Aspen Skiing Co. says no concerns yet about delayed opening of ski season
Relax, it’s Aspen
By Erica Robbie
The Aspen Times
Skiers and ski shop owners and managers in town interviewed by The Aspen Times on Thursday said they weren’t sweating over the lack of snow and warmer temperatures.
In fact, many locals said they believe poor preseason conditions equal an overall better season and referenced the 2007-2008 winter season as evidence.
Aspen business owner and skier Tara Spung said she remembers standing in her snow-less Basalt backyard in early to mid-December 2007, wondering what on earth was happening.
The next day, boom.
Snow pummeled the area and “it was nonstop until the end of the season,” she said.
“I know it’s going to come,” said Spung, who’s lived in the Roaring Fork Valley for 12 years.
Jeff Robinson, who owns The Ski Shop at the base of the Silver Queen Gondola, echoed Spung’s confident forecast.
“I heard a lot of seasons that start like this end up being the best seasons – once it does start snowing,” Robinson said. “We’re not concerned. We’ll get snow and it’s always great in Aspen.”
Robinson admitted that business had been slow as of late, but said it is expected with such little snow on the slopes.
“People aren’t pumped and getting their skis tuned and boots dialed-in,” said Robinson. “I’m sure in the next week or two that’ll pick up.”
“Every year is different,” said Will Schrade, the regional manager at Surefoot in Aspen. “Some years we have a ton of snow in October and November and other years it’s like this and we’re biking every day. It always turns around.”
Rich Burkley has a message for skiers and snowboarders concerned about the lack of snow: relax, it’s only Nov. 11.
Burkley is Aspen Skiing Co.’s vice president of mountain operations. He said the operations crew follows a philosophy of “We can prepare for success or guarantee failure.” To that end, the team is prepared to “capitalize on the uncontrollable variables” of weather and temperatures when they arrive.
“We have a very seasoned and Zen-like team, and it is understood that worrying about conditions over which you have no control doesn’t contribute to getting snow on the ground,” Burkley said via email while taking a break between meetings Thursday.
Still, an alpine enthusiast can’t be criticized for being concerned. Opening day is less than two weeks away at Aspen Mountain and Snowmass. Both are scheduled to open Thanksgiving Day. Natural snow on the slopes is almost nonexistent after sunny skies and unseasonable daytime temperatures stretched into November.
Snowmaking equipment has been fired up one night on Aspen Mountain, more or less to test it out, said Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle.
The entire ski industry in Colorado is dealing with dry conditions. Arapahoe Basin has opened one ribbon of joy on its slopes. Loveland typically competes with A-Basin for the early opening honor but struggled to finally open yesterday.
Meanwhile, Copper Mountain Resort announced Monday that it was postponing its opening from Nov. 11 to Nov. 18. Keystone Resort also plans to open Nov. 18, two weeks later than it initially planned. Breckenridge’s opening is uncertain, according to parent company Vail Resorts.
Burkley said Skico has eased its “temperature and duration discipline” at Aspen Mountain and Snowmass, meaning it will make snow even if conditions aren’t ideal. “Obviously, the colder it gets the more snow we can make with the same effort,” he wrote.
Mother Nature is being fickle. The next precipitation is forecast to show up Nov. 17, when there is a 60 percent chance of rain and snow in Aspen, according to Weather.com. Then it is back to sunny skies and daytime temperatures in the 40s and 50s, but nighttime lows will finally dip well below freezing.
AspenWeather.net’s Cory Gates wrote in the micro-forecaster’s website Thursday that changes are afoot.
“So the Pacific (Ocean) has been going through a slow transition my friends,” Gates wrote in the long-term forecast. “In general, we will be starting a whole new ballgame soon.”
A snowstorm is possible for Nov. 17 and temperatures will drop sharply, Gates wrote, but it’s tough to offer specifics this far out.
“However, the new pattern starting later this next week looks a heck of a lot better than the current weather pattern,” he concluded.
Skico’s Hanle said season pass sales have been “strong” for 2016-17, but they aren’t weather-dependent. Most pass sales occur prior to the super-early deadline in September, when the prices are lowest, he noted. Hanle said the next occupancy report is due today for Aspen and Snowmass tourist accommodations. He said he is unaware of any deep drop in reservations pace.
Delayed openings have been rare in Aspen and Snowmass. More often than not, slopes have opened early.
“We’ve been spoiled the past several years,” Burkley said.
He recalled that his first year with Aspen Skiing Co. in 1989 was a “slow start.” It also was tough getting terrain open roughly 10 years ago, he said.
“Some seasons Mother Nature doesn’t get the opening day memo and the storm arrives after Thanksgiving,” Burkley wrote.
He said Skico has a lot of veteran employees who don’t get unnerved by dry conditions at this point in November. Some have even made comparisons to the epic snow seasons of 1983-84 and 2007-08, when it was warm and dry into December, he said.
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