‘Everything hit on all cylinders’ | AspenTimes.com

‘Everything hit on all cylinders’

Charles Agar

A snowboarder checks out the conditions on Buckhorn on Saturday opening day at Aspen Mountain. (Charles Agar/The Aspen Times.)

When the gondola scooped up its first passenger at 9 a.m. Saturday, the crowd gave a hoot, and the 2006-07 ski season was under way.With a 16-inch base, the Aspen Skiing Co. opened Aspen Mountain five days early, and 2,500 skiers took to the hills. Premier passholders could ski for no additional charge starting Saturday; all other passholders must pay $32 per day for the preseason dates. Their passes take effect on Thanksgiving Day. Lift tickets are $52 for adult nonpassholders, $42 for seniors and youths, and $32 for children for the preseason dates.Officials opened the Silver Queen Gondola to take skiers to the top, and from there 150 acres of terrain near the Ajax Express and Gent’s Ridge chairlifts were open for ripping. There was no top-to-bottom skiing, so skiers had to download on the gondola.”It went fantastic,” Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle said. In the past, there have been some delays on opening day, but Saturday “everything hit on all cylinders.” Hanle said grooming crews did a great job, the snow help up well, ski patrol dropped the ropes on time and track-packing of steep slopes saved a lot of the snow.”We’ll need some more cold weather and snow,” he said, but things look good so far: “We were happy to have those two recent storms.” He hopes the company will offer top-to-bottom skiing on Aspen Mountain soon.Crews were busy grooming Ruthie’s Run and surrounding terrain Saturday for the Aspen International women’s World Cup slalom and giant slalom events next weekend.

Lots of runs were groomed Saturday, but the snow on track-packed slopes and glades was heavy. But there were no complaints from the many skiers out on the sunny first day.

Paul Lovell was second up the gondola Saturday. Lovell, who said he was the first up the mountain for 14 years until 2005, said, “A guy named Kevin beat me up the steps.”Lovell called himself a professional ski bum who’d do just about anything for $20 per hour. “Today was good, very good,” he said after giving a deferential handshake to a statue of Ralph Jackson, Aspen’s clown prince of skiing.

“The best opening day in ages,” said Bob Bowden, who enjoyed a quiet moment on the sundeck atop Ajax with his wife, Renee Horst.Laurie MacCaskill, who works for RFTA at the Rubey Park bus station, and Dee McNenny, a ski instructor, said they got a late start to avoid the crowds. MacCaskill had a rough first few runs, with lots of pain in her feet until McNenny recommended she loosen her boots. The pair said that between the weather, the good groomed snow and the good vibe of folks on the hill, they were enjoying great day.”Everyone is in a good mood,” said Roy Messer, a Georgia transplant in his second year organizing lift lines and bumping chairs for Skico. He greets everyone who comes to the Ajax Express lift with a smile: “No complaints today,” he said, and everybody seemed psyched. The other three Skico ski areas will open as scheduled: Thursday for Snowmass, and Saturday, Dec. 9, for Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk.

Staffing is always a concern but Hanle said the Skico is in good shape. While some staff have not arrived yet, there are enough people in town to cover everything. “We still have a lot of openings, though,” Hanle said. “If you need a job, come see us.”Charles Agar’s e-mail address is cagar@aspentimes.com.The Aspen Times, Aspen, Colo.