"This is what the mountain is like when nobody's here," announced Sierra-at-Tahoe's Ski and Snowboard School Director, Kevin Mitchell, his voice and the dull hum of a chairlift being the only sounds filling the early morning air.
Stretched out behind Mitchell at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday were freshly groomed runs in Sierra's West Bowl, separated by a blanket of new snow unscathed by hungry powder hounds.
Mitchell's announcement came during the launch of a new program at the resort for the 2007-08 winter season: Early chairlift loading on powder days.
Here's how it works: Less than 24 hours before selected powder days this season, representatives from the resort plan to call a limited number of randomly chosen season passholders and tell them they are welcome to ride the resort's West Bowl Express chairlift 30 minutes before any of the resort's lifts open to the general public.
Due to state regulations, non-passholders also can apply to the program by submitting information to the resort, according to Sierra spokeswoman Mindi Befu.
There are 10 spots each time the resort fires up the program, but Befu estimated she offered early rides to about 50 passholders Tuesday.
Many declined the invitation because of work obligations, Befu said.
Six of the invitees, both skiers and snowboarders, made it to the resort on time to catch the first day of the program, including Pleasanton resident Sean Googins, who was pleased with the amount of elbow room at the resort.
"Usually when I get here, there's a line," Googins said.
Traveling to the resort on such short notice did come with some challenges, though.
The Vallejo firefighter said his wife was suspicious of the message left by the resort spokeswoman, saying she thought it could be a ploy by her husband's friends to get him up to the mountains.
"She said, 'Someone called for you and acted like you won something,' " Googins said. He explained how he convinced his wife the phone call was authentic and found someone to fill in for him at work before leaving Pleasanton at 4 a.m. Wednesday to take advantage of the invitation.
And take advantage he did, tearing through a half-foot of fresh snow between the trees lining the resort's Dogwood and Clipper runs before anyone else had a chance.
Although the 6 inches of new snow greeting the program's first participants seemed like a token amount after a week of storms that coated the resort in more than 7 feet of snow, no complaints were heard from Sierra's first round of early loaders.
The near-silence of fresh tracks cut in the morning may have been enough to drown out the complaints, anyway.