Season opens with a bang |

Season opens with a bang

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Times Staff Writer

There are several thousand sore, but happy, skiers and snowboarders in the Roaring Fork Valley this morning after two powder-filled weekend days at the Snowmass Ski Area.

Skiers who haven’t been in ski conditioning classes recently are probably all too aware of their legs this morning and also well aware of all the fresh snow on the local mountains, with nary a chairlift spinning!

About 2,100 people turned up on Saturday, and about 2,400 came out on Sunday to Snowmass to make fresh tracks through moist, sometimes set-up snow. But certainly no one was complaining about the midwinter, preseason conditions blanketing the 360 open acres of terrain.

“It was awesome, mate, to be honest,” said Matt Young, just in from the North Island of New Zealand. “Quite deep powder on the first day. Everyone cleared out after the first storm went through, and it was just uncharted territory. She was all go.”

And while it is Young’s first season in Aspen, he could tell there was something unusual about this snowy weekend. “All the locals have been saying they are looking forward to a good season and it was about time it turned up early,” he said.

Indeed, the 2002-03 ski season in Aspen/Snowmass now has two good days on the record books. And it is on track to break early season snowfall records.

There was a 40-inch base at the top of Snowmass on Sunday morning, and it was snowing heavily Sunday night. The last time there was a 40-inch base on top of Snowmass in November was 1996.

From Friday to Sunday it snowed 12 inches at Snowmass, 14 inches on Aspen Mountain and 15 inches at Aspen Highlands.

“The snow was insane,” said Mary Lewis of Carbondale, who skinned up Highlands on Saturday. “It was crazy. It was so much work to get down, we were tucking Scarlett’s. There was a ton of snow.”

On Sunday, Highlands was reporting a 30-inch base at midway, and Aspen Mountain was reporting 24 inches on top, although that seemed low to Mike Kaplan, senior vice president of mountain operations for the Aspen Skiing Co.

“It’s definitely looking good,” he said. “And there is a lot of snow in the Highland Bowl.”

The next time the Skico plans to open any lifts is this Friday, Nov. 15, on Aspen Mountain.

Friday is the annual benefit for the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club, and the top of the ski area will be open, with downloading required at the end of the day. No passes will be honored, and lift tickets are $40 with all proceeds going to the ski club.

On Saturday and Sunday, the Skico expects to open the Gent’s Ridge lifts, and the Walsh’s area may be opened briefly for some early season ski compaction.

Aspen Mountain is not expected to be open for top-to-bottom skiing this weekend as the snowmaking power needed to make Spar Gulch skiable is being focused on the World Cup course on the Lift 1A side of the mountain. The course is about 75 percent complete, Kaplan said.

Snowmass will re-open on Thanksgiving Day, and Highlands and Buttermilk are scheduled to open Dec. 14.

Many locals are wondering why the Skico isn’t planning on keeping the lifts spinning, given this rare abundance of early snow.

“A lot of people have asked me that, but truthfully, there weren’t that many lift tickets out there today,” Kaplan said Sunday afternoon. “So it was definitely less than profitable. But it was something we wanted to do, to offer skiing to locals on weekends and have people get out there and spread the word about how good it is. But in terms of opening on weekdays, I can’t imagine what we would go down to [in skier visits].”

On the other hand, lots of snow has a way of changing people’s plans, just as it did this weekend.

On Saturday, the Skico slipped open the Fanny Hill and Coney Glade lifts around 8:30 a.m., despite the announced opening time of 9 a.m.

Kaplan said snowy opening days can often cause chairlifts to become delayed, so they just wanted to get the big machines up and running with time to spare.

“There were a few people who were angry, they wanted to be on the very first chair,” he said of those who showed up shortly before 9 a.m. “But we just wanted to get the lifts turning. We were just trying to work any bugs out.”

Overall, the opening day crowds were fairly mellow.

“People were great,” Kaplan said. “You could see there was a great attitude but people weren’t aggro. They were well-behaved. They were paying attention, being respectful of each other. It was just great being out there.”

It was especially great for the group of about 75 people who were given a one-run powder tour by the ski patrol of the closed Sheer Bliss side of the Big Burn at about 11 a.m. on Sunday.

“That was awesome,” shouted one young boarder after getting fresh, smooth tracks all the way down one of Snowmass’s most popular trails.

For the ski patrol, lift operators, ticket sellers and the operators of the Ullrhoff restaurant, the quick opening and closing of the ski area was a lot of work.

“Everyone was scrambling,” Kaplan said. “So a big thank you goes out to everybody for getting out there.”

[Brent Gardner-Smith’s e-mail address is]

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