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Powder daze in Aspen

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – Eager skiers and riders flocked to the slopes of Aspen and Snowmass last weekend for a three-day string of powder days that eclipsed anything in recent memory.

After an unspectacular January for all but the southwest mountains, snow-wise, the winter storm that swept into western Colorado boosted ski resort snowfall totals around the state and quickly brought local inch counts into the respectable range. Snowfall for the month of February at Aspen-Snowmass is now about average, reported Aspen Skiing Co. spokesman Jeff Hanle.

The powder also jacked up backcountry avalanche danger – an avalanche warning was posted for the Aspen zone on Sunday – and the slide danger remained high for the Aspen area on Monday, when an avalanche buried Highway 133 near McClure Pass, south of Carbondale.

Also among the many reports of triggered and natural slides was an avalanche triggered by two skiers in a closed area at Aspen Highlands Sunday morning that partially buried a ski patroller. The patroller extricated himself; attempts to locate the culprits were unsuccessful, Hanle said Monday.

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“I think the message on ducking ropes is don’t do it,” he said. “You’re putting your lives at risk and you’re putting other people’s lives at risk.”

The Skico’s four mountains saw some 15,000 skiers and riders hit the slopes on Sunday – an impressive count by this season’s measure. The biggest day for skier visits so far this season was close to 20,000 during the holidays, Hanle said.

“To have 15,000 jump out the door is pretty big,” he said.

Powder-starved locals had a lot to do with Sunday’s numbers, Hanle said. “There was a lot of pent-up energy out there.”

Local slopes picked up more than 3 feet of new snow in the past week, the Skico said Monday, and much of it fell between Friday and Sunday. The storm brought wave after wave of snow throughout the weekend, but saved the best for last, at least in Aspen.

Aspen Mountain reported 11 inches of new snow over the past 24 hours early Monday, while Aspen Highlands picked up another 10 inches. Snowmass had 9 inches, and Buttermilk reported 7.

By Monday, local slopes were within an inch of their average snowfall for the month of February with a week to go.

Snowmass had 51 inches of snowfall for the month (the average is 52 inches), and Aspen Mountain had 49 inches (the February average is 50 inches), Hanle said.

January, he noted, “was a different story.”

Though last month was cold enough to preserve the snowpack, January didn’t bring a lot of snow. Snowmass saw 30 inches, compared to 73 inches in January 2009. Aspen Mountain picked up 25 inches in January, down from 70 inches the previous winter. Aspen Highlands recorded 24 inches, compared to 61 inches in 2009.

December snowfall was about average.

The weekend snows boosted avalanche danger around the state. A slide partially closed Castle Creek Road south of Aspen Sunday, as well as the county road into Marble from Highway 133. Another slide hit Castle Creek Road Monday, and a slide Saturday closed Interstate 70 over Vail Pass for several hours, according to The Associated Press.

Brian McCall, a local avalanche forecaster for the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, said he observed slides on all aspects and at varying elevations Sunday near Ashcroft in the Castle Creek Valley.

A slide at treeline on Ashcroft Mountain ran more than 2,200 vertical feet over Express Creek Road, according to the avalanche center. Safe travel can only be found on low-angled slopes that are well away from other, steeper terrain, the CAIC advised.

The danger rating around Aspen may drop back from high to considerable by Tuesday, unless the winds pick up at higher elevations, McCall said Monday afternoon. A rating of considerable is still dangerous, he added.

Meanwhile, the Skico is offering added enticement to stay inbounds, rolling out discounts for extra skiing to pass holders. Flex Pass holders can buy extra days of skiing for $29 instead of $49, and Classic Pass holders will pay $49 instead of $79 for extra days of skiing or riding from Feb. 23 to March 7. The days must be used by March 7. Premier Pass holders can get a free equipment demo at any Four Mountain Sports shop during the promotion.

In addition, one restaurant at each local mountain is offering the “Powder Hound Special” to all season pass holders – $8 for a burger and a Budweiser or soda at the Sundeck on Aspen Mountain, Ullrhof at Snowmass, Merry-Go-Round at Highlands and Cliffhouse at Buttermilk.

Finally, the Skico will again offer vouchers to pass holders that are good for 50 percent off the price of a lift ticket. The promotion begins March 1, about three weeks earlier than it did last season. Premier Pass holders can collect four vouchers; those who have other ski passes are eligible for two vouchers. Pass holders can use the vouchers to get family members and friends discounted lift tickets.

janet@aspentimes.com


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