Aspen-Snowmass saw ‘north of 18,000’ skiers for powder Sunday |

Aspen-Snowmass saw ‘north of 18,000’ skiers for powder Sunday

The first two skiers make their way down the Wineskin run Sunday morning at Snowmass. A Saturday storm that left 16 inches cleared out by Sunday for a bluebird day.
David Krause / The Aspen Times |

The snow finally came and local skiers and snowboarders responded.

Aspen Skiing Co. reported that its business Sunday rivaled that of busy days during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. The four ski areas pulled in “north of 18,000” skier and rider visits — one person hitting the slopes for any part of the day, according to Jeff Hanle, Skico vice president of communication.

“I think that everybody in the valley who had a pass was using their pass,” Hanle said Monday. “It was definitely a big day.”

A storm all day Saturday dumped 16 inches of snow at Snowmass and about a foot at Aspen Mountain and Aspen Highlands and 8 inches at Buttermilk.

The snowstorm cleared out overnight and skiers were greeted with postcard-perfect conditions — blue skies, a fresh blanket of white covering the evergreens and the best snow conditions of the season.

Daily holiday crowds usually hover around the 18,000-skier mark, Hanle said. Occasionally, the crowd at all four ski areas will top 20,000 during the best of conditions during the holidays, he said.

Skiers were spread out among the four ski areas, so it didn’t seem overwhelming. There was a line at Aspen Mountain for the Silver Queen Gondola in the morning, but waits weren’t unusually long after that. At Snowmass, there was a large crowd waiting for the Village Express to open at 8:30 a.m., but lines at the Big Burn lift dissipated after noon.

Skico needed a boost. Its business was down 20 percent compared with the prior year as of the end of December. No recent tally was available but dry conditions persisted throughout January.

Hanle said local pass use soared Sunday. Anecdotally, he heard from some residents that Sunday was the first time they used their seven-day Classic Pass. Numerous people were happy Monday that their thighs were still burning from finally skiing powder.

Additional chances might come their way later this week. forecaster Cory Gates said Monday that he sees the potential for another big storm Wednesday night and into Thursday.

“We could get 6 to 11 more inches at the ski areas,” he wrote in his forecast.

New snow brings greater risk of avalanches. The storm Saturday “saw several rider-triggered slides and a few naturals in the backcountry, with a half dozen or more explosives-triggered slides in the ski areas,” according to Blase Reardon, Aspen zone forecaster for the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

The new snow Monday came with considerable wind. He advised staying off slopes steeper than 30 degrees with fresh deposits of drifted snow. Reardon said backcountry travelers need “creativity, a conservative mindset and a dedication to avoiding steep slopes” until conditions settle.

“The first will help you identify slopes with great snow and minimal danger, the second will keep you from getting tempted into more dangerous terrain, and the third minimizes the chances and consequences of nasty surprises,” Reardon wrote.

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