Snowboarding ban on Ajax to ease in April |

Snowboarding ban on Ajax to ease in April

Janet Urquhart

The snowboard ban on Aspen Mountain will be lifted for three weeks in April, but that doesn’t mean the Aspen Skiing Co. is moving closer to lifting the ban altogether, Skico executives announced Thursday.Nonetheless, some local riders are praising the move as a step in the right direction on Ajax, where boarding has been banned in past seasons except when the mountain was the only local ski area still open.For the first time, riders will be permitted on Aspen Mountain when Snowmass is still operating, according to John Norton, the Skico’s chief operating officer.”This is the first time we’ve made an effort at integration when the mountain is vibrant,” he said.Thursday, the Skico announced its plan for a “Spring Jam” on April 2-22, featuring special on-mountain events, discounted lift tickets and special lodging packages.”We would like to see the best April Aspen has ever seen,” Norton said. Opening Aspen Mountain to riders after Buttermilk and Aspen Highlands close shouldn’t detract from the final weeks of the ski season at Snowmass, he added. “If we do our job right, this will be a good move for Aspen and a good move for Snowmass.”Guest service dictates the move, according to Norton. Once Buttermilk and Highlands shut down in the spring, riders have been forced in past years to head to Snowmass.”There are a million reasons for people to want to get up and go to Snowmass in the morning andthey’re all valid except one – `I have to go because I have no other choice,'” he said.But, cautioned Norton, lifting the ban in April does not signal a shift in the Skico’s controversial policy of keeping Aspen Mountain a skiers-only mountain for most of the season. That is a decision the company reviews annually, he said.”We do evaluate our posture on snowboarding on Ajax every year,” Norton said. “We think there’s still room in the world for a skiers-only mountain.”Surveyed guests on Aspen Mountain overwhelmingly support continuation of the ban, he noted. Nonetheless, the Skico battles a perception among potential visitors that Aspen is closed to snowboarding, when in fact three of its four mountains welcome riders.The ban has long rankled local riders, as well. They’re hoping the April welcome mat is put out all season long at some point.”It’s a foot in the door that wasn’t there before,” said Kevin Byford, the Skico’s director of snowboarding.But rider Preston Trahan, who sat in on Thursday’s press conference, wasn’t impressed.”It seems like we’re still in the South – it’s a black and white issue,” he said. “That’s like telling black people they have to use a different bathroom because we don’t want you in ours.”Derek Johnson of D&E Snowboard Shop, on the other hand, offered a more optimistic view.”The only way you can take an announcement like this is in a positive way – we’ll have more snowboarding on Aspen Mountain than we ever have,” he said. “To look at it any other way is counterproductive.”Norton said the integration of riders and skiers “works great” on the Skico’s other three mountains, and the experience in April will be evaluated as the company reviews the ban.”We hope everybody sees how fun the integration between skiers and boarders can be on the mountain,” he said.The “Spring Jam” will feature snowboard lessons on Aspen Mountain and race camps led by Olympic rider and Aspen local Chris Klug and several other boarding champs. Burton Snowboards is a sponsor of the camps.Aspen Mountain and Snowmass are scheduled to open for the season on Nov. 18; Buttermilk and Highlands open on Dec. 16.The potential for limited open terrain during the early season and restricted access to parts of the mountain during the World Cup and 24 Hours of Aspen races make an early-season lifting of the ban unfeasible, Norton said.

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