Aspen Times Weekly: Closing Time
Ask 20 Aspen locals what closing day means to them, and you may get 20 different answers. Closing day is undoubtedly about the party, but hilarious costumes aside, closing day also has a deeper significance for skiers and snowboarders nostalgic for ski culture.
Aspen Highlands Mountain Manager Kevin Hagerty, who’s worked for Aspen Skiing Co. for over 20 years, compares closing day to the last day of school before summer.
“You’re throwing your books and running around with friends,” Hagerty said. “I think that’s what it means.”
Aspen native Hunter Baar drew a parallel between closing day and Rumspringa, otherwise known as the period in Amish culture when adolescents experience freedom.
It’s also the time when winter-sports enthusiasts can hit the “play” button on everything paused during the winter.
Like Rich Burkley, Skico vice president of mountain operations, who refuses to travel or book any trips outside Aspen during the ski season.
Unless, of course, it’s to another ski resort for a
“You kind of wait until you put your season to bed,” Burkley said. “And then you can transition to the next phase.”
Closing day is a bittersweet time for most locals, as we say goodbye to something we love while getting ready for something we also love — summer.
“For a lot of people, it is a very transitional time,” Burkley said. “It’s a very clear line in the sand.”
With the seasonal structure of Aspen’s workforce, this is especially true for most locals, who view closing day as an opportunity to say goodbye to friends and other locals before they disperse for the offseason.
And for those who work in the hospitality industry, which accounts for the vast majority of Aspen’s economy, closing day means the end of a long, busy season catering to tourists. (Until summer, of course.)
“There are two types of people in Aspen — the ones that have the two houses and the ones that have two jobs,” Baar said. “These parties are for the people with two jobs.”
While closing day means something different for everyone, one point is true across the board.
“It’s a milestone that indicates the change in season,” Burkley said. “And it deserves to be celebrated.”
Here’s how locals, a few lingering visitors and even some visiting out-of-towners for Aspen Highlands’ closing day celebrate closing day at each mountain:
Burkley said Skico looks at what makes the most sense from a business-model standpoint when it schedules closing days. Buttermilk Mountain is traditionally the first of the four mountains to close, as it has the lowest elevation and least variety of terrain of any other mountain.
Aspen Mountain typically closes last because the lodges in town will stay open until Ajax closes, Burkley said.
Buttermilk Mountain celebrated its closing day April 3 with 300 pounds of bacon in honor of its sixth annual Bacon Appreciation Day.
Because let’s be real — who doesn’t love bacon?
And if you attended Buttermilk’s closing day solely to score some free bacon, don’t worry — you weren’t alone in this plan, and you didn’t offend Buttermilk Mountain Manager Susan Cross.
“We have people that come here on closing day that never, ever ski at Buttermilk,” Cross said.
Cross isn’t exaggerating, as numbers from Skico prove.
Last year, Buttermilk Mountain saw more than double its number of visitors on closing day — jumping from an average 800 people on the hill each day to about 2,000 visitors on closing day, according to Burkley.
“It’s a joint celebration, but they’re basically coming for free bacon,” Cross said. “It surprises me, but it’s true.”
This year’s Bacon Appreciation Day entailed an uphill race to Cliffhouse restaurant — where bacon and waffles were served — along with bacon-flavored doughnuts from Glenwood Springs bakeshop Sweet ColoraDough, which were served at the base.
Five bacon stations across the mountain also served savory bacon samples, including bacon-wrapped scallops, Applewood smoked bacon and jalapeño bacon.
Children’s activities — complete with bacon caramel popcorn, bacon brie, s’mores by the campfire and hula hoops — also took place in the plaza during the afternoon.
“A lot of our guests are beginner to beginner-intermediate, and kids learning to ski because of the learning terrain,” Cross said. “Even though we get people from all walks of life, our focus is
But fret not, parents — it isn’t all for the kiddies.
As part of the annual Bartender’s Brawl at Bumps restaurant, local bartenders competed to create the best bacon-inspired cocktail.
Of all four mountains’ closing days, Highlands closing day is “the one,” Burkley said.
On March 31, Skico announced that it would extend Aspen Highlands’ ski season, reopening the mountain for two weekends after Aspen Mountain’s closing day.
This means Highlands’ notorious closing day will not actually mark the end of its ski season.
But will this impact the magnitude and scale of its closing-day celebration?
Aspen resident Megan Karaus said the mountain’s closing is something locals plan for all season.
“I think no matter what, all the locals will still be there to party together,” Karaus said.
Highlands’ closing party is its own breed, which Aspen Highlands Mountain Manager Kevin Haggerty dates back to the mountain’s 1990 pre-Skico era.
While Highlands’ is the largest and most celebrated closing day, it’s also Skico’s least promoted, Burkley said, proving the people will show up no matter what.
Last season, Highlands’ closing-day party drew at least 4,000 people, and skiing wasn’t on many people’s radars.
In fact, many people showed up to Highlands in street clothes at 2 p.m. ready to party, Burkley said.
But for the thousands of people who do ski on closing day, they celebrate between the hill, the Cloud 9 deck, a few final bowl laps and the base area of the mountain.
Schneetag, which translates to “snow day” in German, also will return to Highlands closing day for its second year.
In this closing-day event that, according to Skico, “is just as ridiculous and entertaining as it sounds,” teams of four build a cardboard craft that they attempt to pilot down the slopes and across a 75-by-20-foot pond.
Each Schneetag team has its own theme and will perform a skit before its descent.
This year’s Schneetag marks the eighth anniversary of the closing-day event.
In the past, Schneetag also has been held at Aspen Mountain and Snowmass, Hagerty said.
When ski patrollers do final sweeps between 4 and 4:30 p.m., everyone will congregate at the base, on the deck of the Highlands Ale House deck and in the surrounding area.
People travel from all over to attend Highlands’ closing-day party, Burkley said, noting that he has friends in Denver who know of other Front Rangers who drive hours to make it to the coveted celebration.
Even some Vail residents can’t help but drive a couple of hours to party with the people of their rival ski town, which Burkley said “is pretty funny, because we don’t go to Vail for their end-of-season parties.”
Despite herds of commuting partiers, Highlands’ closing-day celebration still has “more local flavor” than any other closing-day celebration, Burkley said.
Aspen resident Whitney Hubbell said Highlands’ closing party is exemplary of Aspen culture and lifestyle.
“It brings the whole community together in celebration of the end of the season,” Hubbell said, “culminating in an unforgettable celebration.”
Don’t forget to dress the part!
Acceptable closing-day attire includes pretty much anything.
But what’s been spotted in the past?
Banana costumes, bikinis, anything Hawaiian-themed, tutus and, of course, vintage skiwear and onesies, which are always a popular choice.
“You can never be misdressed in a vintage onesie,” said Aspen resident Andrew Shaw, who sports his Bogner onesie on the mountain regularly and believes that a onesie is the answer to dressing for any and all ski-related events. “You’re never overdressed or underdressed in a vintage onesie,” Shaw said. “It’s timeless.”
SNOWMASS ski area
Like Buttermilk, Snowmass’ closing day is also geared toward families and children of all ages.
Snowmass’ Spring Fling closing-day party takes over Base Village at the bottom of the mountain from 2 to 5 p.m. April 9.
Free Spring Fling festivities include a bouncy house, a photo booth, face painters and a dunk tank benefiting the Rotary Club.
Aspen’s DJ Naka G also will perform at the party, and at 3:30 p.m., Dance Progressions will put on a show.
Snowmass closing day also marks the final day to score sales at Snowmass Village’s shops.
Aspen Mountain Manager Peter King said he hopes to spruce things up from the mountain’s 2015 closing day, noting that it “didn’t do too much” last year.
This year’s closing day at Aspen Mountain will be a grande Mexican fiesta.
Ajax Tavern will host the fiesta. Little Nell public relations manager May Selby said the hotel thought it would be a fun and festive fit for the last day of ski season and the hotel, which closes the same day.
From 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., Mexican cuisine prepared by the tavern’s sous chef will be served along with Ajax Tavern’s burgers and signature truffle fries — simply because we’ll miss those during the offseason.
A mariachi band will perform at the tavern from 1 to 3 p.m., followed by a party on the patio with Mexican street fare, margarita and beer specials, piñatas and other entertainment from 2 to 5 p.m.
Ajax Tavern will create a tantalizing taco bar with an array of sides and salsas, and there will be giveaways including a snowboard and cruiser bike, Selby said.
And for the last two hours of the party, Selby — otherwise known as DJ Mayfly — will spin her tracks.
Details of Aspen Mountain’s closing day are still being squared away, King said, though one closing-day tradition that’s guaranteed every year is the Bell Mountain “buck off.”
A few hundred buckaroos — locals who compete in the impromptu gathering — will meet at the Ridge of Bell trail around 1 p.m. and ski down together in groups.
The event isn’t judged or anything, King said, but people still get pretty into it.
“Some of the same people who did it 40 years ago are still doing it today,” he said with a laugh.
Because really, what’s more Aspen than that?