Season to open early |

Season to open early

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Cancel those weekend off-season plans because the Aspen Skiing Co. plans to open the Big Burn at Snowmass this weekend and the top of Aspen Mountain on the following two weekends.

“We want the locals to get up there to enjoy it and tell their friends all over the world how good it is,” said Mike Kaplan, the Skico’s senior vice president of mountain operations.

Thanks to two big storms last week, there is now a 32-inch base on top of the Snowmass ski area and a 25-inch base at the top of Aspen Mountain.

That’s enough snow to allow the Skico to open the Fanny Hill, Coney Glade and Big Burn lifts on Saturday and Sunday.

About 360 acres of skiing will be available with half of the Big Burn open, from Whispering Jesse to Sneaky’s. The Sheer Bliss lift and terrain on the Burn are not expected to open.

On the following two weekends, Nov. 16-17 and Nov. 23-24, the Skico plans to close Snowmass to allow for snowmaking and other early season work on the mountain but plans to open the top of Aspen Mountain.

On those weekends, after riding up the Silver Queen gondola, skiers will be able to enjoy the mostly intermediate terrain served by Lift 3, the Ajax Express lift. At the end of the day, downloading on the gondola will be required.

“If we get more snow, we’ll continue to open more terrain and lifts as conditions allow,” Kaplan said.

It is possible that the Gentleman’s Ridge section could open after the top of Ajax, but it may take another 6 to 12 inches of snow.

The Skico does not plan to open Aspen Highlands or Buttermilk before their scheduled openings on Dec. 14.

Also, the traditional Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club benefit day has been moved up and will now be held Friday, Nov. 15. Tickets are $40 for everyone, with no season passes honored, and all proceeds go to the Ski Club.

Skiers who walked up Aspen Mountain and Snowmass on Sunday reported excellent, deep-powder conditions on the Face of Bell and Sam’s Knob.

“The skiing was superb,” said Art Burrows of Aspen. “It was the best powder skiing I’ve had on the Face of Bell this time of year in at least three or four years. There was 2 1/2 feet in there. I didn’t hit anything underneath and I skied the whole Face.”

Skiers can access the four local mountains before the lifts open, but they do so at their own risk and should watch for weird terrain variations, like ditches, and for crews working with snowcats, snowmobiles and snowmaking equipment. Also, no patrol services are available.

A warming trend is expected to settle over Aspen this week but there is a chance of snowshowers for the coming weekend. Without more snow, skiers will find mostly groomed terrain this weekend at Snowmass.

This is the first time since the 1996-97 season that Aspen Mountain or Snowmass will open with more than 30 inches of snow. In 1996, skiers were romping through fresh snow on Halloween and by Thanksgiving there was a 44-inch base.

Last Thanksgiving Day was a much different story. Snowmass opened with only 8 inches of snow and 2 percent of its terrain, while Aspen Mountain had no skiable terrain open.

Lift ticket prices have been set for the next three weekends of skiing at $49 for adults and $32 for kids ages 7 to 17. All season passes will be valid with any normal restrictions applying, as in, a one-day-a-week pass is still good for one day a week. Buttermilk/Aspen Highlands pass holders can buy lift tickets for $39.

Ski and snowboard lessons will be offered but beginner terrain is expected to be limited. A mini-terrain park will be set up on the Cabin run under the Coney Glade lift with flat bars, kinked rails and mini-boxes. (If you don’t know what those are, you probably have no business playing on them.)

Snowmass, which usually opens at 8:30 a.m. during the regular season, will be open this weekend from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

The free skier shuttle buses will not run this weekend but parking in Lot A at the base of Fanny Hill will be free.

For those who still need to get their season passes this week, they should go to the Aspen Mountain or Buttermilk ticket offices. The Buttermilk office will be open until 7 p.m. today and Wednesday. The Snowmass ticket office won’t be open until this weekend. Also, the next price increase for season passes is set for Nov. 16.

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

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