Buttermilk reopens this weekend for unique new uphilling event
LAST HURRAY AT HIGHLANDS
Another good season at Aspen Highlands is expected to end with another great party on Sunday.
The ninth annual Schneetag will be held at noon Sunday to help get the party started.
“Schneetag is the German word for ‘snow day,’” Aspen Skiing Co. said in a promotional email. “Put simply, it translates as ‘daredevils willing to propel themselves down a hill, over a jump and across a pond on a craft they built themselves.’”
Teams of four are invited to create a craft they will navigate down a slope and, if they are lucky, across a 20-by-40-foot pond. They select one skipper to stay in the craft in the water. Every team has a theme and will perform a skit before they descend.
Entry is free. The venue has been changed to Merry Go Round restaurant rather than the base.
Teams will be judged on costumes, creativity and flight distance of their craft. The top three teams will win a prize.
Of course, the party will also include Bowl laps and beers at the base.
Aspen Skiing Co. and city officials hope they’re onto something big — really big — with the uphill weekend at Buttermilk.
The ski area closed for the season last weekend but will reopen Saturday and Sunday for people willing to power themselves up the slopes.
“We don’t know if this has ever been done — reopening an alpine mountain for uphilling,” said Aspen Skiing Co. Vice President of Operations Rich Burkley.
The chairlifts won’t be spinning, but “uphillers” have access on all three portions of the ski area — Main Buttermilk, Tiehack and West Buttermilk. The beauty of that is uphillers can make three (or more) laps without repeating terrain. About 70 percent of the terrain will be groomed for what Skico and the city of Aspen are billing as “Aspen Ascent Weekend.”
The hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday. Access is free. There are no designated routes up or down. People can go where they desire within the ski-area boundaries.
Burkley said roughly 15 vendors are expected at “Festival Village” at the Main Buttermilk base. Uphillers will be able to demo multiple pieces of gear, if they so desire, by climbing Panda Peak, the beginner slope that is just long enough to get a feel for skis, skins, snowshoes and the like. Demos also are available for a full day for trips up the mountain.
Aspen and Snowmass have been on the forefront of the uphilling craze. The four ski areas have some of the most welcoming policies for people ascending during ski season and Snowmass and Buttermilk welcome uphillers during operating hours, so it makes sense that Skico is among the first, if not the first, to devote a ski area exclusively to uphilling for a weekend.
“Word is definitely out,” Burkley said. “I don’t know what that will mean on the mountain.
“I’ve been getting calls from all over,” he added.
Some people figured Skico was playing an April Fool’s prank, Burkley said, but it’s just another example of the company thinking outside the box.
Skico’s partner in the event is the city government, which contributed $15,000 for Aspen Ascent Weekend, according to Nancy Lesley, director of special events.
The event emerged from a special committee convened by Mayor Steve Skadron to promote the Aspen-area as an uphill mecca. It was the leading option out of several considered, Lesley said.
She said she hopes the city and Skico stick with the event in the future and build off whatever happens this year.
“It’s hard to just have a one-off event,” Lesley said. “Events build momentum.”
Burkley agreed that this is the type of event that could build over time. Skico ran organized moonlight uphill events this season, too. About 300 people climbed to the Cliffhouse restaurant at the summit during full-moon evenings, according to Burkley. That might provide a hint for participation during the Ascent Weekend.
To prepare, Skico is pulling out the stops to make the event a success. Food and beverage will be available for purchase at Buttermilk. Ski patrollers will be on duty. Hours on Sunday were set to accommodate people who want to travel to Aspen Highlands for its rollicking closing day bash.
Still, it’s nearly impossible to tell how many people will show up at Buttermilk.
“We’re guessing right now we’re going to see 300 people,” Burkley said. “If we did 1,000 it wouldn’t surprise me. If we had less than (300), it wouldn’t surprise me.”
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