More than 6,000 at Snowmass for ‘busy but not too crazy’ start to 50th weekend

Erica Robbie

About 5,500 tourists stormed Snowmass on Friday to cash in on Aspen Skiing Co.’s $6.50 lift ticket – a nod to the resort’s opening day price circa 1967 – in honor of its 50th anniversary this weekend.

A grand total of 6,500 skiers and riders – about 1,000 of whom held standard (non-$6.50) passes – scanned their ticket at Snowmass on Friday, according to Skico vice president of communications Jeff Hanle.

“It was a group of people that I think, for the most part (and) just from what I experienced, have never been here before,” Hanle said Friday night.

“It was very noticeable to me that these were not our regular customers. And it was fun to see that.”

In the days leading up to Snowmass’ big bash, a juxtaposition of more than 12,000 $6.50 tickets sold by mid-November and lackluster conditions this season left Skico and Snowmass officials scratching their heads as to how many people would actually show up.

“We didn’t see the 12,000 who had pre-purchased tickets, but I think that’s fine because the terrain naturally limited that,” Hanle said Friday, “and we hope those people will come back in April.” Skico announced recently that $6.50 ticket purchasers could instead hold onto their passes during the last week of Snowmass’ ski season in April. The company also allowed people to refund the ticket or transfer that credit toward a one-day pass to Aspen Mountain on Friday.

While Snowmass was certainly full of activity Friday, in particular on the 130 acres of open terrain, it wasn’t insane.

The day kicked off at 7 a.m. with visitors braving the brisk morning air outside the ticket pavilion waiting to snag a $6.50 ticket.

The doors to the pavilion on the Snowmass Mall opened at 7:30 a.m. and the Village Express – whereby another 40 hardy folks waited in line and sang “Happy Birthday” to Snowmass – started spinning at 8 a.m.

“What we have open is skiing really well. Hats off to the snowmakers, groomers and ski patrol for getting the Funnel open (under Elk Camp gondola),” Snowmass mountain manager Steve Sewell said about 30 minutes before the lifts started loading. “We’re going to have a good time with what we’ve got.”

At the 400-space Rodeo Lot, which filled up by 9 a.m., Wibby Brewing of Longmont handed out free cans of beer to folks shuttling to the slopes.

As temperatures steadily increased mid-morning, so too did the stream of skiers and riders along the mall and on the slopes.

Fifty-four ski patrollers safeguarded the mountain, and at busier sections, cautioned skiers and riders to slow down. Hanle reported “no incidents” Friday.

From late-morning to afternoon, frothy beers in iced pints were sipped by the fire-pits on the mall while equally icy turns were made on the hill; “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees played a few times and lines from the cult classic “Dumber and Dumber” were overheard on more than one occasion.

“I’m never going to get do to (this) again,” Denver resident Rahul Deodhar said of skiing at Snowmass for $6.50. Deodhar, 31, said he’s never visited Aspen or Snowmass and figured “Why not?”

Thirty-year-old Jessica Tepas, also of Denver, said that she and her friends heard about the $6.50 deal in October and purchased tickets “immediately.”

While they all still made the trip despite the lack of snow, not everyone with passes skied – some came solely for the social aspect and saved their $6.50 ticket to visit again in April.

“I think a lot of people are here (just) for the festivities,” Tepas, who used her pass, said on the Village Express lift. “The atmosphere is awesome.”

“We’re just here to party,” echoed Chris Mordick, another Denver resident.

Mordick, 28, said the majority of the 26-person crew he visited with thought twice Thursday night about making the trip because of the quality of the skiing, but ultimately decided, “they may as well.”

“Everybody’s just at the bar right now,” Mordick said on the lift Friday afternoon.

It seems some visitors were so set on the celebratory side of the weekend, they forget to bring their skis to Snowmass.

Jared Davis, of Omaha, and Kevin Pula, of Denver, said this was the case for their friend, Craig Smith, who was at the base waiting for them to borrow boots and skis so he could get in a run.

“We all said it would probably be more of an après weekend,” Davis said, given the conditions, “but he took that a little too literally.”

“You got to ski to get to the après ski,” Davis said, laughing, “So I don’t know what he was thinking.”

The evening culminated with a “retro party” at Elk Camp Restaurant complete with live music, throwback ensembles, libations, dancing and mingling.

“It was busy but it wasn’t crazy busy,” Hanle said of Friday’s events at Snowmass. “From everything I saw and heard, people had a great time.”