Aspen Times Weekly: Gunning for a great ski season

by Jeanne McGovern

First Tracks:

While the Aspen Skiing Co. didn’t undertake any major on-mountain improvements for the 2013-2014 season, trails crews did do some glading at Aspen Highlands in the Deep Temerity trees to open up two new runs: Lucky Find and Mystery Gully. Beyond that, Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle said the company has been focusing on continued improvements to last season’s additions: a new Elk Camp restaurant at Snowmass, as well as the addition of 230 skiable acres of “sidecountry” terrain on Burnt Mountain at Snowmass.

It’s the question of the moment: “Will the mountain open early?”

“I’d say it’s more of a probability than a possibility at this point,” said Rich Burkley, vice president of mountain operations for the Aspen Skiing Co., after a two-day storm dumped more than a foot of fresh snow on the local ski slopes.

In fact, Burkley said there’s some 50-plus inches of fluff on the area’s highest peaks and an average of 30 inches at above 10,000 feet (for the record, the top of Aspen Mountain stands at 11,212 feet).

“It looks terrific up there, and I’m not just saying that as a Skico spokesperson,” Burkley said on Tuesday, Nov. 5. “It really looks and feels like ski season.”

“it looks promising for an early opEning.” Jeff Hanle, Aspen Skiing Co. spokesman

While Burkley couldn’t reveal exactly when the slopes of Aspen and Snowmass might open, he said it’s a safe bet that the lifts will crank up before the originally scheduled Thanksgiving Day opening (Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk are slated to open Dec. 14) — especially if the current weather cycle of snow showers and cold temperatures continues.

“It looks promising for an early opening,” confirmed Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle. “With each storm, and with continued cold temperatures, it looks better and better.”

Of course getting the mountains ready to open is no easy feat; fast-tracking the job can be even more daunting. Thankfully, the Skico has an army of people working on the hill daily.

From snowmakers and snowcat drivers to ski patrollers and boot-packers, a cadre of local workers are on the job.

“They’ve been boot-packing for two weeks, putting in long, hard days,” Burkley said of the troops who march up Highland Bowl in exchange for a pass. “And we started track-packing last week, so the snow is really getting pinned down for a good base. Now, the snowguns are going full-speed.

“It’s really busting up there.”

So what’s an anxious skier or boarder to do in the coming days and weeks?

“Pick up your pass; tune your skis; dig out your gloves — you’re going to want to be ready when we say we’re opening the mountain tomorrow,” Hanle advised.

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