Aspen Mountain, Snowmass opening for ski season Wednesday, a day earlier than planned to thin out crowds | AspenTimes.com
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Aspen Mountain, Snowmass opening for ski season Wednesday, a day earlier than planned to thin out crowds

Buttermilk and Highlands will open briefly in to help spread out crowds

Despite challenges from coronavirus and lack of recent snow, Aspen Skiing Co. is launching the ski season early.

Aspen Mountain and Snowmass will open limited terrain Wednesday rather than waiting for the scheduled opening on Thanksgiving Day, Skico announced Friday.

“From what we’ve been dealt, our team has done a good job to get this (amount of terrain) open,” said Jeff Hanle, Skico vice president of communications.

Aspen Mountain will open with top-to-bottom skiing on about 100 acres on Wednesday while Snowmass will debut with about 86 acres. In an effort to spread people out in the pandemic, Skico will also temporarily open limited terrain at Panda Peak at Buttermilk and Thunder Bowl at Aspen Highlands.

Panda Peak will open Thursday and remain open through Saturday. At Aspen Highlands, the Thunder Bowl lift and about 50 acres of terrain will open to the public for one day only on Thanksgiving, the will be turned back over to Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club as a race training venue on Friday.

Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk will open for the season as scheduled on Dec. 12.

Skico will open the Silver Queen Gondola, Ajax Express, Little Nell and Bell Mountain chairlifts on Aspen Mountain. Open trails include Silver Bell, Deer Park, Upper Copper, Spar Gulch and Little Nell. The Sundeck will be open, with limited capacity.

At Snowmass, Skico will open the Elk Camp Gondola, Village Express and the Sky Cab. The open trails will include Max Park, Lunch Line, Upper Scooper, Lower Hal’s and Fanny Hill. The Elk Camp Meadows chair and terrain will be open for beginners.

“Mask wearing will be mandatory in all base areas, in all lift lines, on all lifts and in all available facilities,” Skico said in a statement.

No reservation system for time on the slopes will be in place for the immediate future, though Skico is asking people to “be thoughtful about the limited terrain and do what they can to spread out across the four mountain options and try to avoid the busiest times of the day.”

Skico is working on a reservations system that is “highly likely” to be implemented at periods this season, it informed customers via an email this week. Hanle said implementation of a reservation system will depend on the amount of terrain open and business projections.

Skico decided to open the slopes on Wednesday to try to disperse crowds on what is typically a busy opening weekend. Hotel reservations are strong for the holiday weekend, but Hanle said many guests will arrive on Wednesday. Skico officials hope that Roaring Fork Valley passholders will hit the slopes on Wednesday and leave the terrain for visitors on Thanksgiving Day.

The company hopes to avoid the usual Thanksgiving Day scenario when locals line up early at the Silver Queen Gondola to get first turns. Hanle urged people to sleep in or have a leisurely breakfast rather than flocking to the base areas.

“It’s going to take everybody changing their habits a little bit,” he said of getting through the ski season and honoring social distancing requirements.

He also urged passholders to get new passes prior to the day they intend to ski. Ticket offices will be open only for pass voucher redemption and Aspen Card pickup. Lift tickets must be purchased online at aspensnowmass.com.

The price of a lift ticket starting Wednesday is $149.

Anyone hitting the slopes must also be aware that protocols will be significantly different at restaurants and other mountain facilities this season. State and local public health regulations limit indoor seating capacity to 25 percent at restaurants.

People planning to start their season by skinning up the slopes will have to avoid the resorts’ operating hours.

“With limited terrain and expected numbers, we will be closed to all uphill traffic on open ski runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Tuesday, Nov. 24 through Sunday, Nov. 29,” Skico said in a statement.

Aspen Mountain and Snowmass will be open to Skico employees and dependents on Tuesday.

“This will allow staff to get in a few turns, allow us to test our new systems and protocols, and reward people who will be out on the front lines all season long,” Skico said in a statement. “We will then ask this group to use discretion for the rest of the weekend and provide more space and access for our guests and passholders.”

Skico will keep people up to date on protocol changes made during the pandemic on its homepage.

NEW SNOWMAKING PAYS DIVIDENDS

Aspen Skiing Co.’s investment in expanded snowmaking on Aspen Mountain this summer paid immediate dividends.

Skico added snowmaking to the Silver Bell trail on the upper third of the mountain. The old system stopped on Deer Park trail, about two-thirds of the way up the mountain.

Aspen has hit a warm and dry spell, so snowmaking lower on the slopes was impossible. The snow guns were fired up higher on the slopes.

“There have been a number of days when we ran the system at the top of Aspen Mountain and that was it,” Jeff Hanle, Skico vice president of communications, said Friday.

Aspen Mountain will open Wednesday with top-to-bottom skiing.

— Scott Condon

WHAT WILL OPEN FOR OPENING DAY

ASPEN MOUNTAIN

Will open Wednesday with approximately 100 acres and top-to-bottom skiing. The Silver Queen Gondola, Ajax Express, Little Nell and Bell Mountain chairs will be running. Open runs include Silver Bell, Deer Park, Upper Copper, Spar Gulch, and Little Nell.

SNOWMASS

Will open Wednesday with approximately 86 acres served by the Village Express, Elk Camp Gondola, Elk Camp Meadows Chair and the Sky Cab. Open trails will include Max Park, Lunch Line, Upper Scooper, Lower Hals and Fanny Hill, as well as the Elk Camp Meadows for beginners.

ASPEN HIGHLANDS

will open the Thunder Bowl lift with Golden Horn and ThunderBowl runs accessible for a total of 50 acres on Thursday only.

BUTTERMILK

Will open the Panda Peak lift and terrain from Thursday through Sunday.

 


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