600 acres set for opening day on Ajax, Snowmass | AspenTimes.com

600 acres set for opening day on Ajax, Snowmass

Snowmass Village residents Jordie Karlinski, left, and her father, Andy Karlinski, carve some early turns on Aspen Mountain during Wednesday's AVSC day. (Mark Fox/The Aspen TImes)

Sure, Aspen Mountain and Snowmass will open today, six days after a certain four-letter resort on the Interstate 70 corridor. Sure, the two resorts combined will open close to half the acreage, and weather reports are not forecasting the 4 feet of fresh snow like skiers and boarders experienced last Thursday in Vail. But when Aspen and Snowmass open today, riders who decide to include skiing in their Thanksgiving festivities will be impressed with both the conditions and 600 acres of variety available to them. Aspen Mountain will have top-to-bottom skiing. Close to 225 acres of terrain – 23 runs – will be serviced by the Silver Queen Gondola, Ajax Express and Gent’s Ridge lifts. When Aspen opened in 2002, 580 of 673 acres – or 83 percent- were available to skiers, the largest number in the last 10 years. Aspen opened it’s fewest acres in 1999, when just 20 acres off Little Nell was skiable, Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle said. Snowmass will open this season with 375 acres. The brand new Village Express six-pack at the base of Fanny Hill will take riders to the top of Sam’s Knob. Virtually all of Big Burn – with its base of natural snow – will be open, Hanle said.

Snowmass’ strongest opening since 1995 was 2002, when the mountain welcomed Thanksgiving Day skiers with 1,435 acres of terrain and a snow base of 24-37 inches. The resort opened its smallest acreage – just 28 – in 1995. This year’s opening-day numbers for both mountains dwarf those of 2004, when Snowmass had just 199 acres of skiable terrain available on Thanksgiving and a base of 15-26 inches. Only runs off the Coney Glade lift were open, Snowmass general manager Doug McKenzie said. Aspen – with a base of only 10-14 inches – had just 107 acres to offer.While 2004 did not have the most auspicious of starts, the weather provided assistance. A winter storm that produced 36 inches of snow facilitated the opening of more terrain during opening weekend in 2004. No such storm is expected this year, as high pressure and clear skies look to dominate forecasts for the coming week.”The weather’s been nice, as long as you’re not running a ski area,” McKenzie said. “I don’t expect 3 feet of snow, but we sure could use it.”Recurring concerns about the weather have complicated things this offseason. Temperature shifts have made snowmaking difficult and no fresh snow has fallen in more than a week. Ten days ago, the Big Burn had a base of close to 40 inches, but warm weather has caused the snow to settle and evaporate, McKenzie said. Snow bases now range from 25-35 inches.

Since Saturday, night temperatures have consistently risen 3-4 degrees, McKenzie said. Unseasonable weather has not been the only thing making this year’s Snowmass opening more difficult than usual.Construction of Base Village has eliminated parking lots A and B. Construction on the Village Express has gone down to the wire and forced workers to rip up many snowmaking machines, but the lift is certified. While McKenzie is hesitant to estimate the size of the Thanksgiving Day crowds, he is confident the lift will accommodate any amount of traffic it endures.”Last year we opened with one lift open on Fanny Hill, too,” McKenzie said. “This lift is able to handle more skiers.”Parking may prove to be more of a challenge than in years past, but when skiers hit the hill today, some great conditions await them, Hanle said.

“There’s varied terrain, from top to bottom,” Hanle said. “I talked to some people today [Wednesday] who skied Big Burn, and they said there was grippy, soft corduroy from trail edge to trail edge. They had big grins.” Hanle took part in Wednesday’s fund-raiser for the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club on Aspen Mountain and said the conditions are favorable there, as well. “It was a lot like spring skiing out there,’ Hanle said. “People were having fun.” Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is jmaletz@aspentimes.com

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