Aspen Highlands won’t try to reopen after Colorado governor extends ski area closures to May 23

Staff reports
Uphillers wade through over 15 inches of accumulated powder on a blue bird day at Aspen Highlands on Friday, April 17, 2020.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Any chance of getting a few more lift-served runs at Aspen Highlands Ski Area were dashed late Thursday night when the Colorado governor extended the ski area closures to at least May 23.

Aspen Skiing Co. vice president of communications Jeff Hanle said Friday that with the governor’s latest extension, Skico will not consider trying to reopen Highlands even on a limited basis.

“With the extension of the ski area closures by Governor Polis and the recent warm weather, we will move on from our plans to potentially reopen Aspen Highlands and concentrate on summer operations and construction projects,” Hanle wrote in an email to The Aspen Times. “We are disappointed that as America’s greatest ski state we were not able to figure out a way to get skiing reopened with this latest phase of new openings, and are saddened that Aspen Skiing Company will not be able to provide our community with lift served recreational opportunities this month.”

One of a number of executive orders sent late Thursday night, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis remains concerned about taxing the health care services in the mountain communities if spring skiing and snowboarding was to resume.

“Mountain communities, where many of Colorado’s premier ski areas are located, have been particularly hard-hit by the COVID-19 outbreak in the State. Medical centers in these areas have limited ability to meet the needs of individuals with COVID-19. Further strain on their resources creates a risk that medical personnel in the area will be unable to provide needed care to residents and visitors to our mountain communities,” the order states.

After the governor closed the ski areas starting March 15, officials at Aspen Skiing Co. said on March 17 they would not reopen Buttermilk and on March 20 said they would not re-open Aspen Mountain or Snowmass.

At that time, they did leave open the possibility of turning on the lifts at Highlands if conditions and safety procedures to fight the pandemic were allowable. On March 20, Hanle said there could be limited services at Highlands if a number events aligned.

“If we are given advice that we can reopen sometime late in April by state and local health agencies, we would evaluate conditions for a limited opening,” Hanle told The Aspen Times then.

Crews have started working on summer projects at Ajax and Snowmass, which will see a new lift at Big Burn.

May 23, which is when the latest extension sunsets, is the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend. On Memorial Day weekends in 2017 and 2019, the top of Aspen Mountain was opening for skiing and snowboarding.

Last year, the ski season went into June with bonus days on the weekends, including during the Food & Wine Classic

Closer to the Front Range, Arapahoe Basin in Summit County has had seasons run into June and on occasion into July. Many resorts along the Front Range are not allowing uphilling because of a concern about large crowds gathering. The owner of Wolf Creek ski area was trying to open the resort this weekend, but Gov. Polis’ latest order cancels that attempt.

“We remain hopeful and engaged at the state level in effort to help ensure that skiing can still happen for some this spring. We continue to believe that spring openings are critical to enable the industry to test and learn before the winter season so that we come up with acceptable protocols that allow ski areas to operate and thrive in whatever becomes the new normal,” Hanle said Friday. “It is imperative for the future of this industry and the communities we support that we all come together to figure out the right balance of safety and operational functionality.”

Skico continues to groom some trails for uphillers since the resort closed.

“We will keep uphilling accessible (on Aspen Mountain) as long as it is safely possible,” Katie Ertl, Skico senior vice president of mountain operations, said in an April 22 report.


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