Aspen skiers, boarders rejoice |

Aspen skiers, boarders rejoice

Jon MaletzThe Aspen TimesAspen CO, Colorado
Christina Capasso The Aspen Times

ASPEN Bare ski racks and unoccupied benches littered the Gondola Plaza. Save a few people ducking into Starbucks for an early-morning caffeine fix, passersby especially the down-clad types balancing skis on their shoulders were scarce. No more than 15 minutes after lifts opened for the season, a small, yet boisterous, group of riders crowding the stairs had already dispersed. Lines were nonexistent. Empty gondola cabins stretched toward the sky. Employees outnumbered guests inside the Sundeck. Was this the latest sign of the countrys economic struggles? Did skiers who had seen Aspen Mountain at its best last season not bother to come out and settle for anything less? Art, a ski patroller, offered up his own explanation.I think everyone went to Snowmass, he joked.With good reason. Snowmass boasted nearly double the amount of open terrain (93 acres to Ajaxs 48), and more than 2,100 vertical feet of beginner and intermediate runs stretching from the top of Sams Knob to Fanny Hill. While skier numbers dwarfed those from last year, when an especially dry and warm November compounded snowmaking efforts and threatened to push back the opening date, there was little, if any, wait for the Village Express lift.And the snow?That depends on who you ask.I was here last February and the snow was just phenomenal and so I had it all talked up to my fiancee here, but surprisingly its really good, said Rachel Compton, of Boise, Idaho. Even at our local ski hill, this is as good as our best snow some of the time. Theres really no comparison.The snow is real good for Thanksgiving, added Mike Sakich, who is vacationing with his wife, two children and a group of friends. Thanksgiving is kind of a slow time, time to relax, and if theres snow or theyre making good snow, what better way to spend the holiday. Especially if youre from Chicago.Local 16-year-olds Jacob Hoover of El Jebel and Conner Morris of Basalt were both excited about the chance to test their skills in an abbreviated terrain park on Fanny Hill.We all went to Keystone last weekend for their park, and now were just happy that this is open, said Morris, who was one of about 50 skiers and snowboarders taking runs through the parks half dozen or so features. I think its definitely better than last year. More jibs, more snow.On Aspen Mountain, intermittent patches of brown scattered across trails below the Ajax Express chair. In some areas, small branches protruded from blankets of white. Conditions had 25-year local Vlado Kuchar, a gate judge for this weekends Aspen Winternational, wishing he had rock skis.Maybe Ill come back in the afternoon, have a couple drinks and socialize, Kuchar said. I ski every day, so Im not missing anything.Others were far more satisfied.I think its white and its fun, local Tim Anderson said with a smirk before pointing his tips downhill.Mother Nature just hasnt cooperated lately, Art added, but its good to be back out here. If you look at it, the snow right now is just going to get better.”Moments later, as if on cue, a few flakes fell from the sky. And minutes later, at about 11:15 a.m., ski patrol surprised everyone by opening Spar Gulch and Little Nell for an afternoon of top-to-bottom skiing. No downloading necessary.The word spread quickly. By noon, the plaza was flooded and a steady stream of skiers made their way down a narrow, yet pristine strip of man-made snow on Little Nell.We had to make sure the snowmakers and groomers were ready, Art said. They did a great job getting the path open. Aspens Dana Laughren agreed.We have a lot to be thankful for, she said.

Nate Peterson contributed to this

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