saving Christmas. Happy New Year and cheers to a snowy 2018.