Eat your hearts out, lowlanders--we went skiing today!

Thanks to the earliest big snow dump in recent memory and a high-stakes economic competition among ski resorts, we spent this mid-autumn afternoon blissfully skiing through a blizzard at Loveland Basin, right on the Continental Divide 60 miles west of Denver.

With two months and two days remaining before the official start of winter, the slopes were in mid-season form, which is not particularly surprising, considering that the area has had 40 inches of snow this week. The region is expecting more snow this weekend.

The slopes were crowded, too. Somehow, snow-clogged highways that forced the closure of schools and business throughout the Rocky Mountain West became passable for hundreds of people heading out to ski.

This is not to suggest that the surprisingly early snowstorms have been a source of unalloyed joy. Although snow in large quantities is a basic climatic and economic fact of life here, not everyone has learned to live with it.

"I've developed an aversion to snow in general," grouched Denver Mayor Federico Pena as his crews were busily trying to clear away the 14 inches that blanketed his city Monday night.

Like mayors everywhere, Pena works hard to draw industry to his own city. He feels that these efforts have been hindered somewhat by Denver's reputation as a place regularly brought to a halt by heavy snow.

For years the rap on Washington, D.C., has been that the city closes down at the slightest trace of snow. It takes a little more than a trace to cause the same result here, but for a while this week the snow essentially closed down Denver, too.

For Pena, Monday's storm was a case of exquisitely bad timing. It peaked just in time for the kickoff of the nationally televised Broncos-Packers game Monday night, demonstrating to tens of millions of professional-football fans nationwide that Denver is indeed Snow City.

City fathers were also singing the snow woes in Salt Lake City, where a 19-inch accumulation Thursday was officially recognized as the biggest storm in the city since record-keeping began in 1928.

The storm snarled traffic and blacked out thousands of homes. Even worse, it caused immediate concern that this winter will put another huge snowcap on the Wasatch Mountains. That, in turn, could bring a third straight spring of severe flooding in Utah's capital.

It's an ill blizzard, though, that blows nobody any good. The storm that the Denver papers have labeled the "Bronco Blizzard" was great news for several Colorado ski areas.

Each year, several resorts here get into a macho competition for the earliest opening date. To the victor goes a little extra business among hard-core skiers and, more importantly, the public-relations bonanza that comes with the inevitable news photos and videotapes of skiers shooting through packed powder while most of the nation is still in shirt-sleeves.

One of the major entrants in this annual race has been the Keystone resort near here. Its owner, Ralston Purina Co., has installed about $8 million worth of artificial snow-making equipment so that Keystone can open in October, weather or not.

This year, with its snow guns going full blast, Keystone announced a month ago that it would open today. That should have guaranteed the resort the "first-in-the-nation" honor. Then Mother Nature intervened.

The "Bronco Blizzard" and a storm the next day dropped so much snow in the mountains that a small ski area, Berthoud Pass, with no snow-making equipment whatsoever, was able to open its gates Wednesday afternoon and snag the "first open" title this year. Loveland opened Thursday, and Keystone finally straggled in third today.

The "Bronco Blizzard" was also a boon to those of us who have been too busy or too lazy to deal with raking leaves. With the end of the World Series last weekend, some of us were giving serious thought to clearing away the three-inch cover of leaves on our yards. Fortunately, the storm hit before we got around to doing the job, and now those unsightly autumn leaves are neatly buried under 18 inches of snow.

"You can put that rake away now," my neighbor said. "You won't be seeing your lawn again until the thaw next May."