Aspen-Snowmass ski conditions primed for holiday crowds
A white Christmas is guaranteed in Aspen and a whiteout Christmas is possible with a storm system barreling toward Colorado.
The National Weather Service has forecasted as much as 8 inches of snow in Aspen on Thursday night and today, with more falling in the surrounding mountains. Other forecasters foresee the possibility of higher snowfall totals in town. Snow is expected to linger into Saturday but skies will become partly cloudy, according to the weather service.
The storm will bolster snow conditions that have been rapidly improving over the past week but also has the potential to hamper air travel Saturday — expected to be one of the busiest days of the winter for arriving travelers. Recent snowfall and winds also have spiked the avalanche danger in the Elk Mountains around Aspen.
A regular dose of snow has hit the slopes this week. Snowmass had received 50 inches so far in December as of Thursday morning. Season-to-date snowfall at the four ski areas is 108 to 116 percent above average, according to Aspen Skiing Co. spokesman Jeff Hanle.
“It’s been a good start,” he said.
The super pipe used for the Winter X Games opened at Buttermilk on Thursday. Across the four mountains, Skico has 4,534 acres of skiable terrain open.
Aspen Skiing Co. reported Thursday that nearly 99 percent of terrain on Aspen Mountain is open. That’s 668 of 675 acres and 73 of 76 trails.
Skiers and snowboarders also will find most of the terrain open at Aspen Highlands. It has 987 of 1,053 acres, or about 94 percent, open. That’s 73 of 76 trails.
Snowmass has been buffeted by winds as usual but still has a substantial amount of terrain open. Skico reported 2,447 of 3,366 acres open, or 73 percent. There are 76 of 92 trails open. Most of the acreage that isn’t open is in the Cirque — exposed, high-elevation terrain.
Buttermilk has 432 of 470 acres open, or 92 percent, of the terrain. That includes 38 of 44 trails.
While the snow has made the ski area slopes inviting, it’s made the backcountry slopes treacherous. The Colorado Avalanche Information Center reported Thursday morning that, “Dangerous avalanche conditions exist on all slopes steeper than about 30 degrees.”
The avalanche rating is “considerable” at least through Christmas Day and likely for a long period with more snow expected.
Southwest winds have loaded lee-facing aspects, the center reported.
“This large and rapid load has caused numerous natural avalanches to run in the past few days, including avalanches in Conundrum Creek and the South Highlands Bowl, on Garret Peak near Snowmass, on the Elk Mountain Ridge between Sopris and Capitol and some impressive slides in the Marble area.”
Commercial carriers serving Aspen-Pitkin County Airport faced some troubles with delayed and canceled flights Tuesday and Wednesday, but otherwise fared pretty well this week as schedules went into full swing. Next week will be even busier. Joe Raczak, general manager of North of Nell Condominiums, said Saturday is the big “change over” day. The guests arriving Saturday are typically departing Jan. 1 and 2, he said.
Even with stormy weather in the forecast, Raczak said people will figure out alternative transportation if flights are canceled.
“People’s motivation to get in is always greater than their motivation to get out,” he said.
Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass, a central bookings agency, said Saturday is a “double compression day.” Many travelers like to take their vacations Saturday to Saturday, he noted. In addition, the day after Christmas is a preferred travel day for people heading to ski resorts.
The commercial carriers are cutting back to 27 flights into Aspen today, based on demand, then gearing up to 35 on Saturday and 34 on Sunday, Tomcich said. He noted that skiers will find bluebird days next week, according to the forecast. That comes on the heels of a storm that is expected to “freshen up” the slopes.
“You could not script a better forecast for skiing and travel,” Tomcich said.
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Colorado has had more than 900 wildfires this year, consuming more than 330,000 acres. The statewide fire ban has been extended through September due to ongoing dry conditions.