Where preseason is high season | AspenTimes.com

Where preseason is high season

With a solid layer of natural and man-made snow smothering the base, warm temperatures last weekend didn’t discourage hordes of sledders, skinners, hikers and dogs from indulging in the recreational bounty of Buttermilk in the preseason.

Every year, before Buttermilk officially opens, the tree-lined, groomed slopes become a haven for outdoor enthusiasts seeking free, convenient recreation. The weekend of Dec. 6-7 was the final chance ” at least for those who work weekdays ” to freely take advantage of the mountain, as Buttermilk opens Saturday, Dec. 13.

“This must be some kind of record for the most people in a closed ski area,” affirmed one member of an uphill group from Carbondale.

On Saturday, sledders of all ages screamed down the lower pitches of the mountain, as skinners (skiers with climbing skins on their skis) and hikers, some clad in tank tops, carefully weaved uphill between them.

“It’s a beautiful day, it’s perfect,” said Ben Bohmfalk, of Carbondale, who teaches school in Basalt. “It’s like a freak snowstorm in June.”

For Anne Uhlfelder, who was sledding with her children, the warm temperatures and laid-back atmosphere reminded her of another place.

“It’s like a beach out here,” she said.

Despite the Californian climate, the sledding was phenomenal.

“It’s fun! There should be more people up here,” said Lisa Thorpe, an Aspen native who was sledding with her 3-year-old son, Trey.

For Thorpe, sledding Buttermilk brought back fond memories, but also presented some future concerns.

When she was in high school, Thorpe and a group of her friends decided to navigate the mountain in a river raft. They picked up a lot more speed than they anticipated, but managed to avoid colliding with the lift towers and snowmaking equipment.

“I think about that now that I’m older,” Thorpe paused, shaking her head with a laugh. “Once you’re a mother, you wonder what [your children] are going to be doing when they get older.”

Meanwhile, snowcats and snowmaking crews went about their jobs, seemingly undisturbed by the crowds.

“All the years we’ve been coming here, nobody’s said anything,” said Mark Lewis, from Snowmass Village, who was sledding with his 7-year-old son, Christian, and Emmitt the yellow lab.

Kristi Hoofnagle, who was sledding with her sons, 1-year-old Jake and 3-year-old Elliott, said the snowmakers actually stopped running the snow-guns on one occasion because they were scaring little Jake.

“They were really nice,” she said. “It’s great they let everybody use [the mountain].”

So how does the Skico feel about the public using the mountain, especially as crews scramble to make final preparations for opening day?

“Basically, it’s sled at your own risk,” said Hans Hohl, Buttermilk mountain manager. “There’s a big sign at the bottom [warning of hazards].”

But Hohl added that the Skico is happy to provide a playground for the public.

“It’s pretty cool,” he said.

What’s not so cool are the piles of dog poop that dot the bottom of the mountain, lurking like land mines waiting to grease a sled or ski.

“Can you believe it?” asked a disgusted Hoofnagle. “What’s so hard about bringing a bag?”

Hohl said the doggy dung problem has been an uphill battle.

“I’ve been asked to strongly discourage [dogs],” Hohl said. “If people were more responsible with their dogs, it wouldn’t be much of an issue, but people let their dogs crap everywhere. It’s terrible.”

Fortunately, some clean up after their pups.

Lewis said he always comes prepared to clean up after Emmitt.

“We do bring bags,” Lewis said. “But it is pretty littered here.”

Once the mountain opens, Hohl added, dogs will no longer be allowed, and neither will sledders during operating hours. The mountain will still be open to skinners and hikers.

“All we ask is they stay on the designated trails,” Hohl said.

Young gonzo sledders like Christian Lewis, who will have to find a new sledding ground to match Buttermilk’s speed, say they’ll miss the preseason.

“It’s really fast,” Christian said. “I like to wipe out, that’s my objection ” I mean objective.

“I just go all the way.”

Steve Benson’s e-mail address is sbenson@aspentimes.com

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