Aspen Skiing Co. welcomes pre-season uphillers, but wants them to play safe
It didn’t take Aspen-area skiers long to hit the slopes in search of turns this fall.
Aspen Skiing Co. officials said there have been a significant number of uphillers at Aspen Mountain, Snowmass and Aspen Highlands. Many people are skinning but some are hiking, said Katie Ertl, Skico senior vice president of mountain operations. Most people hitting the slopes at Buttermilk/Tiehack are just hiking because of lack of snow at the base.
“It is a well-loved activity that we all support, and we want to remind folks about the work happening on the hill,” Ertl said in an email. “The machines, the noise, the plumes of snow, and the movement all contribute to an environment that makes it difficult to see a skier, split-boarder and dogs.”
Snowmaking is underway at the ski areas during nights and snowcats are moving piles of snow around during days, Ertl said in an interview. There are a handful of steps that uphillers can take to avoid danger, she said. First and foremost, stay as far away from moving snowcats at possible. Drivers cannot necessarily see people and their dogs. In addition, when they are moving snow, it is possible for them to knock large chunks loose and send them downslope.
Visibility issues are worse at night. Uphillers should have a headlamp and a flashing red light on backpacks.
With snowmaking underway, skiers and snowboarders should make sure they don’t cross over any hoses. Right now, there are 10- to 14-hour windows for snowmaking starting at about 8 p.m., according to Ertl.
Although more than 3 feet of snow fell on upper ski area slopes last month, recent warm temperatures are eating into the snow base. Ditches and natural features in the terrain are especially pronounced right now for skiers and snowboarders heading downhill.
“There’s super early conditions out there,” Ertl said.
Skico officials were so concerned about potential conflicts between uphillers and operations crews last season that they held a informational meeting to share their perspective.
Anyone at the ski areas prior to them opening for the season must understand that the ski patrol isn’t on duty yet and cannot come to their aid.
“If you’re up there and something happens, you actually need to call 911,” Ertl said.
The same is true once the ski areas are open but it is outside of operation hours.
The last but certainly not least wise tip for early-season uphillers — pick up any deposit left by your dog.
Skico has an “Ascender Accreditation Program” that Ertl said the company hopes people will review and sign when they pick up their ski passes at a ticket office. The accreditation program is free. It isn’t mandatory but recommended. It offers general safety tips and specific information on each ski area’s operating hours.
Skico also has its uphill policy on its website at https://bit.ly/36BaXiT.
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Many members of the community wrote to laud the former Skico executive and city councilman for his friendship, dedication to family and community-minded spirit over more than two decades in Aspen.