Ski season will start early on Aspen Mountain | AspenTimes.com

Ski season will start early on Aspen Mountain

Augustus Hoy rides under the Silver Queen Gondola on Aspen Mountain Wednesday after walking up with his splitboard. Aspen Mountain will open for a preview Saturday and Sunday, then open for the season on Saturday, Nov. 21.

Aspen didn't reap as much snow as expected from Tuesday night's storm, but it was enough for Aspen Skiing Co. officials to decide to open Aspen Mountain early.

Three chairlifts and more than 100 acres of terrain will open Saturday and Sunday, Skico announced at mid-afternoon Wednesday, confirming rumors that were swirling around town. The ski area will close Monday then reopen for the season Nov. 21. Snowmass also will open Nov. 21 — five days ahead of schedule. Both ski areas were scheduled to open on Thanksgiving.

Aspen Mountain received 4 inches of snow as of 5 a.m. Wednesday, then another 2 or 3 inches fell Wednesday morning, according to Rich Berkley, Skico vice president of mountain operations. More than a foot has fallen on the slopes over the past week. Conditions over the next week look "unsettled" so there's a chance for more snow, he said. That weighed into the decision. Skico officials checked the terrain Wednesday and determined it was good to go for an early opening, according to spokesman Jeff Hanle.

Skiers will upload and download on the Silver Queen Gondola to access the terrain. The Silver Queen Gondola, Ajax Express and Gentleman's Ridge chairs will be open as will the Sundeck and Ajax Tavern. The Ski and Snowboard Schools and Four Mountain Sports will be open for business as usual.

The intermediate terrain — aka blue runs — under the Ajax Express and Gent's chair will be open, Hanle said.

Burkley said all the terrain was "track-packed" by snowcats prior to the latest snowfall. Getting skiers on it also will help pack down the base. Overall, skiers and snowboarders can expect "pretty decent" conditions, he said.

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"It's not going to be epic skiing," Burkley said. "It's going to be fun, low-angle blue (terrain) skiing."

All season passes will be valid as they would be in the regular season. Lift tickets are $59 a day for adults and $39 for children, youth and seniors. Extension days for Classic, Flex, Club Escape and Mountain Collective Passholders are just $29 for adults and $19 for child, youth, seniors and college students. Sightseeing tickets are $21 for adults and $10 for all others.

Skico's policy is to open early whenever conditions warrant. This season, there is some marketing pressure to open early, as well. Advance reservations for the season have been sluggish, according to tourism officials. The competition for skiers is greater than ever. Some major California ski resorts have already opened or are opening because of good early-season snow. That could lure skiers from some of Aspen's major markets, such as Los Angeles, according to Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass, a central bookings agency. California's ski industry has been plagued by drought the past two seasons.

In Colorado, a handful of resorts are already open and others are scrambling to gets the lifts spinning. Copper Mountain moved its opening up to Veterans' Day. Arapahoe Basin, Loveland, Wolf Creek and Keystone are already open. Breckenridge opens Friday.

Resorts want to let prospective skiers and snowboarders know through early openings that conditions are shaping up well. But Burkley said opening this weekend is really a nod to Skico's local customers — the folks that ski every day of the season and would be heading to Loveland or other resorts for their turns in the early season.

"To me, this is a passholder's bonus weekend," he said.

scondon@aspentimes.com