To Campbell Martin, the night before the opening day of ski season is like Christmas Eve.

On Wednesday night, he laid out all the ski equipment he would be using at Ski Santa Fe on Thanksgiving Day: skis, boots (which he set by the heater to warm them), pants, his new pair of long underwear (“They cost $80,” he said. “And they’re tight!”), and his jacket.

He saw them as an array of new toys that he could start playing with once the ski basin opened at 9 a.m. Thursday.

After hitting the slopes for several hours, he pronounced it one of the best opening days he’s ever experienced at Ski Santa Fe. On Thanksgiving Day, Martin joined a slew of others in skiing the various runs under a gray sky that offered the promise of more snow later in the day. Given predictions of a wet, white winter in the region and memories of last year’s lackluster snowfall, Thursday’s opening provided a ray of hope that this year’s season could be a good one.

The fact that it began snowing on the mountain around 3:30 p.m. added to the festive, optimistic mood.

“It’s a great turnout for opening day,” said Ski Santa Fe marketing director Stephen Trask as he observed skiers and snowboarders mounting the various chairlifts. “There’s always a good vibe here on opening day.”

He said more than 76 percent of the slopes were open and that the average snow base was 20 inches, though there was “more on top of the mountain.”

Though Ski Santa Fe officials said they would not have an accurate headcount of opening-day skiers until Friday, many employees interviewed at the basin said business was steady.

Ski Santa Fe employee Aron Paz said he arrived to work at 6:30 a.m. to discover a string of skiers and snowboarders already hiking up the trails hours before the lift chairs started operating at 9 a.m. The parking lot was half full by 7 a.m., he said.

“I guess people just get excited and are ready to go skiing after such a long wait,” Paz said.

Many snow enthusiasts who were skiing, snowboarding, taking lessons and building snowmen agreed.

“Skiing on opening day is like releasing all the tension I’ve had from waiting all year long to be here,” said 18-year-old Shamus O’Leary, who arrived at 9 a.m. to find long lines.

“I like how fluid skiing is,” he said. “It’s really smooth. You have to be focused. You’re not thinking about anything else but what you are doing — skiing.”

Many skiers interviewed said Thanksgiving is the perfect day to enjoy these winter sports with family members and friends before heading home for a holiday gathering.

Ski instructor Tony Wilimitis took a minute away from teaching a handful of people how to ski to comment on the way people were coming together on a traditional American holiday. President George Washington is credited with proclaiming a day in November as a time to offer blessings to both God and country in 1789. Wilimitis said the ski basin is the perfect setting to consider Washington’s action and what Thanksgiving means.

“Washington was showing gratitude in calling for the citizenry to come together to give blessings for what they had,” he said. Gesturing to the people around him enjoying the scene, he told his student charges to be thankful: “Not everyone can be out here today.”

Guimel Acton of San Angelo, Texas, said she was thinking the same thing as she watched her husband and two children enjoy the slopes. She said the family drives to New Mexico every year to enjoy opening day at Ski Santa Fe because “we get to spend the day together, doing something fun and not watching TV. This is a day to give thanks for that.

“Being healthy, being happy — there is so much to be happy about in our lives if we don’t concentrate on all the bad stuff.”

Trask said Ski Santa Fe is slated to remain open into the first week of April.

General Assignment Reporter

Robert Nott has covered education and youth issues for the Santa Fe New Mexican. He is assigned to The New Mexican's city desk where he covers a general assignment beat.