November 16, 2006
One man, two skins and a pair of skis. That’s all it took to open America’s best ski mountain this week.While we were originally scheduled to get our first turns on that most appropriately named day, Thanksgiving, skiers throughout the valley can offer their appreciation to both the weather gods and the Aspen Skiing Co. (in that order, of course) on Saturday. And this is not just a one-shot deal; Aspen Mountain will remain open for good. If the forecast holds true, we may well get some additional snow before the official opening on Thursday, when Snowmass will join the party.The early opening will be a group effort by the Skico, involving extra time and resources from lift ops, ski patrollers, ticket sellers and takers, snowcat drivers and others who I’m sure I have neglected to mention. But it is, nonetheless, the kind of thing that company employees live for. You move to a ski town and take a job on the mountain, after all, for the love of getting people, including one’s self, up on the hill both early and often.This year’s opening, of course, had its genesis in the storms that ripped through the Rockies this autumn. It’s not unusual to have an early flow of Pacific moisture, but this year we were inundated with upward of 6 feet of snow. Put it this way – if we have this much snow in January, it will be considered an epic month. When another system blew in this week, creating havoc for a Coke truck and canceling flights, hope rose that this could be a good thing.Enter the man and his skins. Tuesday morning, in the midst of the big blow and snow, ski company VP Rich Burkley decided he could do his best work on the hill. He started hiking up Aspen Mountain shortly after 10 a.m. Once he got to the top of Little Nell, he stopped to make a call on the patrol phone to mountain manager Peter King, announcing, “It’s pretty good out here.” By the time he got to the next patrol phone, his enthusiasm elevated a notch and he placed another call, saying, “Let’s pull the cats and get ’em all over to Chair 3.” And so began the process of getting us all up the hill on Saturday.Further conversations ensued. One with patrol director Eric Kinsman confirmed that the mountain would in fact be skiable. A discussion with the executive committee gave the final approval for the early opening. While it may not have been new CEO Mike Kaplan’s first major executive decision, it is a good one out of the gate.Here’s hoping that all future calls bring as much good tiding to our burg.
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