Highlands’ closing day proves to be another big party

A team slides down the slopes in the Schneetag pond skim for Aspen Highlands closing day on Sunday.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times |

With an elevation gain of 4,352 feet, the closing-day party Sunday at Aspen Highlands stretched from the partiers dancing at the base to the line of hikers getting one last lap in the Highland Bowl.

Highlands’ closing is one of only two days when those not wearing a costume are asked: What’s wrong with you?

Halloween in April brought out every animal in the kingdom, every superhero (times two) and every old, sweaty wig and 1980s neon onesie left in the Roaring Fork Valley. Gorillas, giraffes, Tiggers and Pooh Bears were spotted in the trees. Scores of Supermen and Wonder Women were around to keep the citizens safe, and toss back a few drinks.

Thousands enjoyed the day and celebrated into the evening Sunday as the party raged. Highlands was recently highlighted by Freeskier Magazine as one of the “six insanely awesome” closing-day parties in the country.

As Sunday morning cleared to blue skies, the Exhibition lift carried a steady stream of costumed critters and masked crusaders to mid-mountain to cheer on those brave enough to play along in the seventh edition of Schneetag, a pond-skimming event for teams and crazy individuals.

PHOTOS: Check out pics from closing day at Highlands

From a man wearing a wedding dress to another wearing nothing but a helmet and skis, the crowd roared as competitors tried to skim across the 50-foot pond without getting wet.

“Another elegant and understated closing day at Highlands,” Rich Burkley, Aspen Skiing Co. vice president of mountain operations, said with a smile.

The clothing-optional contestant made it across the water, but to the crowd’s delight turned around and went skinny dipping.

The team competition, while smaller than in the past, was just as insane. The team performing an “interpretive” version of the events of the Titanic and the famous 1997 movie was the judges’ favorite.

The difference, said Sara Gruen, was in the design of their vessel, which actually ran aground before making it to the pond. Regardless, she and her fellow shipmates carried on and jumped in the frigid waters.

“When building a craft such as this, one has to remember that it is not worthy of mere duct tape but rather packing tape,” Gruen said. “That’s the difference. Packing tape.”

Schneetag has become serious business for the Carbondale group that’s been in the event for years. Designed by their friend Garrett Fitzgerald, Gruen and her teammates Darren Green, Amy Westervelt and Ellie Barber tried to get the ship to sail. However, Green took the brunt of the crash when the craft made of cardboard, tape, a snowboard and two skis ran aground in the snow.

But because of their efforts and prelaunch skit — which included the Leonardo DiCaprio drawing of Kate Winslet wearing only the blue heart diamond (remastered by local Nicole DeSimone) — the team was named the best of the day.

And once the skimming was finished, the party kicked into high gear. Thousands made their way either to top of Highland Peak for a drink and a drop-in, Cloud Nine bar for a brew and a view or the Alehouse party at the base for music and dancing — or all of the above.

Jag Pagnucco, 74, whose Captain America outfit has been growing and gracing Aspen events for a few decades, was making the rounds Sunday at the Merry-Go-Round restaurant. Dressed like Uncle Sam met a Fourth of July sparkler, Pagnucco was the subject of many pictures and received plenty of smiles and high-fives.

“It started simple in the 1980s with a bandana and eagle feather and it’s grown from there,” Pagnucco said between photos with guests. “I wear it any chance I get to be silly. That’s really what it’s about.”

Snowmass will close next Sunday, but Aspen Mountain will remain open until April 23 after Skico announced recently a bonus week. The Ajax gondola and lifts will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the extra week and tickets are $69 for adults and $45 for children, teens and seniors.