First-timers, sightseers and some uphillers hit Snowmass for opening day
Snowmakers now focused on west side of mountain for terrain expansion
Snowmass General Manager Susan Cross can remember the sparse late-1990s season from her early years at the resort when opening day terrain was little more than a patch of snow between the Snowmass Mall and what is now Base Village and staffers had to shuttle skiers up to the mall to ski down Fanny Hill.
This year’s opening day coverage Thursday morning was also pretty limited, with all of seven acres up at the Elk Camp Meadows learning area, plus a hike-up pocket terrain park blanketed in a mix of manmade and natural snow for the season kickoff. (A similar start to the season in 2016 began with 19 acres of coverage between Elk Camp Meadows and Fanny Hill.)
But it still made for “a great opening day” in Cross’s book, especially given the recent stretch of warm and dry weather that made any substantial snowmaking near-impossible for much of November.
“Of course I’d love more, but I’m really happy with what the guys pulled off because the temperatures were warm, we weren’t able to make snow,” she said in an interview from Elk Camp on opening day. “They got up to Meadows and we’re gonna keep pushing to keep getting more, so shout out to the snowmakers.”
The seven open acres are likely to be the status quo on Friday, with the potential for more terrain to open after that, according to Cross. Crews are shooting for weekend expansion but Cross said she couldn’t make promises on any new terrain for specific dates just yet.
Snowmakers are now channelling their efforts on the west side of the mountain to create a viable connection between the midstation of the Village Express chairlift and Base Village; once that’s skiable, they’ll focus on a connection from the top of the lift to the base.
“Last night the temperature finally cooperated, they crushed it on snowmaking over on the midstation down to Fanny Hill so we’re working to get that side open as soon as we can,” she said.
The resort also implemented more snowmaking on the Lodgepole and Lunkerville trails in the Alpine Springs area last season, but that won’t get much use just yet because crews are focusing on top-down connections before building the cross-mountain routes.
“It takes A plus B plus C in order to get to D on some of these things,” Cross said.
It probably helps, of course, that Snowmass clocked 10 inches of snow in a storm that rolled in Tuesday night, though it wasn’t quite enough to open more terrain on the mountain just yet; Aspen Mountain scored seven inches in that storm and was able to more than double the available terrain to 104 acres.
Uphilling routes are open at Snowmass for those looking to score some of the fresh snow, though skiers and riders should be cautious of limited coverage and be aware of mountain operations as crews work to open more terrain.
There were still plenty of eager beavers to pack the line for the Meadows chairlift on Thanksgiving, too: Cross said that folks started lining up for the gondola around 8:10 a.m. Rides were free Thursday (and will be Friday too) and lifties weren’t scanning passes at the gates, so Cross didn’t have an exact headcount but estimated that a ballpark of 1,000 riders had made it to Elk Camp by noon. The gondola will be $40 for adults and $30 for seniors, teens and kids starting Saturday but that pricing will change moving forward as more terrain opens, Cross said.
Some of those gondola passengers were riding for sightseeing or the Breathtaker Alpine Coaster; others had brought skins with their gear to make the climb toward the top of Elk Camp and many were first-timers just learning how to ski and snowboard.
“I’m pleasantly pleased. … You look around, look at the smiles on everybody,” Cross said. “How can you not? It’s a beautiful, sunny day.”
U.S. Ski & Snowboard on Tuesday announced the final U.S. World Cup schedule, a lineup that includes the Aspen World Cup from March 3 to 5 on Aspen Mountain. Those races will include a men’s super-G and two men’s downhills.