The O. Zone

Vail's limited opening of Back Bowls just in time for big weekend storm

By David O. Williams
Real AspenJanuary 19, 2012

When I got on the Vista Bahn chairlift at 9:15 this morning, it was 37 degrees warmer than Tuesday morning's powder day, when it was 15 degrees below zero (Fahrenheit). And while it was warmer today (almost spring-like given the recent Pacific moisture flow), it was also windy and spitting grapple (snow/rain mix) onto my goggles.

Those are conditions only a diehard snow rider (or a Whistler skier) can truly love. But portions of Sun Up and China Bowls were set to open and I had to do “research” for this blog post. The best thing that I can say is that it was very fun to rip down the groomed corduroy of Poppyfields West in China Bowl.

A quick jump into Yonder Trees in Sun Up Bowl the run before revealed a wind-blasted crust of leftover “freshies” from Tuesday. Believe it or not, I love skiing stuff like that, although it made me wish for an even burlier ski than my Volkl Mantras.

This was shot on Wednesday in the Back Bowls, showing there are places where the snow has piled up.
Jack Affleck/Vail Resorts

My softest, fluffiest run today was by far Upper Snag on the front side, which says a lot about the current conditions. While I highly commend Vail (and all the hard-working patrollers and mountain ops folks) for opening as much terrain as humanly possible given our below-average snowpack, I only recommend going into the Back Bowls with extreme caution.

Stay light on your skis, ride totally in control and keep a hawk-like eye out for obstacles. Because they're everywhere. And Vail is not trying to hide that fact. Warning signs of all types clutter the mountain.

But even with all of our recent snow, the north-facing front side of the mountain is skiing way better than the south-facing Back Bowls, which means the north-facing terrain in Blue Sky Basin should still be pretty decent when it opens on Friday.

That's the good part about China Bowl opening. Even if you can't yet ski my favorite run on Vail Mountain, Genghis Khan, starting Friday you'll be able to access Blue Sky via China Bowl.

It should be pretty decent back there after a couple of inches of fresh snow forecast to fall tonight. Then we're supposed to get another 1-3 Friday during the day and another 1-2 during the day Saturday.

Then, according to, things get really interesting Saturday night, when both Vail and Beaver Creek are supposed to get between 10 and 15 inches of new snow. If that happens, you can disregard a lot of what I wrote in the first several paragraphs of this blog.

This was shot Thursday in the Back Bowls, showing Headwall still needs a lot more snow.
David O. Williams

Way more terrain will open, and so many of those obstacles will get completely covered over, especially if another storm headed our way Monday night comes through. By the end of the month, we may have completely forgotten that this was the latest opening date for the Back Bowls in the last 30 years.

And we'll have a semi-decent base in the Back Bowls for future storms into February and March – typically our snowiest months.

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Snow Report

  24hr snow mid dpth snow cond.
A-Basin n/a n/a
Aspen n/a n/a closed
BC n/a n/a closed
Breckenridge n/a n/a closed
Buttermilk n/a n/a closed
Copper n/a n/a closed
Crest. Butte n/a n/a closed
Eldora n/a n/a closed
Heavenly n/a n/a closed
Highlands n/a n/a
Howelsen n/a n/a closed
Keystone n/a n/a closed
Kirkwood n/a n/a closed
Loveland n/a n/a
Monarch n/a n/a closed
Northstar n/a n/a closed
Powderhorn n/a n/a closed
Purgatory n/a n/a closed
Silverton n/a n/a closed
Ski Cooper n/a n/a closed
Ski Granby n/a n/a closed
Snowmass n/a n/a closed
Steamboat n/a n/a closed
Sunlight n/a n/a closed
Telluride n/a n/a closed
Vail n/a n/a closed
WinterPark n/a n/a closed
Wolf Creek n/a n/a closed
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