Resort hits full stride Saturday |

Resort hits full stride Saturday

Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk open for the season Saturday morning, but first things first ” this morning, Snowmass is opening the new Campground lift and most of the excellent terrain it serves.

It is, in fact, a weekend of heralded openings.

Day 1 at Highlands promises to be an epic event as ski patrollers plan to open nearly all the resort’s upper terrain, including Highland Bowl from Boxcar around through the lower G zones, all of Steeplechase, Temerity and Oly Bowl.

“Right now, we’re going to have a great opening day,” Mac Smith, the Highlands Ski Patrol director with 26 years of service at the resort, said Thursday afternoon.

“But with another storm, it could be unbelievable. In fact, as it is now, it’ll probably be the best opening day above 9,000 feet in the last five or six years.”

The Aspen Skiing Co. reported a snowpack as deep as 50 inches in places in Highland Bowl, with just over 3 feet at midmountain.

Smith said Highlands’ weather forecasts called for an overnight dusting, perhaps 3 or 4 inches, with the possibility of more snow into Saturday.

“I don’t know if I’m going to believe it,” Smith said. “Usually, I don’t believe anything more than 24 hours out.

“But Mother Nature could deal us cards that we might have to deal with Saturday; you always have to put that disclaimer in.”

The Thunderbowl lift at Highlands, as well as the Thunderbowl/Goldenhorn area and anything accessible from the T-Lazy-7 catwalk, will not open this weekend due to ongoing snowmaking operations in the area. The closure includes the P-chutes road.

Exhibition, Cloud Nine and Loge Peak, however, will be shuttling loads and loads of foursomes.

Exhibition lift is scheduled to officially open at 9 a.m., as usual, but Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle laughed at that notion yesterday.

“I’d say 7 ” be there at 7 if you want to be anywhere near the front of the line,” he said.

“I think the opening of Aspen Highlands is an event,” added Smith. “It’s been an event for many, many years, and I think it’s going to continue to be one. And from what I’ve seen up there, this one should really be an event.”

Smith also offered some cautionary advice for the would-be yahoos, particularly the hordes he’s expecting to storm the bowl:

“People need to understand it is early season. It’s not the time to nuke it because there are some rocks that one should really watch out for.”

Cloud Nine Bistro and the Soup Bowl will be open for business, along with the midmountain Merry-Go-Round, under the new leadership of Andreas Fischbacher. Also, Highlands is charging $7 to park at the base lot, up from $5 last year, for vehicles with two or fewer passengers. Rigs with three or more still park for free.

Buttermilk will open with 350 acres and all lifts, with the exception of the lower Tiehack chair. Sections of the Crazy T’rain park will open with about 15 features, including rails, hits and fun boxes, according to Hanle. Bumps at the base and the Cliffhouse will be operational.

Over at Snowmass Saturday, the Skico plans to claim a statewide first with the opening of the superpipe.

“It’ll be a first first for us,” said Hanle, “and the guys are just cranking away to get it done. But the snowfall and the hard work is going to allow us to be the first one open in the state this year.”

Assay Hill is also scheduled to open Saturday at Snowmass, pushing the skiable acreage over the 1,700 mark, Hanle said.

At Ajax, Saturday will see nearly 100 percent of terrain open, including Lift 1A and lower Ruthie’s runs like Spring Pitch and Strawpile, Hanle said.

“It’s going to be a tough decision on where to go this weekend,” Mike Kaplan, Skico senior vice president, said in a written statement. “Of course Highlands will be epic, but with the halfpipe in Snowmass, the park at Buttermilk and the new terrain on Aspen Mountain, you just can’t go wrong anywhere.”

[Tim Mutrie’s e-mail address is]

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