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World Cup in Aspen shows young skiers what they can achieve through right steps

Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club and the Audi FIS Ski World Cup have gone hand in hand for as long as the club’s alpine program director, Johno McBride, can remember.

“We love being a part of it and love helping,” McBride said. “Anything we can do above and beyond to help with the World Cup is really kind of special just to be part of it and see it and feel it.”

The club helps with many aspects of the World Cup, including putting up start tents, setting up gates, and watering the course. The kids, mostly the 16-and-older age group, will be on slip crew while the younger kids help out in other ways.

“The little guys mostly help carry the flags for the flag ceremony and help during the bib draw,” McBride said.

Thursday evening’s bib draw was particularly entertaining as AVSC kids paraded out carrying flags. Other kids followed behind wearing cowboy hats that had a bib number taped underneath, while some walked out wearing the bibs the athletes were waiting to draw. It was easy to see the enthusiasm in each of their eyes as they raised their hands hoping one of the racers would choose their hat.

The role AVSC plays in the World Cup is vital to the success of the event. Although many people volunteer their time for the World Cup, AVSC coaches have a eye out for what needs to get done because they know what they’re doing around gates and steep, icy hills.

“It’s stuff we do all the time. Most of it’s kind of old hat for us,” McBride said.

Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club Alpine Director Johno McBride watches as U.S. ski team athletes sign autographs on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023, at the AVSC clubhouse. McBride is a former coach for the national team.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

The group consists of about 250 kids, and he said just about all of them will be on the mountain for race days, whether they are cheering on the athletes or helping out on the course.

“I think for the kids, probably the most important thing that they gain from this is perspective,” he said. “They get to see what a World Cup course looks like. They get to understand how much work goes into it. They get a chance to see the best skiers in the world in person, up close and personal. They get to hear them go by at 75 miles per hour, which is a different experience than watching it on TV.”

He may be president of the AVSC Board of Directors now, but Ryan Smalls was once one of those kids lining the fences to watch the races.

“To have been one of those little kids when the World Cup came to town and to be able to dream big that one day you could be a champion of the future, it’s really special,” he said. “I have no doubt there will be a bunch of little kids lined up at the fence at the airplane turn during the races.”

Smalls is an Aspen native who grew up alpine racing for AVSC. This is his first winter as board president, though he has been on and off the board since 2002.

AVSC post-graduate athlete Cheyenne Brown talks with friends after she was a forerunner during the men’s downhill at the Aspen World Cup on Friday, March 3, 2023, at Aspen Mountain.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

“We always like to think of ourselves as the best ski town in the world, and we can’t be the best town in the world without having the best skiers in the world here. So (World Cup’s) huge for the club, and it’s huge for our community,” he said.

Cheyenne Brown, a member of AVSC’s post-graduate program who works with McBride and AVSC coach Casey Puckett, was one of four forerunners for Friday’s downhill race.

“(Forerunning) has been one of the most incredible experiences, and I feel so honored to be a part of it,” she said. “I pinch myself every time I step in the gate, every time I’m anywhere near the course …. It feels so special to be here.”

Brown grew up in Lake Tahoe, California, and spent three years racing for Colorado Mountain College in Steamboat Springs. She joined AVSC’s post-graduate program this winter and raced as one of the 16 professionals in AVSC’s annual Audi Ajax Cup in December.

U.S. ski team athletes sign autographs on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023, at the Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

She described herself as a sponge when she’s around the World Cup racers because she wants to learn as much as she can in the time she spends with them. She participated in the opening ceremony Thursday night, parading out to the ice rink carrying the American flag alongside the AVSC kids.

“I remember being that age and being so starstruck by these people and in awe of how amazing they are. I remember the feeling of standing in front of Julia Mancuso and Lindsay Vonn and how special that moment was,” she said.

Attending World Cup events, especially ones in the United States, reminds Brown of her love of the sport — both now and when she was growing up. It’s also what motivates her to get better, so she can get closer to them, she said.

“Seeing your heroes ski the same slope you ski on is insane,” she said. “It gets me fired up for ski racing.”

Shilts, Roisland take gold for the second year in a row at Special Olympics Unified event

Snow started coming down as Special Olympic athlete Daina Shilts secured her third-straight Special Olympics Unified Snowboarding gold medal — her second gold with partner Mons Roisland, who will also compete in snowboard slopestyle on Sunday.

“It was amazing,” Shilts said at the bottom of the course after winning. “To have gold with him a second time is so cool.”

She and Roisland had the lead after the first round, clocking 29.506 seconds as their combined time. They were able to cut their combined time down by just under a second, securing the gold medal in 29.405.

Catherine Darrow and Elizabeth Hosking finished second, with a combined time of 30.246. Henry Meece and Aspen local Chris Klug, himself an Olympic snowboarder, finished in third, just .001 seconds behind Darrow and Hosking.

For the Special Olympics Unified Skiing and Snowboarding, teams are comprised of one professional action sports athlete and one Special Olympics action sport athlete. Each team member takes one run on each of two competition courses, with professional athletes racing against one another and Special Olympics athletes racing one another. Results are determined using the combined best times of each team. There were six 2-person teams for both skiing and snowboarding.

Special Olympics Unified Skiing

On the skiing side of the competition, Basalt’s Hanna Faulhaber and her partner Haldan Pranger took first place with a combined time of 26.305.

“Third time’s the charm for sure,” Pranger said after the race.

Faulhaber, a halfpipe skier, said she couldn’t have done it without the pointers she got from him.

“It’s all him,” she said.

They took their lead in the first round and were able to maintain it in the second round to secure the gold medal.

Luca Vernano and Nico Porteous took silver with a combined time of 17.020, and Tanner Jadwin and David Wise took home the bronze.

Yung Gravy, who will be performing at 7 p.m. on Saturday, competed in the Special Olympics with Oceane Gendre. Gravy is the first X Games artist to compete in the Special Olympics Unified Skiing event. Even though the team finished last, there was no shortage of smiles when they were done.

“I didn’t even know I was competing until about an hour ago,” he said after his first lap.

Palmer Lyons, who took home the gold last year, partnered up with X Games co-host Victoria Arlen, and together they got fourth place, with a combined time of 29.161.

Epic and Ikon passes see price increases for 2022-23 ski season

Colorado SuperChair is pictured at Breckenridge Ski Resort on opening day Nov. 12, 2021.
Breckenridge Ski Resort/Courtesy photo

Spring skiing just began, but ski resorts are already planning for next season. Epic and Ikon passes for the 2022-23 winter are now on sale, both of which have increased in price since last year.

After slashing the prices of passes last season by 20%, Vail Resorts saw more than 2.1 million Epic Passes sold, which factored into issues regarding lift lines, staff shortages and visitor complaints. The reduction brought prices to levels last seen during the 2015-16 winter season.

For the 2022-23 winter ski season, Epic officials increased the cost of passes by about 7.4%. The increase in prices is expected to help improve the experience for guests and employees.

In Colorado, Keystone Resort will bring lift service to above tree line terrain with a six-passenger lift in Bergman Bowl. The expansion will provide 555 acres of added terrain and 16 trails in the Bergman and Erikson bowls. The new lift is among 21 chairlifts that will be installed at 14 Vail-owned resorts.

The Epic Local Pass, which includes unlimited access to 29 ski areas, including Breckenridge and Keystone in Summit, will increase $43, from $583 to $626.

The Epic Pass will see an increase of $58, pushing the total from $783 during the 2021-22 season to $841 for the upcoming ski season. The Epic Pass provides access to 40 resorts, including all four of Vail Resorts’ properties in Colorado, which include Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone. The Epic Pass also includes unlimited access to Crested Butte, Park City, Whistler Blackcomb, Heavenly, Northstar, Kirkwood, Stowe and Stevens Pass.

Alterra Mountain Co. has also increased the prices of its Ikon Pass products.

The full Ikon Pass has increased by about 8% across the board but will continue to give skiers and riders unlimited access to Copper Mountain Resort with seven days at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area in Summit County.

There are no blackout dates on the Ikon Pass, which includes access to 41 destinations outside of Summit County, including Eldora Mountain Resort, Steamboat Resort and Winter Park Resort in Colorado.

The adult and young adult Ikon Pass will increase by 8% for the 2022-23 season. The adult pass will increase to $1,079, and the young adult pass will see a price hike to $799.

The price of a pass for children ages 5-12 will increase by 6% from $319 to $339, while passes for children 4 and younger will remain the same at $149.

The Ikon Base Pass provides skiers and snowboarders with unlimited access to Copper, five days at A-Basin and access to 39 other ski areas. Blackout dates for the pass will take place from Dec. 26 to Jan. 2 and on holiday weekends before Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Presidents Day.

The adult Ikon Base pass will increase by 5.5%, from $729 to $769, while the young adult pass will increase by 3.5%, from $559 to $579.

The Ikon Base Pass for children ages 5-12 will increase by the largest margin for base passes with a 7.1% hike. The price increase moves the ticket price from $279 to $299. The Base Pass for children 4 and younger will remain fixed at $99.

The Ikon Session Pass, which provides four days of access to 30 resorts, is on sale for $419, an increase of 5% from $399 last season.

Both Epic and Ikon Passes are currently on sale and can be purchased at EpicPass.com and IkonPass.com.

Most Colorado counties left ski area capacities up to the resorts

Skiers load the American Flyer lift at Copper Mountain Resort on Monday, March 29. All Summit County ski areas had capacity limits placed on them this season by the local public health department.
Photo by Ashley Low

The counties that set limits, including Summit, kept them secret

One of the biggest changes to business operations over the past year was capacity limits that were set to stymie the spread of COVID-19. While there were clear state guidelines for how many people could be inside a restaurant, gym or office, the amount of people who could be at a ski area varied from county to county, with some local health departments opting to set restrictions and others leaving it up to the ski areas.

For the 2020-21 ski season, Summit County Public Health officials set “target skier numbers,” which were managed differently at each local ski area. Those capacity limits were not made public.

Prior to opening for the season, Summit County ski areas had to submit to local health officials operating plans that went into detail about how the resort would work to protect public health, including how it would manage crowd sizes.

The Summit Daily news received copies of the plans from Summit County after submitting a public records request, but the portions that discuss capacity limits were redacted. The county has declined to publicly release the ski area capacity limits at the direction of the ski areas’ lawyers, who cite protected trade secrets as the reason.

Environmental Health Manager Dan Hendershott said in November that each resort’s “comfortable carrying capacities,” which are outlined in their master plans, were used to determine reduced capacities during the pandemic.

At Keystone Resort and Breckenridge Ski Resort, skier numbers were managed through a passholder reservation system. At Copper Mountain Resort, a parking reservation system was put in place. There were no reservations required to visit Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, but ski area officials explained in their operating plan that if the number of guests approached 85% of the target number, staff would close the parking lots. A-Basin lots have not closed this season, and Copper dropped its parking reservation requirement this month.

As virus case numbers spiked in November and Summit County moved backward to level Red on the state’s dial, local health officials reduced capacity limits even further, prompting a backlash from Vail Resorts. In December, Vail-owned properties Breckenridge and Keystone submitted a request to the Summit County Public Health Department to remove the more restrictive capacity limits. Local health officials declined the request, but the additional restrictions were removed in early January when the county moved forward on the dial into level Orange.

Skiers and riders gather at the base of Copper Mountain Resort after a day on the mountain Monday, March 29. While resorts did not have capacity limits set by the state, restaurants on the mountain did have to follow state guidelines for that industry.
Photo by Ashley Low

Capacity limits were a big deal for Summit County ski areas this season, but Summit’s health department was in the minority across the state for setting capacity limits. After reaching out to the public health department in each county that contains a ski area in Colorado, the Summit Daily News found that Clear Creek, Pitkin and Gunnison county public health departments also placed capacity limits on their ski areas, including Echo Mountain Resort, Loveland Ski Area, Aspen’s quartet of resorts and Crested Butte Mountain Resort.

Joni Reynolds, public health director of Gunnison County, wrote in an email that she worked with Crested Butte to limit capacity via a reservation system. As a Vail-owned resort, Crested Butte used a reservation system similar to Keystone and Breckenridge.

Pitkin County’s four ski areas — Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass — are owned by the Aspen Skiing Co., known locally as Skico.

“We’ve been working with Skico to monitor capacity and adjust capacity controls if necessary throughout the season,” Pitkin County Interim Public Health Director Jordana Sabella wrote in an email.

Other counties that responded to the Summit Daily’s request were Boulder, Chaffee, Eagle, Grand, Routt and San Miguel. While officials from most of these counties said they worked with ski areas to promote best practices when it comes to mitigating the spread of COVID-19, all said there were no county-imposed capacity limits and that any limits set at ski areas were self-imposed.

Eagle County, which borders Summit and is home to Vail Mountain and Beaver Creek Resort, did not set capacity limits, according to Kris Widlak, Eagle County director of communications. The Vail-owned resorts used reservation systems, but any limits to capacity were up to the resorts themselves.

“We did partner with Vail Resorts on their protocols to mitigate risks of exposures and also meet with representatives every week to discuss operations, challenges, success and ongoing visitor communication,” Widlak wrote in an email.

Routt County Public Health Medical Officer Brian Harrington wrote in an email that the county’s public health department did not enact formal capacity restrictions or incorporate restrictions into a local public health order because health officials thought the plan Steamboat Resort presented was sufficient.

“Steamboat Resort prepared a plan in advance of the season which already incorporated some capacity reductions,” Harrington wrote. “Routt County Public Health favored some capacity reductions and supported their plan.”

In Chaffee County, Public Health Director Andrea Carlstrom wrote in an email that the public health department meets weekly with its ski resort, Monarch Mountain, to review plans.

“By nature, Monarch has limited its capacity and has come up with creative strategies to do so without having to come up with a specific percentage or cap for outdoor recreation,” Carlstrom wrote. “It has followed other caps related to the dial and the sector.”

Grand County’s two ski areas, Winter Park Resort and Ski Granby Ranch, are not required to follow restrictions beyond what is outlined in the state dial, such as those for dining and retail. Boulder County officials echoed that only the state guidelines were enforced. Boulder County spokesperson Angela Simental said Eldora Mountain was required to “follow all regulations related to occupancy of outdoor and indoor spaces.”

Mike Bordogna, county manager in San Miguel, which is home to Telluride Ski Resort, said officials focused on limiting lodging capacities throughout the pandemic.

“Since we saw very limited cases coming from the ski area when people were actually skiing, and their indoor spaces are capacity capped, we have not seen the need to cap skier visits, but that was a consideration,” Bordogna wrote in an email.

Overall, public health officials in ski communities have said that COVID-19 cases aren’t tracing back to ski areas. San Miguel County spokesperson Lindsey Mills told The Colorado Sun in January that while the county was seeing an increase in visitors testing positive to the virus, transmission had not been tracked back to ski slopes, lines or chairlifts, and she instead attributed the rise in cases to post-ski socializing.

While most ski areas have kept their capacities under wraps — whether self-imposed or set by county officials — some ski areas have publicly stated their limits, countering the claim that capacity limits are proprietary information. Wolf Creek Ski Area stated in its 2020-21 winter operating plan that it would limit capacity to 5,000 people per day.

Outside of Colorado, Taos County in New Mexico released the capacity limits for its ski areas, which were allowed to operate at 25% uphill lift capacity, according to the Taos Ski Valley website. A blog post for Banff Sunshine Village indicated that capacity management tactics resulted in a daily reduction of about 50% of the number of guests that could be accommodated.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which has set capacity limits on a wide variety of industries, opted for ski areas to come up with individual plans that would be approved by their local public health agencies and the state.

“Ski areas are unique to each local community, so we felt individual plans, created with input from the local community was the best way to proceed,” Jessica Bralish, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment spokesperson, wrote in an email.

As part of the individualized community approach, Bralish pointed out that it was required that the plans address coordination with community leaders, local businesses, and lodging and housing entities, particularly in base villages.

Keystone Resort extends ski season by a week

Keystone Resort announced Tuesday, March 9, that it would extend its closing date by a week — maybe more.
Photo from Keystone Resort

Keystone Resort has extended its season by one week and is now set to close April 11.

While the resort took a conservative approach to its scheduled closing date this year because of pandemic-related uncertainty, spokesperson Loryn Roberson said the overall success of the season led to the decision to stay open longer than anticipated.

“Obviously, this season has been like nothing we’ve ever experienced, and we’ve done everything we can to get open — that was our main goal — and then stay open and keep everyone safe,” Roberson said. “And we’re super grateful for our guests who have done their part in helping us stay open, and because of that, we were excited to offer a little bit of a longer season so that our guests could have a little bit more time on the snow, on the mountain and do what they love.”

Roberson said the new closing date is more aligned with Keystone’s traditional closing date in April. Breckenridge Ski Resort will maintain its plan to close May 31.

It’s no secret that it’s been a rough snow year for Colorado ski resorts. With a later start and less snow than last season, the pandemic hasn’t been the only obstacle ski areas have faced. Despite warmer temperatures that have hit Summit County in March, Roberson was confident that snow conditions would hold up long enough to accommodate the later date.

“We’re definitely excited to see the snow that’s coming up in the forecast,” Roberson said. “March is still traditionally one of Colorado’s snowiest months, so I think we’re excited to get that refresh, and hopefully we’ll continue to see a lot of snow in the forecast.”

While Summit County experienced a dry start to winter, Roberson said the resort’s high-tech snowmaking system set the mountain up for success in the early season and helped to build a solid base. Typically, the base built up at ski areas in the early season is what allows the mountain to stay open into the spring. Roberson noted that the resort plans to continue operating out of both base areas — River Run and Mountain House — until its closing date.

As for Summit County’s other ski areas, Copper Mountain Resort has set its closing date for April 25, while Arapahoe Basin Ski Area has not set a closing date. A-Basin is often the final ski area to close for the season. While A-Basin closed for the 2019-20 season June 7 after reopening for about two weeks following the COVID-19 shutdown, the ski area has been known to stay open as late as the Fourth of July.

Vail Resorts also announced the season at Beaver Creek Resort and Vail Mountain in Eagle County would be extended by a week. Those new closing dates are April 11 and 18, respectively. The season could be extended even further if conditions permit, according to a news release.