Power of Four: Highlands, ‘Milk ready to roll

Tim Mutrie

Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk open for the season Saturday morning, that’s the good news.The bummer, at least for those seriously jonesing for steeps, is that Highland Bowl will not open Saturday due to avalanche danger.Still, Temerity, most of Steeplechase, parts of Olympic Bowl and a majority of the Highlands’ mid- and lower-mountain cruisers will be up for grabs. All four lifts will be turning, serving nearly 470 acres and 77 trails.The ‘Milk plans to open with 306 acres, 31 trails and all six lifts – including the new West Buttermilk Express with midway loading only (so don’t park at the West Buttermilk parking lot). The lifts are scheduled to start spinning at 9 a.m., as usual.Mac Smith, Highlands ski patrol director, said boot-packing crews were up to their armpits in the bowl Wednesday trying to ready some north-facing aspects for opening day. Then, Wednesday night, high winds laid down a sketchy wind slab over already packed layers, creating a cause for concern.”Mother Nature dealt us some wind and we’ll have to do some avalanche-control work. We’ll be in there as soon as we can, but it’ll be another few days,” Smith said. “We want to get it open as soon as we can – we need the public in there skiing it. But we’re not going to open it until it’s right to open it. We’ll get the word out when we have it.”There’s a lot of things the wind really healed, too,” he added.Asked where he would steer powder hounds, Smith did not hesitate.”Temerity. Temerity gets all the wind-loading from Maroon Bowl and even though we had a few slides and some snow slip in there early, there’s some really, really good pockets that have been sheltered from the wind but not sheltered from snow,” Smith said.Crews have been at work boot-packing Highlands’ avalanche-prone steeps since the first substantial storm of the season on Halloween night.”It’s time to see a guest,” Smith chuckled. “And hopefully a big smiling face so you know all the work you’ve done is worth it. It’s definitely time to entertain.”Over at Buttermilk, Aspen Skiing Co. spokesman Jeff Hanle said the groomers are in “fantastic” shape. “The snowmakers and groomers have been hard at work for quite a while,” he said. “You’ll see.”With Aspen Mountain and Snowmass in operation since Thanksgiving Day, come Saturday Aspen’s four resorts – known in marketing literature as “The Power of Four” – will boast a total of 2,500 skiable acres.Said Skico Senior Vice President Mike Kaplan: “Now our guests get the full experience. Our conditions are excellent and rival that of anything in the state right now.”Tim Mutrie’s e-mail address is