S. Klaus Schmidt prepared for the onslaught Wednesday. In his blue Vail Resorts uniform and with the clock ticking down to 9 a.m., he manned the gate at the gondola that would open to release the flood of skiers and snowboarders anxious to hit the slopes first.
"OK, just don't run me over. I'm old," Schmidt joked as he dropped the rope.
Jake Parker and Erin Edwards led the charge. The couple arrived at the base of the gondola at Heavenly Village at 2:45 a.m. Wednesday morning to ensure a ride on the first chair of the season.
"You got to start the season off right," Edwards said.
For the second year in a row, Edwards and Parker set up camp - this year it included a fluffy comforter and stripped beach umbrella - feet from the gondola to celebrate the opening of the mountain. The next group of intrepid snow sports enthusiasts joined the pair at 6:30 a.m.
Brett McLucas and Michael Torres didn't exhibit quite the same passion to hit the slopes early. They arrived at the gondola around 8:30 a.m., and cheerfully admitted they thought lifts opened at 8 a.m.
Both said they were excited to start making turns though.
"They have a good base, and they've got some snow up there in the trees," Heavenly lift operator McLucas said.
That base averages around 18 to 24 inches, according to Heavenly's General Manager Pete Sonntag. He said that the resort plans to open Orion's run and Dipper Express by either Friday or Saturday.
"It's going fantastic. The energy is clearly here with both our employees and our guests. We've put last year behind us. We're feeling good," Sonntag said.
Opening more terrain depends on how much powder falls during the upcoming days. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts a heavy snow and rain mixture both Saturday and Sunday in South Lake Tahoe, with actual accumulation hovering around 3 inches.
In warm, spring-like conditions, skiers and boarders made short, fast loops on Upper California Trail. The blue run was in good shape on Wednesday morning with no bare spots and very little ice. Samuel Rigling IV said he was more than happy to overlook a few slick patches on opening day, and his boarding buddy Jake Smith agreed.
"It's a bit icy, but it's a good step up from last year. It's good for opening day," Smith said.
Although the Ante Up terrain park beneath Tamarak Express is still closed, Heavenly staff built up a series of features that included medium-size jumps and rails along the left side of California Trail.
The Heavenly Angels will kick of the season's apres-ski parties Friday at Tamarak Lodge, which is accessed from the top of the gondola. Festivities start at 3:30 p.m., according to a Vail Resorts press release.
Couldn't make it to the slopes on Wednesday? Not to worry. Check out the shots of the day in the Tahoe Daily Tribune's opening day gallery at http://tinyurl.com/a9h6w2y.