That’s a wrap: Snowmass ends a 152-day season on a mellow note

Skico CEO appreciates community, uninterrupted season

All season long, Aspen Skiing Co. has asked skiers and snowboarders to follow mask requirements and social distancing guidelines in an effort to “get open and stay open” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

And on Sunday, Skico officials could finally say they did it: Closing day at Snowmass capped off a pandemic-era season in which the lifts kept turning for five uninterrupted months despite up-and-down (and sometimes up again) COVID-19 case numbers and tight public health restrictions.

“It’s been good, it’s been strange, it’s been difficult, it’s been rewarding, it’s been inspiring, exhausting — just about anything with an -ing,” Skico CEO and President Mike Kaplan said in an interview at Elk Camp Sunday afternoon. “But you know, it’s been good. I think the team really stepped up in a way that I get emotional. It really makes me proud.”

Kaplan said he spent part of closing day making the rounds to patrol huts, lifts and other hubs around the mountain to say thanks and wish a happy offseason to employees.

“I think the whole community rallied around that and did a pretty amazing job in a pretty difficult and ever-changing season,” Kaplan said.

“Community matters — it definitely took the whole community to do this and I think it created more connectivity across the community than I’ve ever experienced,” Kaplan said.

About 3,000 people — around three-quarters of them season passholders — turned out on both Saturday and Sunday on closing weekend, according to Kaplan. Without the end-of-season rituals of years past, celebrations at the base and on the mountain were par for the course for pandemic times on closing day.

On the final day of the Aspen Snowmass ski season, locals and visitors enjoy the warm spring weather by dressing up and skiing slush in Snowmass on Sunday, April 25, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

“It’s festive but at the end sort of muted compared to other closings,” Kaplan said.

Skiers and snowboarders outfitted in end-of-season garb — from jean shorts to a bunny costume — mostly kept the fun contained, following Skico’s request that partiers skip the large-scale daytime and aprés gatherings of yore.

It was a far cry from last weekend’s closing at Aspen, where a gathering of party-goers in retro costumes at the Sundeck warranted a megaphone in Kaplan’s hand as he attempted to disperse celebrants.

On the final day of the Aspen Snowmass ski season, locals and visitors enjoy the warm spring weather by dressing up and skiing slush in Snowmass on Sunday, April 25, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

No need for the megaphone Sunday: with only Elk Camp Restaurant and Ullrhof open on the mountain and most spots in Base Village and the Snowmass Mall already closed for the season, there were few places where people could even think about gathering. The “Scrambled Legs” dash-for-cash event that was scheduled for Sunday afternoon was shelved, so there were no crowds at the Spider Sabich Race Area either.

(Unlike Aspen Highlands, neither Aspen Mountain nor Snowmass cracked down on overall capacity or closed lifts early.)

Elk Camp was busier than expected the weekend prior but there was extra security on staff and fencing around the deck to keep things tamped down for closing weekend, Kaplan said.

A skier maneuvers spring snow while dressed for Snowmass closing day while skiing under the Village Express Lift on Sunday, April 25, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Party or no party, conditions were primed for a spring-skiing sendoff. Closing weekend came with bluebird skies and warm temperatures — Sunday topped out in the upper 50s — for soft, slushy slopes by late Sunday afternoon.

Snowmass received several inches of fresh snow at the top of the mountain halfway through the bonus week of skiing. Snowcat work on the mountain helped maintain coverage on most lower-elevation slopes throughout the week; Coney Glade showed the most prominent signs of winter’s end with large patches of dirt. (Most other trails are still skiable for those planning on hiking or skinning up and riding down now that the lifts have stopped turning.)

“When you extend the season, you never quite know if it was a good call or bad call — it can depend on the snow and the weather and all that but it ended up being great,” Kaplan said.

And in a year defined by so much that didn’t happen, Kaplan is grateful for the season that did.

“We’re lucky to be in a place where people thrive, whether it’s living here or coming to visit” he said. “It’s really where they come to view themselves, transport themselves, sustain themselves, and I guess I learned those aren’t words — that’s for real.”