Season opens at S’mass Saturday |

Season opens at S’mass Saturday

The Aspen Skiing Co. hopes to erase memories of the dismal start to last ski season with the early opening of a modest amount of terrain at Snowmass.

Skico officials announced yesterday they will open the Fanny Hill and Coney Glade chairlifts and some of the terrain they serve for free skiing on Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 11 and 12 – a week before the scheduled opening. Snowmass will close Nov. 13-17, then open for the season – starting with limited terrain – as scheduled on Saturday, Nov. 18.

No terrain will open early on Aspen Mountain unless another foot of snow falls by the end of the day Wednesday, said Mike Kaplan, Skico vice president of operations.

Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk will stick to their mid-December openings.

Snowmass’ early opening was prompted by 2 1/2 feet of snow over the last two weeks.

“The place is buzzing, people are psyched up. We want to keep that momentum going,” said Kaplan.

Free lift tickets should help. The Skico will issue tickets that are good for both days at the Fanny Hill lift maze Saturday. New arrivals will also be issued tickets on Sunday. Tickets have to be issued, rather than the slopes simply opened for lift-served skiing, for liability reasons, explained Skico spokeswoman Rose Abello.

In addition to carrying momentum, the move is meant to attract some positive PR. “We want to get out there in the `open’ column,” said Kaplan, referring to ski report information in newspapers and on the Internet.

Last season got off to a slow start due to warm temperatures and a lack of snowfall. In fact, many people were still cycling last year at this time.

This year the cold temperatures showed up more on schedule. The Skico began 60 straight hours of snowmaking at Ajax and Snowmass starting on Halloween night. Guns were fired up again Sunday, and they continued making snow through Monday.

One of the biggest benefits was creating cover for the World Cup women’s courses on Aspen Mountain. The race will be held Thanksgiving weekend, so the snowmaking opportunities are settling quite a few nerves.

“We’re feeling really good about World Cup,” said Kaplan.

Skico officials also hope the early opening settles the nerves of prospective guests. After a slow start to the ski season around much of the country last season, tourists are waiting to check conditions before booking trips, especially for the early season. Bookings “are off” for December, Kaplan noted. That’s why it is important to get the word out about good opening conditions.

“We want them to stop waiting,” he said.

All trails at Snowmass will be closed from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. each day of the initial weekend for grooming.

The Cirque Cafe will be open, and a grill will be open for the public at the Spider Sabich Race Arena.

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