Light crowds and new terrain punctuate Christmas holiday |

Light crowds and new terrain punctuate Christmas holiday

From the back of a snowcat en route to Highland Bowl Christmas morning, an enthusiastic Dave Pachovsky could not put down his camcorder. With a backdrop of the Elk Mountains, he filmed his smiling girlfriend, Stephane de Zeeuw, as the cat chugged its way up the ridge toward the drop-off point. Pachovsky himself was grinning from ear to ear.

“The best place in the world must be here,” he said with a Dutch accent. “A white Christmas it is.”

The young couple, from the Netherlands, were in the middle of a 15-day vacation in Aspen. While Pachovsky had snowboarded Highland Bowl earlier, this was de Zeeuw’s first trip.

“I would like to have tried two days ago,” she said, “but I was a little scared.”

Now, on Christmas morning and with sea-level lungs, she set her fear aside and was ready to tackle the bowl ” if not for herself, for Pachovsky.

“He’s the important one in my life,” she said.

Pachovsky, who was still filming, chimed in periodically.

“What can you like more than this?” he asked. “Aspen is a great [town], people are very nice, very lovely.”

De Zeeuw nodded.

“I’ve never seen anywhere in the world where you get free coffee and cookies, and Kleenex!” she said with a laugh.

Then off they went, quietly trudging their way up the ridge of the bowl.

Lower on the mountain, the base area was slowly springing to life, but the runs never got crowded.

Given the holiday, Karen and Gary Yablon, from New York City, couldn’t believe the lack of lift lines.

“We went to Vail last year and this is much nicer, it’s less crowded and friendlier,” Gary Yablon said. “This is just a super mountain, I’m impressed.”

Said his wife Karen: “It’s just a better brand than Vail.”

The Yablons plan to visit Aspen again next winter.

Christmas on Ajax was a little fuller, and had a visibly long line at the gondola. The wait, however, was less than five minutes early in the afternoon. And despite a chilly breeze at the top, a decent crowd had collected at the Sundeck. While most were taking a break from skiing, others rode the gondola to the top for cocktails and one last view of the Maroon Bells.

The Grinders, from Memphis, Tn., were doing just that before flying home this afternoon, and they had a few complaints.

“Here’s what we don’t like: We don’t live here and we don’t get to come here as much as we’d like,” Josh Grinder said.

The Grinders are frequent visitors, and not just because of the skiing.

“I love the history and culture of the town; it’s got character,” said Susan Grinder.

“It’s so different from Vail,” added Dan Grinder. “There’s such a unique blend of people here.”

After graduating from college in upstate New York, Scott Carmichael hopped in his car and drove to Aspen. He spent five months here before moving to San Francisco for a job. His brother, Chris Carmichael, works at Campo De Fiori, and has lived in Aspen for 10 years.

Now, Scott uses any excuse to come visit his brother, and dad, who recently moved to town.

“When you do something like that,” he said in reference to living here after college, “obviously you’re going to fall in love with the place.”

The Carmichaels’ family Christmas gift was skiing together on Ajax, but Scott is hoping for one more present.”

“I’d love to wake up to some powder tomorrow morning,” he said.

If he didn’t get his wish today, he may tomorrow, as the National Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning for Aspen through tonight, with total accumulations between eight and 16 inches.

A healthy dose of the white stuff would douse any questions about whether the Snowmass Ski Area will keep the Cirque Poma lift running through the next week. It was fired up for the first time this season, unannounced, on Christmas Day.

Geoff Pinkerton, a Portland, Ore. resident who spends most of each season slogging through the wet, heavy snow on Mt. Hood, raved about the light snow and steep pitch in AMF Gully.

“It’s not really comparable to the snow in Oregon,” he said. “It’s totally different snow ” that Colorado powder that everybody talks about.”

Buttermilk was less crowded yesterday than it had been earlier in the week, in part, no doubt, to the slow start many people got on Christmas Day.

Kenny Steel, 14, was sitting on a bench outside Bumps at 1 p.m., just getting ready for his first run of the day. “I just kind of slept late, taking it easy for the holiday,” he explained.

Steel said his family is here for two weeks every year, and by far their favorite mountain is Buttermilk. “It’s skiable for everybody,” he said. “I like the rails and ramps and stuff.”

[Allyn Harvey contributed to this story]

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