Aspen Highlands opening day full of powder runs, bowl laps
December 1, 2018
This season's mountain openings have been one big celebration after another, and Saturday at Aspen Highlands felt like the biggest of the past two weeks, with another round of steady snow welcoming skiers and snowboarders all morning.
The biggest thrill for many who made it out to the week-early opening at Highlands was being among the first to hike Highland Bowl on the first day the chairs were spinning. The famed bowl opened just before 11 a.m. and there was a steady stream headed up to the summit all day.
Of the 700 acres open Saturday at Highlands, about 250 of it was in the bowl.
Mountain manager Kevin Hagerty said the entire Highlands ski patrol crew was on the mountain early Saturday morning getting the front of the hill ready, then working back into the bowl.
"We finished the rest of the mountain first, … and then we worked up and did some ski cuts in the Temerity area and then moved up into the bowl," Hagerty said just after the ropes dropped to the bowl. "It takes a while to get up there and we got it done. The guys did a great job this morning getting everything open up there.
"We have about 40 on our patrol team, and they were spread out from the top to the bottom. We had a full crew out here."
Hundreds of skiers and snowboarders were in line when the Exhibition lift opened just before 9 a.m. and many of them later made up the line hiking from Loge Peak to the 12,392-foot summit of Highland Peak (about a 720-foot elevation gain).
After weeks of "bootpackers" walking up and crisscrossing the bowl to tamp down the snow, parts of the bowl opened to rave reviews Saturday.
If you had a beard, it was covered in snow and ice and was broken by a big smile coming off the mountain, including Hagerty's.
"It all came together really well," he said.
Patrollers were in the bowl in the middle of October during those storms, "and then we started calling in bootpackers after that," he said.
Hagerty estimates they have had bootpackers in the bowl about 15 days already this season.
The Colorado Avalanche Information Center reported that two skier-triggered slides occurred Nov. 25 when the bowl was not open; no one was injured.
Aspen Highlands was originally scheduled to open Dec. 8, but last week Skico officials said the recent series of storms was enough to give skiers an extra week.
"As soon I heard they were opening Highlands, I was like, 'It's on. I gotta get up there for that,'" said Neil Shea, who drove up from Denver on Thursday to get ready for Highlands' opening. "I've been in Colorado over 20 years, and the more people have moved up here, Aspen still is one of the areas you can skip the crowds. I'm so over the crowds on all the Front Range locations."
The early November snowstorms allowed Aspen Mountain to open Nov. 17, five days ahead of schedule with 170 acres. And while Snowmass did not open early, its Thanksgiving start opened with nearly 600 acres and riding all the way up at Big Burn. In 2017, the resort's opening day had just 19 acres, all on beginner terrain.
Buttermilk, the last of Skico's four resorts to open, will start spinning its lifts Dec. 8. And that opening should include a fair amount of coverage as the snowstorms are forecast to continue through this week. The forecast for today includes a few fresh refills.
"We're going to open Buttermilk next week wall-to-wall," Aspen Skiing Co. President Mike Kaplan said Saturday before helping in the lift line and then shoveling the steps to the ticket office. "We're pretty excited about that. You couldn't script a better opening to the year.
"Every year is a new year, and if you're basing decisions on last year, you're probably making a mistake. It's a great time to be in Aspen."