Highlands B’milk conclude season in style
It was fitting that on the last day of the season at Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk Mountain, Highlands had a powder day and Buttermilk hosted an expert snowboarding event and a punk rock concert. The Snowmass Ski Area closes this Sunday, April 13, and Aspen Mountain is scheduled to close April 20. This season at Highlands was marked by the best snow in five years and a fully opened Highland Bowl. Sunday’s 6 inches of fresh winter snow at Highlands capped off a winter that saw 43,000 skier and rider visits in Highland Bowl and its now erogenous G Zones. Highlands wrapped up the season with a 72-inch base and 128 of 131 trails open, including the double-black diamond trails on the lower mountain such as the P-Chutes and Audacious. And all season long, the Highland Bowl was full of great snow. “We weren’t closed up there for an entire day any day this year,” said Kevin Heinecken, the director of snow safety at Highlands. “The combination of having the new terrain open, the bowl being continuously open, and having a pretty decent snowfall made for a good season.” And a safe one, despite the bowl’s high adventure level. “We had very few injuries in there,” Heinecken said. “We took only four or five people out of there this year and only one of them was serious enough to go to the hospital. We try and do a good job of warning people what they can expect.” Buttermilk’s high point of the season was successfully pulling off its second ESPN Winter X Games in late January, which transformed the base of the mountain into an on-snow television studio and attracted over 40,000 people over four days. Buttermilk will finish the season about even with last winter in terms of skier visits, according to mountain manager Hans Hohl. “I think we had a great season,” Hohl said. “Despite things that are going on in the world, people are coming here and enjoying themselves.” Both ski areas are having employee ski days today, and crews will then continue to button up the ski areas and prepare for spring runoff. But this week will still be busy at Buttermilk, as Poor Boyz Productions will be shooting a new-school skiing feature and other ski and board companies will be doing photo shoots in the terrain park and halfpipe. For the ski movie, the crew at Buttermilk will build yet another feature for the cameras, a bright-pink, 24-foot by 36-foot wall of snow with a rail on top for skiers to speed up, slide across and then drop down from. The halfpipe at Buttermilk often doesn’t melt away completely for weeks after the lifts close and it may tempt riders and skiers to hike up, as will the deep snow in Highland Bowl. The Aspen Skiing Co. policy on its post-season ski areas is that the terrain remains either private property or national forest land, and that skiers and riders use the terrain at their own risk. At Buttermilk, crews will soon begin plowing snow off the roads and opening up runoff ditches. This summer, scant physical improvements will be made at Buttermilk, other than replacing some snowmaking compressors and fixing snowmaking water and air lines. At Highlands, the Highland Bowl is now once again being treated as backcountry terrain. “The hill will essentially revert to national forest and people can access it by skis however they want,” said Heinecken. “Snowmobiles are prohibited.” But be warned, those who hike to the summit will no longer have the patrol safety net. “We will not be doing any control work,” Heinecken said. “And people need to be real cognizant of that. Two or three new storms on top of each other and things could change drastically in there. It reverts to a natural snowpack pretty quickly.” Over the summer, crews at Highlands plan to widen the Temerity catwalk between the edge of the bowl near Hyde Park and the bottom of Kessler’s Bowl. The catwalk will then be similar to the existing Steeplechase catwalk from the bowl all the way out to Wine Ridge, but the narrow catwalk within the bowl itself will remain basically unchanged. At the base of Highlands, the new village’s three restaurants, Willow Creek, Iguana’s and the Thunderbowl Cafe, are closing until early June. The crew from Iguana’s and the Thunderbowl Cafe are opening a catering business and managing the concession stand at the new Aspen Recreation Center in order to keep their kitchen busy. The general manager at Iguana’s said they had a good winter. “Obviously there were some quieter weeks in there, but I think with the Highland Bowl being open, that definitely helped us out,” said Matthew Ingles. “We’ve done well.” Dave Durrance of Durrance Sports said his second season in the new village looked bright but was then darkened by the international trend of a slowing economy and a speeding war. “It started off really strong,” Durrance said. “And then about late January, early February, the dog knocked the cake off the table.” Brent Gardner-Smith’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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