Aspen powder day arrives just in time for the holidays | AspenTimes.com

Aspen powder day arrives just in time for the holidays

Lauren Glendenning
The Aspen Times

Luscious layers of fresh snow blanketed Aspen's four mountains Sunday and Monday, marking the winter solstice and the beginning of two weeks of peak ski season.

Aspen Mountain reported 10 new inches of snow Monday morning, while Snowmass, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk each reported 11 inches in the past 24 hours. The snow continued to fall Monday morning, with a winter-storm warning in effect until midnight.

"It's awesome — it's a good Christmas present from Santa," said Kyle Landers, an Aspen man who was out snowboarding with his Go Pro camera. "I'm gonna make a little video and post it online and rep Aspen-Snowmass."

The line for the Silver Queen Gondola Monday morning was about as long as it ever gets, with holiday vacation crowds, powder-hungry locals and children on their school break all coming together for the perfect storm. At 8:40 a.m., the line extended to the top of the stairs. By 8:50 a.m., it was backed up to Durant Avenue.

"I forgot my snorkel," one man yelled.

"We're never gonna stop talking about this day," his friend said.

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The day's timing might not have been exactly perfect for local powder hounds — Landers commented that the crowds were out and it was windy, although "still awesome" — but it couldn't have been more perfect for Aspen Skiing Co.

Spokesman Jeff Hanle said Monday that a storm like this, just in time for the peak holiday season, has effects far beyond the powder days people are experiencing right now.

"These people come in and they have a classic ski vacation," Hanle said. "Everything is open, the town is snowy — it's exactly what they came here for; it delivers. And then, they go home and say, 'When are we going to book the spring trip?'"

With about 85 percent of total terrain open across the four mountains and with conditions like Monday's, Skico's customers are almost serving as an extension of its marketing department. Those Go Pro cameras and powder-day posts to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are creating a far-reaching buzz.

"It creates its own momentum," Hanle said.

Bill Tomcich, president of the central reservations agency Stay Aspen Snowmass, said this is some of the best holiday skiing Aspen has seen in years.

"It's the quality of skiing product between Christmas and New Year's around here that typically sends people home either raving or whining, and that's what will really set us up for the remainder of the winter," Tomcich said.

Gary Gleason, of Aspen, was at the top of Ruthie's lift just after 10 a.m. with a huge smile on his face. He said there's good snow on Aspen Mountain every day, but Monday was special.

"It's an unbelievable day. The snow's kind of thick but really deep," Gleason said. "Tons of people are out here having a great time, and we're finding all our secret spots."

While snow is generally good news in Aspen, it does wreak a little havoc, too. Tomcich reported flight issues at the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport on Sunday and Monday as the snow continued to fall.

"(Sunday) was a tough day with only one flight landing at ASE in the morning out of a total of 32 scheduled, although six outbound flights were able to depart yesterday during the a.m. hours," he wrote in a Monday afternoon flight operations email update. "A total of nine flights yesterday were successfully diverted to Grand Junction (three American, one Delta and five United), and those passengers were provided ground transportation from there. A total of eight flights were forced to either divert to or return to Denver, and the remaining 14 inbound flights were cancelled. United sent a total of four 55-passenger busses from Denver to Aspen throughout the day yesterday and another one today is about to arrive at ASE shortly."

The majority of Monday's flights in and out of Aspen also were canceled as of the afternoon, although there was a chance a few would land if a break in the weather held, Tomcich reported.

The Colorado Department of Transportation closed Vail Pass on Monday morning for avalanche control work, while Loveland Pass remained closed Monday afternoon after initially closing Sunday morning. Several accidents were reported along Highway 82 in the Roaring Fork Valley on Sunday, but none with serious injuries.

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center issued an avalanche warning for the Steamboat zone Sunday and later extended it to cover Aspen, Vail/Summit, the Front Range, Sawatch, Grand Mesa and Gunnison zones. Some of the largest storm totals statewide were reported near Independence Pass, where 12 to 16 inches of new snow was reported at an automated weather station. Most other stations were reporting 9 to 14 inches, the avalanche information report said.

The increased avalanche danger is expected to last well into today.

New snow combined with wind-drifted snow has accumulated into slabs as thick as 3 feet in some areas.

There was plenty to be happy about in-bounds Monday, but the windy conditions combined with the new snow also created in-bounds hazards. Hanle reported that Highland Bowl was not opening Monday, and it might not open until late today due to the amount of control work that needs to be done up there. The same is true for some steep terrain at Snowmass.

"We have to look at it after the wind — it's weather-loaded," Hanle said.

In the meantime, skiers had plenty to smile about at areas that were open. The powder Monday morning was preceded by nine days straight of measurable snowfall on all four mountains, Hanle said.

"The day, it's awesome, it's super deep," said Jacqui Edgerly, a big-mountain team coach who skied Aspen Mountain on Monday. "We couldn't ask for a better gift."

Tomcich, however, is asking for one more gift.

"If I could have one Christmas wish, here's one thing I would like Santa to deliver here: Some lighter snow tonight on top of the heavy dense snow we just received, but not so heavy as to interfere with flights," Tomcich wrote in an email to The Aspen Times. "Then, a couple of days of respite to allow the airlines to get caught up, a little more fluff on Christmas Day to soften things up just perfectly while creating a memorable White Christmas for all (on the one day this week when the airlines dramatically reduce their schedules), then several blue bird days this weekend for the final inbound push of visitors and sublime conditions for our holiday guests! Based on the current forecast, there's a chance this Christmas wish could come true!"

lglendenning@aspentimes.com

Ground transportation

United will continue to send busses Monday from Denver based on demand. They are also offering vouchers on Colorado Mountain Express and Snow Limo to Denver for passengers who were scheduled to fly out of Aspen. Anyone looking for outbound ground transportation from Aspen should head out to the airport. Anyone looking for inbound ground transportation from Denver should head to the next Aspen/Pitkin County Airport departure gate. Rental car availability right now is very slim to none across all Colorado airports, meaning one-way car rentals aren’t likely to be an option.

Source: Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass

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