Aspen Mountain opens for the season Thursday with top-to-bottom skiing | AspenTimes.com

Aspen Mountain opens for the season Thursday with top-to-bottom skiing

Joseph Bland and his brother Glenn David behind him send it on Aspen Mountain for opening day Thursday.

In Aspen, opening day is a holiday in its own right. It just so happens that it usually falls on Thanksgiving, and finding people who deserve thanks is easy enough.

At the top of that list this year? The snowmakers on Aspen Mountain.

"It's what we work all summer for," Aspen Skiing Co. President and CEO Mike Kaplan said of opening day. "The snowmakers, they are the unsung heroes, for sure."

Despite minimal natural snowfall, Aspen Mountain and Snowmass Ski Area both opened for the season Thursday, with Ajax — as Aspen Mountain is known locally — even having top-to-bottom skiing. Last year, opening day on Ajax was pushed back from Thursday to Sunday because of a lack of snow, and even then only the bottom portion of the mountain was open, via the rarely used Little Nell chairlift.

But thanks to recent low temperatures overnight and the tireless work of the snowmakers, roughly 100 acres over more than 3,000 vertical feet were available for riding Thursday.

"Top-to-bottom not only spreads people out, but it's the real deal. When you can get 3,200 vertical feet on a 14-minute lift ride, that's a big statement," Kaplan said from the base of the Silver Queen Gondola on Thursday. "If you think about the window we had to make snow, it was extremely narrow, and they didn't miss a second. The fact they made the most of every second of cold temperatures and every inch of fresh snow, followed up by the groomers pushing at just the right places and packing it down just the right way to make this possible, my hats are off to all of them."

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Aspen locals James Harvey and Johnny Israel were at the front of the line when the gondola took its first passengers Thursday. The duo said they arrived around 6 a.m., three hours ahead of the scheduled 9 a.m. opening. To everyone's delight, Skico started letting riders on about 10 minutes ahead of time.

"It was a good time, absolutely," Harvey said about the nearly three-hour long wait. "Today, with the conditions, not too many people showed up early, so we had a long time of bonding — just me and John hanging out."

The only chairlift running Thursday was Ajax Express, and most of the available terrain was limited to the runs directly below the gondola. Still, with a surprising amount of natural snow up top and ample snowmaking below, skiers and snowboarders alike had the full gamut of Aspen Mountain's vertical prowess to play with.

"We are just happy the mountain is open top to bottom," Harvey said.

Snowmass was limited to the beginner runs on Fanny Hill and the Elk Camp Meadows. Snowmass is scheduled to host Aspen's annual Thanksjibbing rail jam today from 2 to 3 p.m. on Fanny Hill. It's free to compete.

Aspen will likely need to see more in the way of natural snowfall before any more significant terrain opens up. While temperatures are expected to drop over the next week, it's also expected to remain dry. The best chance for snow is Tuesday when a cold front pushes through the area.

Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk Ski Area are scheduled to open Dec. 9.

acolbert@aspentimes.com

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