Aspen struggled to open ski terrain in 2007, then got slammed by powder | AspenTimes.com

Aspen struggled to open ski terrain in 2007, then got slammed by powder

A lift operator helps a family board the Elk Camp Gondola in Snowmass on Thanksgiving Day. Aspen Skiing Co. is going to offer dinners next week to seasonal employs who haven't been able to work yet.

The last time Aspen Skiing Co. had this much trouble opening ski terrain to start the season because of dry conditions, things worked out pretty darn good.

Skiers and snowboarders are hoping for a repeat performance.

Conditions were so dry in 2007-08 that Skico opened only 50 acres under the Ajax Express chairlift on the top of Aspen Mountain and a token amount of terrain on Fanny Hill at Snowmass. Thanksgiving fell early that year, just like this season.

Skico limped through November and opened dribs and drabs of terrain as best it could at Snowmass. It pulled snowmaking guns off the World Cup course on Aspen Mountain to try to fill in a middle section with snow so there could be top-to-bottom skiing.

Then, pow! The snow started falling Nov. 28 and didn't let up until the new year. The big haul was 21 inches on Dec. 2, said Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle.

The Aspen Water Plant recorded 63.14 inches of snow in December 2007, the second best total for the month on record since 1934.

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January 2008 wasn't shabby, either, with 51 inches of snow at the water plant. The ski slopes are at a higher elevation and picked up more powder those two months.

Conditions were so good at the end of the season that Skico decided to open in June during the Food and Wine Classic.

Skico has faced an even tougher time opening terrain this season. Aspen Mountain wasn't able to open terrain as scheduled on Thanksgiving Day, and prospects for opening significant terrain soon are dim.

Snowmass has opened the Elk Camp Meadows beginners' area and a portion of Fanny Hill.

(See related fact box for what Skico has planned starting this weekend.)

Things were so bad to start the 2007-08 season that Skico set up a soup kitchen to help out seasonal employees who weren't able to go to work immediately and draw a paycheck. Employees were offered dinners at Bump's restaurant at Buttermilk. Skico is following suit this year. Dinner will be offered at Bump's to seasonal workers next week on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday from 5 to 7 p.m., Hanle said.

Skico made the decision on Thanksgiving Day to provide the dinners, assuming there isn't a drastic change in the weather.

"It's intended for seasonal workers and people who would be getting hours now, like lifties," Hanle said.

About 40 unemployed workers were fed dinner at Bumps during the dry start to the 2007-08 ski season. Hanle said Skico doesn't know how many diners to expect this season.

Former Aspen Skiing Co. President and CEO Bob Maynard also had the company feed unemployed workers because of dry conditions one season in the early 1990s.

scondon@aspentimes.com

TERRAIN REMAINS LIMITED

Aspen Skiing Co. announced Friday that skiing and riding will remain limited to Elk Camp Meadows and East Fanny Hill at Snowmass “until further notice.”

Cold temperatures allowed a long duration of snowmaking at Aspen Mountain but no skiable terrain has been opened there yet.

The Silver Queen Gondola at Aspen Mountain and the Elk Camp Gondola at Snowmass are open for sightseeing at regular pricing — $32 for adults ages 18-64, and $21 for children ages 7-17 and seniors, ages 65 and older. The price includes a $10 food voucher at the Elk Camp Restaurant and Sundeck.