An historic opening at Highlands | AspenTimes.com

An historic opening at Highlands

Brent Gardner-Smith

The Aspen Highlands ski area opened to the public 44 years ago. Tomorrow, the north-facing G Zones in Highland Bowl will open to the public for the first time, weather and snow conditions permitting.

“I think everybody should just march right up and take a look at this stuff,” said Mac Smith, Highlands ski patrol director.

“This stuff” includes 70 acres of steep terrain to the skier’s right of the 12,392-foot summit of Highland Peak. The area is called the G Zones. That’s “G” as in green, as in the traditional color of ski wax used on snow least affected by the sun’s rays.

“That is where the best snow is,” said Ron Chauner, mountain manager at Highlands. “We’re hopeful that most of the far side of the bowl will be open, along with runs in the middle of the bowl such as Ozone, White Kitchen, and Steep and Deep.”

The more south-facing runs in the bowl, such as Filip’s Leap and Ballroom, are not expected to open this weekend.

All the terrain in the Highland Bowl has been boot-packed in the last month, as has the steep terrain in Temerity, Steeplechase and Olympic Bowl, which is also expected to open tomorrow. There is a 24-inch base at the top of Loge Peak.

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The top of the bowl got about 8 inches of fresh snow on Thursday, and that will help smooth out the skiing experience this weekend, even if it doesn’t turn Saturday into a bottomless experience.

“People can expect some irregular surface conditions,” Chauner said of the boot-packed slopes. “Even though it is open, we are not promising the ride of your life that day.”

And Smith had some advice for those seeking soft snow this weekend.

“I would make sure I was on hard norths most of the day,” he said. “And I would totally avoid certain places that are hard south.”

In all, Highlands will throw open 656 acres of terrain, which is 83 percent of the mountain. The Merry-Go-Round and Cloud Nine Bistro will open on Saturday, as well.

The parking lot at Highlands is expected to fill up early on Saturday. And it will once again cost $5 to park at Highlands, although three or more people count as a “free HOV.” Free parking is available at Buttermilk, which is serviced by a free shuttle van to Highlands.

In the Highlands base area, the Iguana’s bar, the T-Bowl deli, the World Link Cafe and the Willow Creek restaurant in the Ritz will be open, although Iguana’s will not be open for breakfast.

Also, Santa and his herd are expected to make an appearance on opening day (in the base area, not in the bowl).

Buttermilk Mountain is also opening Saturday for the season with 375 of 420 acres and six of seven lifts. Most of the runs on Main Buttermilk, Tiehack and West Buttermilk will be open.

The Lower Tiehack lift will not be running, which means that the Tiehack parking lot is not a good bet, unless you want to warm up with a hike up to the upper Tiehack lift.

Sections of the Buttermilk terrain park will be open this weekend, although the entire park and the halfpipe aren’t scheduled to open until Dec. 22.

Bump’s restaurant and the Cliffhouse will also be opening Saturday. The restaurant at the bottom of West Buttermilk will return for the second year as simply a warming hut with no food service.

There will be a trail opening ceremony Saturday for the newest trail at Buttermilk, “Uncle Chuck’s Glades.” The trail is named for Chuck Severy, a longtime children’s instructor at Buttermilk.

Members of the Severy family will be on hand for the dedication at 3:30 p.m. at the top of the trail. While the trail will be christened tomorrow, it will not open as it needs more snow.

At the Snowmass Ski Area, the Elk Camp section will open for the first time this season on Saturday, although the Cafe Suzanne restaurant will not be serving food until Friday, Dec. 20.

The Two Creeks lift and parking area will also not be opening this weekend but are scheduled to open by Christmas.

Parking in Snowmass is $10, with four or more people counting as a free HOV. There is free parking at the Rodeo lot, and the free skier shuttle buses to Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass will be running Saturday, and for the rest of the ski season, from Rubey Park in Aspen.

Also, Aspen Skiing Co. lift ticket prices are jumping up tomorrow from $59 to $68, which is the company’s top price for the season.