VAIL, Colo. — While watching her two sons skate circles around my first-timer this afternoon, a Vail local looked up from her cup of hot chocolate and sighed in relief.
“There isn’t a happier place in the world right now than this town,” she said.
The reason was all around us.
We woke up this morning to the steady fall of snow, and much to the delight of the locals, the tourists and, most of all, the ski industry, the snow continued throughout the day. The forecast called for as much as 10 inches of show in Vail Valley, and the final tally as the snow slowed during the night was about 8 inches. Excuse me, 8 glorious inches.
The ice rink in Vail Village was covered in a dusting of snow, which proved to be a nice cushion for the boy wonder on his first ever attempt at ice skating. (Or “ice skiing” as he continued to call it throughout the day.) The snow was more than ambiance to what really was our first day of winter. We went for goulash at Pepi’s. We spent 2 1/2 hours ice skating. And Ian launched an afternoon-long snowball assault on grandpa and me. The Captain America shield on my cap made for a handy target.
“Are you defeated?” Ian asked as he landed a snowball on the shield logo. “If you’re hit by four snowballs you’re defeated and you need to start over, like a video game.”
Like just about everywhere, there hasn’t been much winter to this winter in St. Louis. It’s snowed once, and the snow was gone as soon as it hit the sidewalk, leaving, at best, a slushy soup to hop over. On Jan. 2, it was not only warm enough but dry enough in the park to play baseball. So we did. My winters are condensed enough with spring training arriving each February, and going a whole offseason without shoveling, sledding or snowball-fighting would be a shame.
Of course, wanting snow is different than needing snow.
Vail needs snow. Vail is snow.
According to the National Weather Service, only 16 percent of the country was covered in snow this week, down from 45 percent at the same time last year. In the same Bloomberg article — one written by an old Times-Picayune chum Aaron Kuriloff — that continued that nugget, the chief executive of Vail Resorts Inc. issues a statement on the historic lack of snow on the mountain this season:
“For the first time in 30 years, a lack of snow has not allowed us to open the back bowls in Vail as of January 6, 2012, and, for the first time since the late 1800s it did not snow at all in Tahoe in December.”
According to CNN, this past December offered the 11th-smallest amount of snowfall in the United States in the past 46 years. Skier visits are down. Use of season passes is down. An article in the local Vail Daily suggested that reservations aren’t down at resorts around the area, but use of the pools, workout rooms and indoor facilities are up as people stay off the slopes.
The lack of snow led Vail to call on some help today and dig 30 years into their past.
At the base of the Vista Bahn chair lift today, the representatives from the Southern Utes did a snow ritual, according to the Vail Daily. It was only the third time in the ski resort’s history that they reached out to the local Native American tribe for assistance. The first time was in 1962, when the resort opened with drier runs than hoped. The second time was for the 1999 World Alpine Ski Championships. One of the participants in today’s “snow waltz” was a teen when he participated in the 1969 ritual, led by his father. From Laura Glendenning’s article in the Vail Daily:
Vail Mountain Chief Operating Officer Chris Jarnot and (Adam) Sutner decided about a week ago that maybe they should call in the Ute tribe for another ritual. Jarnot said the Utes have been a part of the Vail legend.
“We thought, ‘Hey, under the circumstances, let’s give them a call,’” Jarnot said.
Sutner added that when they called Box Jr. about eight days earlier, there was no snow at all in the forecast, which did extend through Saturday.
Box Jr. said he and his family began that ritual when they got the call last week. They began the prayers for snow and “moisture for Mother Earth.”
As people gathered around and formed a circle around the Box family and other tribe members, they looked on as the Utes performed the sacred ritual. First there was a slow waltz in a circle, followed by chants, drums and then a group dance. People all around could be heard saying “snow.”
The snow got thicker and started coming down heavier. Sutner said the Utes are 3-for-3 in Vail — the snow fell consistently the first two times they did the ritual, and Saturday’s beginning was a good start.
We planned to wait until Sunday to take full advantage of the snow by going to the top of the mountain and tubing. Ian got a head start. Wherever he could find fresh powder he scooped up a handful and molded a snowball. This was perfect packing weather, and Ian didn’t let an opportunity to nail me with snow pass. When he wasn’t chucking snow, he was lying in it making snow angels.
By the time we got done ice skating he had fallen an estimated 78 times — “Did you count for me?” he insisted — the boy wonder was coated in a layer of snow.
Vail got 8 inches. Ian left with one of them.
Both were happy.