Season opens at Aspen with skiers giving thanks
ASPEN – The conditions matched the hype for the opening day of the 2010-11 ski season in Aspen.
Skiers and riders who were willing to brave temperatures of minus 12 at 9 a.m. were rewarded with powder that was to the top of their boots and higher in pockets on newly opened trails such as Walsh’s, Kristi and Hyrup’s on Aspen Mountain. Bell Mountain also provided a turkey day treat. And for those who wanted to build strength in their legs before tackling powder, Spar Gulch and Copper Bowl were immaculately groomed for top-to-bottom skiing.
One hundred or so skiers and riders had amassed at the base of the Silver Queen Gondola by 8:30 a.m., eager to get at the powder for the official opening. The crowd swelled to at least double that size by the time passengers were loaded starting at 8:53 a.m. Aspen Skiing Co. President and CEO Mike Kaplan was among the workers loading passengers.
While it was brutally cold waiting in line, the chill left as soon as folks started working the powder.
Sean Patterson, a third-grader from Aspen, and his dad Mark put hot cayenne pepper in their boots to help them stay warm. It worked.
“I had a really good day, there was big powder,” Sean said at the base of the mountain. “It was really fun.”
He took his dad skiing all over Bell Mountain and found the deepest powder on the Shoulder of Bell. It was at least knee-high, he said.
Mark Patterson said they were actually overprepared to deal with the cold on Thursday. They also skied on Wednesday for the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club benefit and found conditions a lot colder then.
Emir Muhum, a skier taking a break at the base of Aspen Mountain, agreed that Thursday was a piece of cake after braving conditions on Wednesday when high winds were whipping the snow. Muhum was on Thanksgiving break with two other friends from Turkey who attend college in the U.S. They decided to come skiing in Aspen for the first time.
“It’s cold but the sun is up,” Muhum said. “[Wednesday] is was very snowy. After skiing in that snow, the sun was amazing. So no matter how cold it was, we figured ‘why not?'”
He has skied in resorts in Europe before and was impressed with what he found in Aspen. “It’s comparable to those, to be honest, it’s very nice,” he said.
Skiers and riders who didn’t venture out Wednesday were drooling while riding the gondola Thursday morning. One visiting skier was taking pictures with his cell phone so he could e-mail the image to friends to make them jealous. Another gondola passenger, a local of 25 years, said this season’s opening was easily among the 10 best.
The first wave of skiers found untracked snow on trails like Walsh’s, which skied more like midseason than opening day. Several trails that were closed during the ski club benefit on Wednesday were open Thursday. The Skico reported a base depth of 27 inches at the top of Aspen Mountain after 10 inches fell from the latest storm. About 475 acres opened Thursday, or about 70 percent of the ski area.
The cold snow bogged down skiers and riders who didn’t have the proper wax, noted Erica Stahl of Aspen while taking a midmorning break at the Sundeck.
“I’ve mostly been trying to warm up, and doing a couple of groomer runs,” Stahl said. “The wax on my snowboard is not really set up for this cold of weather. I tried to go through some powder but it didn’t really work out that well.”
Nevertheless, the trip up was well worth it despite dealing with the cold and wax issues.
“Oh, definitely, it’s beautiful out here,” Stahl said. “I’ve been here for six years and this is the most snow I’ve seen on opening day, so it’s pretty awesome.”
By early afternoon a steady stream of skiers was still arriving at the Gondola Plaza, presumably to avoid the early morning cold. The line extended out of the maze and onto the deck by the Ajax Tavern, but spirits were still high and pockets of powder were still easily found.
Snowmass Ski Area also opened for the season Thursday. It made 805 acres available to customers. Buttermilk and Aspen Highlands open Dec. 11. Sunlight Mountain Resort opened earlier than planned for the long holiday weekend, then will open permanently Dec. 3.
Jackpot hadn’t opened on Aspen Mountain as of late morning Thursday, contrary to the Skico’s report Wednesday night. A member of the ski patrol said another storm was needed before Jackpot could open.
That storm could arrive late in the weekend. The National Weather Service forecast for Aspen Mountain was a 50 percent chance of snow on Sunday with an undefined chance of snow on Monday.
Thursday kicked off what will be one of the longest ski seasons ever at Aspen-Snowmass. It’s one down, 150 to go.
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