Skico: Sunshine could put a record day within reach |

Skico: Sunshine could put a record day within reach

Skiers make their way to the Silver Queen Gondola on Monday, the first day of what could be one of the busiest weeks in recent memory. (Mark Fox/The Aspen Times)

The Aspen Skiing Co. is braced for its busiest day of the season – and a potential record-breaker, if the weather cooperates – between today and Saturday.Christmas break is always the busiest time of the year in Aspen, but the craziness is supposed to be more pronounced this season. When Christmas and New Year’s Day fall on Sundays, it “compresses” business in the week in between, according to Skico Chief Operating Officer Mike Kaplan. When the holidays fall midweek, it spreads out business over a longer period.Lodges reported Monday, Dec. 26, as the day with the most arrivals. Seats on inbound flights also were sold out for weeks.Now that the crowds have arrived, the weather likely will dictate which day is the busiest on the slopes, Kaplan said. If there is a sunny day, holiday business will be on par with record crowds, Skico officials acknowledge. That is a big “if.” Snow showers are forecast for the next several days.

The record day at Snowmass since the Skico started using electronic ticket-scanning devices eight years ago was Dec. 31, 2003, with 10,835, Kaplan said. However, Snowmass General Manager Doug Mackenzie said there were about 13,200 skiers and riders on a day between Christmas and New Year’s in the early 1990s.Buttermilk’s record came the same day as the Snowmass record: The mountain pulled in 3,006 skiers and riders on Dec. 31, 2003.At Aspen Mountain, the record since ticket scanning was introduced was 4,663 on Dec. 30, 2004, Kaplan said. Ajax veterans say the busiest days approached 6,000 in pre-scanning days.Kaplan said when there are around 4,000 skiers and riders on Aspen Mountain “things hum along pretty well.” When the number hits 5,000, there are lines at the restaurants and the Ajax Express chairlift, the popular high-speed quad that serves the intermediate terrain at the mountaintop.Aspen Highlands’ surging popularity has relieved some of the pressure on Aspen Mountain, Kaplan said. “Deep Temerity has pronounced that,” he said, referring to the new chairlift serving expert terrain.

Locals who used to ski Highlands a few times per season are now skiing it a few times per week, dropping their visits to Ajax. Nevertheless, Aspen Mountain will always draw consistent numbers because of its convenience, with many locals taking a quick run over their lunch breaks.Highlands is an anomaly among ski areas. While most ski areas log their record crowds during the holidays, the modern record at Highlands came on closing day last season, April 3, when 3,051 people turned out. The closing parties there are reaching legendary status.”It’s the biggest party in the valley,” said Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle. “It continues to gain steam.”The Skico’s records don’t include the decades that Whipple Van Ness Jones owned and operated Highlands. He pulled in mammoth crowds in the 1970s.

Consistent business over this week will be more important to the Skico than a one-day record, though, as the holiday period can influence the season.”We’re looking to this week to tell us where we’re going,” Hanle said, adding that advance bookings for February and March are already strong.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is

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