ASPEN - After suffering through the 2011-12 winter with about half the usual amount of snow, Aspen Skiing Co. and other Colorado ski-resort operators are singing the praises of early-season dumps to grab the attention of customers.
A handful of resorts have opened already in Colorado, and several more will crank up the chairlifts by Thanksgiving. Aspen Mountain and Snowmass open Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 22.
The storm that blew into Colorado and lingered through Sunday dumped several inches of powder above 9,000 feet and lower amounts in the Roaring Fork Valley floor.
"I do have Snowmass at 13 inches at the top," Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle said. Aspen Mountain received 10 inches on top, while Aspen Highlands tallied 12 inches in Highland Bowl and 10 inches at Cloud 9 restaurant. Roughly 10 inches had fallen in previous storms, leaving 20 inches or more on the upper slopes.
Last weekend's storm was "weird" because it deposited more in the midvalley towns than it did in Aspen, Hanle said. Six inches of new snow were measured at the Aspen Water Plant between Friday morning and Monday morning. On Saturday, when 31⁄2 inches were recorded at the water plant, about 5 inches were recorded in El Jebel and Basalt.
The low temperatures that accompanied the storm were as important as the natural snowfall for ski areas. Snowmaking is under way in earnest.
"We've been blowing snow on all four mountains since early Saturday morning," Hanle said Monday morning. Low temperatures will allow snowmaking to continue this week.
Snowmaking efforts on Aspen Mountain have focused on the women's World Cup ski courses because the races will be held Nov. 24 and 25. Snowmaking also is under way along Spar Gulch and Deer Park and at the base of Lift 3.
Any skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts eager enough to venture up the mountains with this amount of snow cover should be aware that snowmaking equipment and workers on snowmobiles will likely be encountered, Hanle said.
The ski industry is never shy about hype, but this season it's understandable. Last season was brutal for many resorts because of poor snow conditions. Skier visits were down 15.7 percent nationwide from the previous season. That was the lowest level since 1991-92.
Skier visits were down 7.2 percent in the Rocky Mountain region and 11.4 percent in Colorado, the lowest level since 1980-81. Aspen-Snowmass fared better with a decrease of just 1.8 percent.
Individual ski resorts and the industry trade group Colorado Ski Country USA fired up their public-relations machines Monday and sent out pictures and video of the snow via social media and traditional channels.
"We get online and go socially hog wild," Hanle said. Skico's Twitter account and Facebook page were dominated by images of the snow on the slopes. TV station weather desks and assignment editors also receive the images, which sometimes results in a still image or brief clip being shown.
Hanle said Skico's Facebook friends respond to the images. Many times, a person will respond by saying the new snow bodes well for their trip later in the season. They share their enthusiasm, which inspires other people, he said. Skico also has 14,464 followers of its Twitter account, and many of them will pass on information Skico sends out about snow.
"That's the thing with social media: Your direct reach is multiplied," Hanle said.
Colorado Ski Country USA on Monday afternoon sent out a press release titled, "Weekend Snowfall Layers Colorado Resorts."
"The recent storm swept through the state blanketing many resorts with natural snow, including a Western Slope piling of 18 inches at both Powderhorn and Sunlight (near Glenwood Springs)," the statement said. Despite getting the best dump in the state, Sunlight Mountain Resort doesn't open until Dec. 7, and Powderhorn isn't scheduled to open until Dec. 13.
Colorado Ski Country members Copper Mountain, Arapahoe Basin and Loveland are already open. Also open are Breckenridge and Keystone, which are part of Vail Resorts, which doesn't belong to the state trade association.
Wolf Creek, usually among the resorts that receive the most snow, opens Wednesday, as does Winter Park. Vail Mountain and Eldora open Nov. 16. Beaver Creek, Crested Butte, Monarch and Steamboat open Nov. 21. Resorts opening Thanksgiving Day, in addition to Aspen Mountain and Snowmass, are Ski Cooper and Telluride. Purgatory opens Nov. 23. Aspen Highlands opens Dec. 8, while Buttermilk opens Dec. 15.
Elsewhere in the country, resorts in Utah and the northern Rocky Mountains have received ample early-season snow, but California is awaiting its first major dump. The early snow in Colorado and elsewhere in the West is typical, noted Michael Berry, president of the Denver-based National Ski Areas Association, but it's welcomed after the dry conditions of last year. It will be interesting to see if the snowfall spurs destination skiers, those making a trip to a resort from out of state, to make reservations by Thanksgiving, he said.
Berry wasn't quite ready to declare the season a success yet.
"As we know, sometimes these early snows aren't harbingers for the rest of the season," he said.