Holidays come early for skiers | AspenTimes.com

Holidays come early for skiers

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Christmas came a week early this year for skiers in Aspen and Snowmass, and they found plenty of snow under the pine trees.

On Wednesday, conditions at all four local mountains were excellent.

The Aspen Skiing Co.’s morning snow report said there was 6 inches of fresh snow on its mountains. But there were much deeper pockets of snow to be found in places such as the Highland Bowl at Aspen Highlands and the Hanging Valley Wall at the Snowmass Ski Area.

“There had to be close to 20 inches in the Wall,” said Rob Baxter, the mountain manager at Snowmass. “People coming out of there were just smiling. And this is exactly what we needed coming into the busiest period of the year. After all that sunshine, we needed some snow.”

After collecting a solid 2-foot base of snow in early November, local mountains basked under blue skies from Nov. 25 to Dec. 12.

But early Tuesday morning after the bars closed, it started snowing heavily, and skiers found 3 inches of snow on the slopes when the lifts opened at 9 a.m.

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Then it snowed again Tuesday night, and Wednesday was a bona fide powder day, one of the few that have been seen in Aspen/Snowmass the past several Decembers.

“People were calling me from the mountain and telling me how great it was,” said Steve Centofanti, the hardgoods guy at Aspen Sports. “I heard it was over knee deep in spots. And I got reports that Highland Bowl was great.”

Centofanti was in the store yesterday and couldn’t get out, but he planned to today. And if he went to Aspen Highlands, he would’ve found that the G Zones were not open on Wednesday. But they are expected to open today.

“There’s a good chance,” said Ron Chauner, the mountain manager at Highlands. “We’ll have to get them tracked.”

Duty calls.

The patrol opened up the lower portion of Highland Bowl at about 10:30 a.m. Wednesday and then opened the expert terrain to the summit at about 12:30 p.m.

“I had a very good run,” Chauner said of his lap in the bowl. “I experienced snow depths in there that were maybe 15 and 18 inches deep. It was very nice snow.”

Both Chauner and Highlands Ski Patrol Director Mac Smith were eying the red and white “epic” flag that is flown only on the best days of the season.

“It was halfway out of the box,” Chauner said. “But there was still some crunchy stuff underneath. It was damn good, but it was not epic.”

At least not officially.

But Smith said he saw some guys in the lower part of the bowl planting their poles in the over-the-shoulder swimming method, which can be helpful when skiing thigh-deep snow.

Some runs at Highlands and Aspen Mountain were opened yesterday for the first time this season.

At Highlands, Upper and Lower Stein both opened, as did Suzy Q and Epicure. Powder Bowl may be opened this morning although other steeper runs on the lower mountain, such as the P-Chutes, need more time, snow and stability.

On Ajax, Franklin Dump and Silver Rush were opened, and the patrol led tours through Rayburn’s and Cone Dump. It is rare for Silver Rush to open in mid-December.

“Everything was open and skiing great,” said Aspen Mountain Manager Steve Sewell. “The forecast is looking really strong, too. There are a lot of systems out there.”

More snow will help fill in the variable terrain at the base of some of Snowmass’ double-black diamond runs that have yet to open. The ski patrol there has been working on opening AMF, Gowdy’s and KT Gully.

“There is plenty of snow on the runs themselves, but it’s the egress getting out of that area,” said Baxter. “We are close.”

Other areas at Snowmass, such as the Cirque, Campground and Burnt Mountain, are expected to open by Christmas.

On Friday, the Two Creeks parking lot, lift and terrain will open, along with the Assay Hill and Funnell lifts on the lower mountain. Tube Town will also open on Friday.

The recent snow was also making people happy at Buttermilk Mountain.

“Everybody had big grins on their faces,” said Hans Hohl, who manages the ski area and is preparing for the ESPN X Games in January.

The half pipe and the full terrain park at Buttermilk should also be open by Christmas. There are currently terrain-park features on Upper Teaser and on Panda Peak, which is sporting some expert features such as rails, split rails and fun boxes.

Top-of-the-mountain base depths at area mountains are now between 30 inches at Sunlight Mountain in Glenwood Springs, 31 inches at Buttermilk and 47 inches at Snowmass. And snow is in the forecast throughout the week.

[Brent Gardner-Smith’s e-mail address is bgs@aspentimes.com]

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