One for the (recent) record books |

One for the (recent) record books

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The 2002-03 ski season was one to remember. In regard to snow, it was certainly the best one of the past five years. The fun began even before the lifts opened.

Saturday, Oct. 26: It’s a rare day in autumn when the Independence Pass road is still open and there’s adequate snow up top to make turns. Skiers, snowboarders and sledders eagerly begin their snow-sliding season at the top of the pass.

Sunday, Nov. 3: Dozens of skiers and snowboarders hike up Aspen Mountain to ski the already deep snow. Tracks are had clear down to Little Nell, and Bell Mountain also skis well.

Tuesday, Nov. 5: The Skico announces it will open the Big Burn at Snowmass two weeks early and the top of Aspen Mountain a week early, thanks to a 32-inch base on Snowmass and a 25-inch base on Aspen Mountain.

Saturday, Nov. 9, and Sunday, Nov. 10: Snowmass opens 360 acres for two powder-filled days and a 40-inch base, which hasn’t been seen in November since 1996. “It was awesome, mate, to be honest,” said Matt Young of New Zealand. Lift tickets are $49.

Tuesday, Nov. 12: The snowpack at the top of Independence Pass measures at 168 percent of average. The World Cup racecourse on Ajax is already about 45 percent complete. Aspen Highlands patrollers estimate that 8 feet of snow lies in Highland Bowl. The Skico decides to push up the firm opening of Ajax to Nov. 23. “We haven’t had early-season conditions this good in years, and people are very anxious to get out on the slopes,” said the Skico’s David Perry.

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Friday, Nov. 15: The Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club holds its annual benefit day. For $40, skiers and riders get to frolic all over the top of Aspen Mountain on a day filled with dry, light, deep snow over a bumpless snowpack. “The conditions were fabulous,” said the Ski Club’s Mark Cole.

Saturday, Nov. 16: The Couch Rebellion takes place. About 3,500 skiers head to the top of Aspen Mountain and begin rampaging through the deep snow, including on Walsh’s, Kristi and Hyrup’s, all of which are open. Many end up at Lift 7, also known as the Creeping Couch of Pain. The lift stops for about 10 minutes, and several patrollers lead a group of skiers and riders down Jackpot, which is still officially closed.

Later in the day, another mob of skiers are at Lift 7 when the lift stalls again. And again. The crowd grows restless, and about 75 skiers bolt under the rope, claiming all the terrain below the base of Lift 7 as well as the Face of Bell. “It’s like a free-for-all,” said one local skier. “It’s turned law-abiding skiers into criminals.” Throughout the rest of the day, nearly open season reigns on all closed runs as a looting mentality takes over.

Monday, Nov. 18: The Skico apologizes for the shutdown on Lift 7. “For many of you, a spectacular early opening day was not as perfect as we all wanted it to be,” writes Aspen Mountain Manager Steve Sewell and Skico Vice President of Mountain Operations Mike Kaplan. “We were not our best on Saturday and we apologize for that.” But the skiing sure was good.

Tuesday, Nov. 19: Aspen Mountain Powder Tours enjoys the earliest fresh powder on the back of Ajax since 1984. “It was like midwinter skiing,” said Bob Perlmutter of Powder Tours. The same day, mountaineering and skiing pioneer Andre Roch dies at the age of 96 in Geneva, Switzerland. Roch laid out the first trail on Aspen Mountain, Roch Run.

Saturday, Nov. 23: Aspen Mountain opens for the season with 580 acres of terrain, essentially every run on the mountain except for the World Cup course.

Monday, Nov. 25: A blue-sky, fresh-snow day on Aspen Mountain is fitting for a memorial at the Sundeck for Miggs Durrance, a noted photographer of early Aspen and the wife of Dick Durrance, an American ski champion and the first general manager of the Aspen Skiing Co.

Thursday, Nov. 28: Snowmass opens for the season, including the Hanging Valley Wall, open for the first time ever on Thanksgiving Day. The Knob, the Burn, Alpine Springs and High Alpine are all open, too; in all, 1,500 acres of powder shots makes skiers and riders particularly thankful.

Friday, Nov. 29: Hilde Gerg of Germany wins the women’s World Cup Super G on Aspen Mountain on a bluebird day. Janica Kostelic of Croatia takes second, and Isolde Kostner of Italy takes third. “It was very good,” Kostner said of the course. Kirsten Clark of the U.S. Team finishes in fourth, just .17 seconds off the podium.

Saturday, Nov. 30: Anja Paerson of Sweden wins the slalom event, and Kostelic racks up more World Cup points by coming in second. Marlies Schild of Austria finishes third.

Thursday, Dec. 6: The early-season powder euphoria gives way to a dry spell, and “The 24 Hours of Snowmaking” takes over in Spar Gulch. An Aspen resident complains to the Skico that the thunderous roar of snowmaking guns on Little Nell might be “louder than usual.”

Thursday, Dec. 5: It snows – 3 inches – for the first time since Nov. 25.

Saturday, Dec. 14: Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk open for the season. The Highlands patrol opens Highland Bowl, including, for the first time ever, the north-facing G-Zones on the far side of the bowl.

Sunday, Dec. 15: The 24 Hours of Aspen begins, with its first-ever solo racer format. Casey Puckett of Old Snowmass, and formerly of the U.S. Ski Team, takes the lead out of the gate.

Monday, Dec. 16: Puckett takes the 24 Hours, leading the event wire to wire. He runs 63 laps and has a cumulative on-snow time of two hours, 18 minutes and 46 seconds. Germany’s Michael Brunner is second, and Switzerland’s William Besse is third. Aleisha Cline of Canada wins the women’s competition.

Wednesday, Dec. 18: One of the year’s best powder days, with 20 inches reported in the Wall at Snowmass and the first truly great day of the year in Highland Bowl, with mid-thigh snow found throughout.

Tuesday, Dec. 24: The Cirque Headwall at Snowmass opens; it’s the earliest opening for the Cirque poma since it was installed in 1997.

Wednesday, Dec. 25: A slightly white Christmas with 2 inches of new on top of Highland Bowl. A guest from The Little Nell charges a man with indecent exposure on the Ajax Express lift at Aspen Mountain after she looks over and spots his “penis sticking out of his zipper.” The man claims it was an accident, telling the Aspen Daily News, “It was visible. That was true. But it definitely wasn’t on purpose.” He is charged with a misdemeanor crime of indecent exposure.

Saturday, Dec. 27: The Skico’s top brass, including CEO Pat O’Donnell, are called on to help teach ski school lessons due to the abundance of clients. The daily lift ticket price hits its seasonal zenith of $68.

Tuesday, Dec. 31: Thanks to the good early-season snow, skier visits through today for the Skico are 22 percent ahead of last season. Around Colorado, skier visits are up 18 percent (by late February, visits statewide had dropped to 7 percent over last year).

Wednesday, Jan. 1: Three to 5 inches of snow ring in New Year’ Day, with 8 inches reported in spots in Highland Bowl. Headache or no, it’s a good day to go.

Saturday, Jan. 11: Brad McFadden, 61, of Denver, dies after hitting a tree below the lip of S-1, a double-black-diamond run on Aspen Mountain. After apparently veering off the top of the run by mistake, he is found 100 to 150 feet below the rim of the trail. It will be the only trauma-related on-mountain death of the season. The snowpack is firm, as Aspen experiences its normal January drought.

Thursday, Jan. 30: The ESPN Winter X Games opens it second season at Buttermilk. Skier Steele Spence of Snowmass Village finishes fourth in the skier slopestyle event, which is won by Tanner Hall after he goes big off the “millionaire” jump.

Friday, Jan. 31: Gretchen Bleiler of Snowmass Village wins the gold medal in the X Games women’s snowboard halfpipe event in front of a jam-packed stadium of stoked fans.

Sunday, Feb. 2: The long dry spell breaks as snow starts falling heavily in the afternoon, causing X Games organizers to call off the last scheduled heat in the women’s snowboard slopestyle competition.

Wednesday, Feb. 5: Up to a foot of snow has fallen since Sunday. The Highlands patrol tries to remember where it put the “epic” flag, not yet flown this season.

Thursday, Feb. 6: Skico CEO Pat O’Donnell snowboards Highland Bowl for the first time ever on a day with 6 more inches of fresh snow. “It was perfect,” he said. “The whole experience is absolutely magnificent.”

Saturday, Feb. 22: Jimmy “Inhuman” Newman, 41, wins his third-straight Highland Bowl Inferno race title. He hikes to the top of the Bowl and skis down in 28 minutes, 12 seconds, slower than his first two wins. The fastest woman is Jill Pisani, who finishes in 35:50. Meanwhile, over on Aspen Mountain, hometown heroes Chris Klug and Casey Puckett take first place in the snowboard and ski divisions, respectively, of the Jeep King of the Mountain World Professional Ski and Snowboard Championship finals.

Tuesday, Feb. 25: A 24-year-old bellman from the Timberline Condos in Snowmass hucks 60 feet off an out-of-bounds cliff next to Roberto’s while practicing for an upcoming extreme contest. He’s buried in snow up to his neck and is lucky to be alive. His pass is pulled by the patrol.

Saturday, March 1: Fourteen inches of snow lands on Snowmass without a breath of wind. Four people are badly hurt in the Cirque as the snow has covered up many of the rocks in the area. “It was a super-fluffy powder [day] that you dream of,” said Doug Mackenzie, general manager at Snowmass. “Everybody was looking for places where there weren’t any tracks, and, of course, there were rocks under those places.” Of course.

Tuesday, March 4: The flag at Highlands signifying that the whole mountain is epic flies for the first (and, as it turns out, only) time this season.

Wednesday, March 5: “Big Wednesday.” Two feet of fresh graces Northstar on Ajax, with 13 inches the official snowfall tally. “It was outrageous on Aspen Mountain today,” said Mountain Manager Steve Sewell. “The comment I heard numerous times from a lot of old-timers was it was the best day we had in a very, very long time.”

Thursday, March 6: “Bigger Thursday.” Hundreds of skiers head to the upper reaches of Highland Bowl that didn’t open on Wednesday. Kudos go out to the snowboarder who greases Full Curl in about 10 turns while the crowd on the ridge stands and gapes.

Saturday, March 15: For those with hearty lungs, the Highlands patrol holds its now annual “bowl-b-que” near the summit of Highland Bowl. 500 patties are served up at $5 a pop. On Aspen Mountain, the annual private “Wine Party” caters to those more in need of oxygen bottles.

Tuesday, March 18: Another 11 inches falls, and it’s another powder day. “Alpine cheesecake” is what one local calls the relatively thick snow. The epic flag flies at the entrance to Highland Bowl.

Thursday, March 27: Snowmass weighs in with another 11 inches of snow, and the base depth hits 94 inches. The epic flag is raised for the last time this season at the entrance to Highland Bowl.

Tuesday, April 1: A skier sets off a small slide in Maroon Bowl, adjacent to Highlands, and goes for a ride. He’s not hurt but loses his skis and has to hike back out.

Sunday, April 6: Closing day at Aspen Highlands is midwinterlike, with lots of energy and stoke, as locals come up to claim one more big day in the bowl.

Monday, April 7: One of the best days of the season on Aspen Mountain, with a foot or more of cold snow piled up in places and very, very few people out to enjoy it.

Sunday, April 13: A big party in the halfpipe marks closing day at Snowmass. On Ajax, hordes of locals enjoy pushing around the slush on a perfect blue day under a hot sun.