Opening day for Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk Ski Area is finally here, and to welcome the final two of the four mountains, Mother Nature is predicted to dump some snow.
Predictions for Friday snowfall hit up to 8 inches for Highlands and 7 inches at Buttermilk, with around 2 inches for each mountain on Saturday. The snow should stay soft and fluffy through Saturday with cooling temperatures.
“This storm will tow in just enough moisture, energy, cold air, and a wind direction swirling to blow out of the northwest to provide us with a nice refresh through Friday night,” wrote Sam Collentine, a meteorologist with OpenSnow. “I’m going to hold steady with 4-8 inches from late Thursday night through Friday night. The wildcard will be if the light winds out of the northwest can crank up the orographic snow machine on Friday evening and into Friday night. That could lead to a couple extra inches of very fluffy snow by Saturday morning.”
That fluffy snow will blanket the ski areas, with Aspen Skiing Co. planning to have all of Highland’s five lifts, 600-plus acres of terrain, and the Highland Bowl open.
Katie Ertl, senior vice president of mountain operations with SkiCo, said they hope to open all terrain on the bowl, but the storm might delay opening.
“We are planning to open the G Zones. So, yes, you will have to hike all the way up. But that’s going to be great skiing — it’s been boot packed,” she said. “But what happens with new snow is it can delay the opening. So the goal is to get it open; it just might not be first thing.”
Additionally, uphill access at Highlands is closed through the evening of Friday, Dec. 8.
Buttermilk will open Summit Express, Panda Peak, and West Buttermilk chairlifts with more than 300 acres of terrain. The Tiehack Uphill Route is closed through 6 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 9.
SkiCo is saying the Tiehack lift at Buttermilk will be closed as of Saturday morning, but with good temperatures and a few inches, Ertl said they might be able to connect the upper and lower halves.
This year, with warmer temperatures and less snowfall, she said the snowmaking teams have faced more of a challenge than last year getting the hills ready.
“(The snowmaking crew) really capitalized on the windows of time that they’ve had. In the last few years, we’ve had some good cycles of 24-hour temperatures. This year, we’ll get two days (of cold), and then there’ll be a four or five day window of warm temps. So it’s been breaking up a little more this year than in years past,” she said. “Compared to last year, this has been less than banner year but really excited about how much train we’ve gotten open, all things considered.”
For the final word on what’s open and what’s closed, check the Aspen Snowmass app or ask a mountain employee on Saturday.
Ertl said mountain staffing levels are in a better place than past seasons, and SkiCo is feeling confident in its ability to deliver a smooth holiday season, so long as the staff stays injury-free.
“We’re feeling really calm, comfortable, and confident that we’ll be able to give great guest service over the holiday season. It’s great,” she said. “Of course, everyone needs to stay healthy, right?”
And Buttermilk will continue its tradition of Chocolate Day with chocolate treats available across the mountain.
For available food at Highlands, Merry-Go-Round restaurant at mid-mountain will be open for grab-and-go items and lunch. Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro will also be open for lunch, reservations are required and can be made on Tock. Buttermilk Mountain Lodge will open for breakfast starting at 7:45 a.m., then lunch from 10:45 a.m.- 2:30 p.m. Outdoor après at the Backyard Bar and Cliffhouse will be open for grab-and-go items and lunch.
Ertl said to remember that even after a Friday storm, it’s early season. Keep an eye out for water bars and cat tracks. But ultimately, opening day is a celebration of the season to come.
“Get out there, and have a great time,” she said. “We’re really looking forward to seeing everyone on the hill. And if you can get to both mountains, it makes for a great day.”