This was a Gpaul morning and a joegm afternoon.
Weather was frustrating. Morning was mostly cloudy, yet still warm, as at Beaver Creek the previous afternoon. The difference was occasional gusty winds. These winds were small time by Mammoth standards; nonetheless no Back Bowl lifts were open until nearly noon, they all closed again by 2PM, and Blue Sky Basin (which I've never skied) did not open at all.
With just one day on such a huge area, I arrived by 8:45AM. Groomers were the order of the day until snow softened up, and no one has more of them or does a better job of maintaining them. Vail also publishes a daily map of which runs are groomed and labels the trail entrances on the hill accordingly. After a couple of mostly packed powder warmups above mid-Vail, I ventured all the way down Riva Ridge, where the steep middle section was was still firmly frozen. Next were the 3 long groomers (Avanti, Pickeroon and Lodgepole) of the Avanti chair. These were in good shape, not crowded, and I was passed by the occasional local downhill bomber at mach speed. Then a couple of OK runs on the Lionhead side, which as I expected had mushier/more irregular snow due to its thinner base. After that 2 runs in Game Creek Bowl and the first liftlines (still < 5 minutes) of the day.
At this point signs showed that China Bowl, but not the original Chair 5 bowls, was open. This required a ski down to mid-Vail, which to no surprise was a zoo at 11:30AM. Not that I should complain, having already skied 16,700. So after another line at the slow Sourdough lift (chair 14) I arrived at Two Elk Lodge a bit after noon and decided to stop for lunch. I figured that they had waited for snow to soften and that I would spend most of the afternoon in the bowls.
So after lunch I skied couple of cruisers and the narrow liftline of the Orient Express, planning then to check out Mongolia Bowl and then move over to Chair 5, since it was obvious they weren't going open Blue Sky. Snow conditions in China Bowl (and presumably the Chair 5 area) around 1-2 PM were excellent spring snow where groomed or skier packed, but areas that had seen 20+ inches of powder Saturday needed to settle a few more days in the sun. Blue Sky Basin faces more north and likely would still have had some dry snow had it opened.
After just 3 runs all the bowls closed, so I headed back to the front side, starting with chair 10, a decidedly retro sector of an otherwise very modern ski area. Chair 10 is a slow 13 minute ride up Highline, a never groomed run of joegm's dreams. I skied the less bumpy Blue Ox to enter the area, and exited via the more intensely mogulled Roger's Run so I would end up at the high speed Chair 11 which serves most of Vail's frontside expert terrain. From 2:00-3:30PM Chair 11 had 10-15 minute lines due to the closed bowls that would otherwise spread people out more. But I could use the break as I had skied well over 20K by the time I arrived, and needed breaks after runs like Prima-Pronto (another joegm must-do) and North Rim.
All of these bump runs had softened nicely by 2PM, though upper Prima is exactly north facing and was still closer to being packed powder. While I was disappointed to miss Blue Sky Basin and get only 3 runs on the backside, Vail is still such a vast area that I skied 32,600 without duplicating a run until the end of the day on then softened Riva Ridge.
I had heard that Vail draws heavily from upper class Latin America, and those families must all get Easter week off since I heard as much Spanish as English in the liftlines. Since many American schools also have this week as spring break (including most California K-12) I think Vail was quite busy. Yet judging by how much I skied I suspect that with the backside lifts open you would barely notice the crowds. John Nash will hopefully confirm this observation later in the week.
Season length: 21 months, Nov. 29, 2010 - July 2, 2012
Days in one year: 80 from Nov. 29, 2010 - Nov. 17, 2011
Season vertical: 1,318K in 2010-11
Season powder: 291K in 2011-12