On-mountain upgrades and nat’l winter sports events | AspenTimes.com

On-mountain upgrades and nat’l winter sports events

Maddie Vincent and Austin Colbert
Snowmass Sun
A festive snowboarder enjoys a lap during Snowmass Ski Area's opening day on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019. (Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times)
Austin Colbert

About 1,500 skiers and snowboarders trickled out to Snowmass on Nov. 23 for the mountain’s opening day, according to Aspen Skiing Co.

It was a slower start to the season, with limited terrain opened and a handful of people waiting in line for first chair on the Village Express lift just before 8:30 a.m., but no less exciting for Susan Cross, Snowmass mountain manager.

“I’m just so happy to see so many people out here with smiles on their faces, even with limited terrain,” Cross said Nov. 23. “It makes it all worthwhile to see everyone so happy.”

Roughly a month before opening day, Cross went over how Skico employees have been preparing for the winter season at Snowmass Ski Area.

Most of the preparations have been behind the scenes, Cross explained, including improvements like increasing snowmaking capacity, repaving the Two Creeks parking lot and putting in a new sewer line at Elk Camp.

But some of the work Cross and her colleagues have put in leading up to Nov. 23 won’t fly completely under the radar. She said 29 chairs were added to the High Alpine lift, which will increase efficiency, and a talent acquisition team was added to the Skico staff to help with employee hiring, ensuring the mountain will be adequately staffed in all areas.

“Managers have been doing the best they can but it’s more than they can handle,” Cross said of the Skico employee hiring process. “So now we have a team that helps streamline things.”

On top of new infrastructure improvements and operations coming online this season, Snowmass also is set to host two back-to-back U.S. Ski and Snowboard events this March.

The NASTAR National Championships will be held from March 24 to 28 at the race venue in Snowmass. NASTAR stands for National Standard Race and is a public, grassroots racing program that operates out of more than 100 resorts and clubs across the country. A handicapped system with numerous levels, it allows all kinds of different skiers to compete against each other regardless of location.

Originally founded in 1968, NASTAR’s current championship format began in 1998, with those races being held in Snowmass. Snowmass last hosted the NASTAR National Championships during a three-year stretch from 2013 to 2015.

New this year is a parallel slalom format to the final, meaning skiers will literally race head-to-head instead of going one at a time to race against the clock.

“Nastar is a social network,” NASTAR director and Snowmass Town Councilman Bill Madsen said. “It’s a way to tie like-minded people together with a common scoring system so they can see where they stack up with their family, their friends, their peers, and then really how they are doing against people within their own ability group.”

The U.S. Alpine Tech Championships are scheduled for March 28 to 31. The parallel slalom national championships will take place March 28 in Snowmass and be held concurrently with the NASTAR finals. After that, the tech nationals move over to Aspen Highlands for the men’s and women’s slalom (March 29), women’s giant slalom (March 30) and men’s giant slalom (March 31).

This will be the first time in 60 years that Aspen-Snowmass has hosted a U.S. Alpine Tech Championship event. Aspen recently hosted the 2016 Nor-Am Cup finals, which was used as a test event for the 2017 World Cup Finals. Aspen also hosted the 1950 World Championships and as well numerous World Cup races over the decades.

Overall, Cross said she and her colleagues are constantly revisiting and adapting their mountain management plans to meet the needs of skiers and snowboarders hitting the Snowmass slopes, and are keeping their fingers crossed for good snow this season.

“It really takes a team. … We’ve been stepping back to basics and ensuring our staff has welcoming and positive interactions with guests, and has fun at work,” Cross said. “I’m excited to help make decisions that guide our team and lead the mountain to greatness.”

mvincent@aspentimes.com and acolbert@aspentimes.com