Aspen Skiing Co. decides to load gondolas at full capacity to keep skiers and riders flowing

No more private cabin rides for customers concerned about COVID

A long line forms around midday at the Silver Queen Gondola on Sunday, Jan. 30, 2022, a sunny, bluebird day on Aspen Mountain.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Aspen Skiing Co. will no longer accommodate requests for private gondola cabins for skiers and riders concerned about the possible spread of COVID-19.

The new policy went into effect over the weekend for the Silver Queen Gondola at Aspen Mountain and Elk Camp Gondola at Snowmass.

“It was because we weren’t loading (the gondolas) to full capacity,” said Jeff Hanle, Skico vice president of communications.

The company wants the gondola to load at full capacity to alleviate wait times as much as possible. Masks are still required in the gondola cabins and in the lines for the gondola.

Skico started alerting customers about the change of policy on Saturday in its daily email snow report, and signs are being prepared to post outside the lower terminals of the gondolas, Hanle said.

The snow report message states, “We are loading gondolas to full capacity so if you are uncomfortable with (that) please head to one of our chairlifts to access the mountain.”

The Little Nell chairlift at Aspen Mountain has been operating to get customers over the Lift 1A and up the mountain. At Snowmass, the Village Express chair provides a lift out of the base.

Hanle said Skico has largely avoided well-documented issues that have plagued the ski industry this winter. Several ski areas have limited the amount of open terrain or delayed opening terrain because of staffing shortages. In some cases, chairlifts and on-mountain facilities haven’t opened. Vail Resorts has felt the brunt of criticism for conditions at some of its resorts.

Despite facing hiring challenges, Aspen Skiing Co. has managed to open nearly all its terrain. Skico has 1,040 of 1,053 acres open at Aspen Highlands, all 675 acres at Aspen Mountain, 3,341 of 3,342 acres at Snowmass and all 470 acres at Buttermilk.

Hanle said the only on-mountain facility that hasn’t been open full-time this season is the Alpin Room at High Alpine Restaurant. The sit-down restaurant is closed on some weekdays because of a lack of demand, not because of staff shortages, he said.

Skico faced its biggest staffing challenges at an inopportune time this season. COVID-19 swept through the ranks just as business was gearing up for the Christmas-New Year’s holiday period.

“At a high point, we had 300 employees out or more,” Hanle said.

Skico officials consider it a blessing of sorts that business was solid but not record-breaking during the holidays, when snowy conditions hampered travel and kept some visitors off the slopes.

As the Aspen-Snowmass ski season nears the halfway point on Feb. 8, Skico is experiencing “not record numbers but steady” for business, according to Hanle.

“All metrics are up from last year,” he said.

The 2020-21 season was hampered by some people’s reluctance to travel, limits on indoor dining and long lift lines due to spacing requirements in mazes.

Skiers prepared to load the Silver Queen Gondola at Aspen Mountain on Monday. Aspen Skiing Co. changed its policy over the weekend and will no longer accommodate requests for private cabins due to COVID-19 concerns.
File photo

Skico set a record for skier and rider visits in 2018-19 and was matching the record numbers in the 2019-20 season when ski resorts in Colorado were forced to close down in mid-March. Skico’s numbers haven’t returned to the record-breaking days.

“We are down about 14% through (Sunday) on total skier visits” compared to two seasons ago, Hanle said. “Most of that can be accounted for by destination visits. Paid pass use is almost flat from two seasons ago.”

Vail Resorts reported in mid-January that its skier visits at its North American resorts were down 1.7% from the prior season and down 18.3% compared to the same period in 2019-20.

In Aspen, business in January suffered from a lack of international travelers, but ski season will pick up again the next two months.

“February and March look really strong,” Hanle said.


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