Backyard playground continues to expand

AVSC staff report
There was a collective cheer last week when the newly installed snowmaking guns on Aspen Highlands worked as planned. AVSC athletes will be putting the machine-made snow to use with earlyv season training opportunities.
Greg Needel/Special to The Aspen Times |

ASPEN HIGHLANDS — The adage used to be, if you want to make it snow, run a downhill.

With no World Cup stop on the schedule this year, the Aspen Valley Ski/Snowboard Club and Aspen Skiing Co. did something better: Installed snowmaking equipment on the face of Aspen Highlands, which guarantees an early season training surface for the club’s team athletes.

If cold enough temperatures prevail this week, AVSC alpine skiers will be able to stay home and run gates on Golden Horn. Over the past month, AVSC members have traveled to Loveland and Summit County for training opportunities.

Site inspection of the Highlands venue was set for today (Wednesday), said Walt Evans, AVSC director of excellence.

The snowmaking project is part of AVSC’s ongoing $15 million capital campaign, which includes a $10 million scholarship endowment that honors Bob Beattie.

During the summer, construction on snowmaking pipe and electric lines was completed to the top of Golden Horn, near the summit of the triple chair.

Should funds permit, the plan is to install a surface lift next season on Golden Horn, in approximately the same location as the poma that was removed during the mid-1990s when the new Thunderbowl lift was constructed.

“The Golden Horn and Thunderbowl venue will create a multi-discipline early training site that will be second to none in the world,” said Jeff Gorsuch, president of the AVSC Board of Directors. “These game-changing improvements to our facilities that are just getting under way will enable AVSC and our participants to take advantage of the world-class terrain that is right in our backyard.”

A second surface lift, located on Thunderbowl, is also eyed for the next phase of AVSC’s venue enhancement project. It will serve the newly improved on hill freeride and snowboard training center that features a series of ramps and airbags.

The mogul course also has been realigned, to take better advantage of the fall line skiing in the Thunderbowl/Powder Bowl area.

Complementing the on-hill component is an improved backyard campus for AVSC, which will accommodate its “super-trampoline,” a 23-foot x 23-foot air bag, and a ramp for skateboarders and inline skaters.

“This is going to be the premier training facility in the United States once we get this project done,” said David Stapleton, the Aspen native and former U.S. Ski Team member who is helping raise funds for the capital campaign.

Aspen Highlands’ history is rich with ski racing lore. Downhills used to be set on Moment of Truth and head-to-head pro ski races on Thunderbowl attracted celebrities, huge crowds and television coverage.

Two years ago, dozens of former pros held a reunion weekend event, featuring dual, elimination races, on Thunderbowl during an event that honored Beattie.

Highlands will host a pair of two-run downhills April 3-6 during the Surefoot Colorado Ski Championships, an event that’s expected to attract some of the country’s top juniors and possibly national team members.

That will be the second Highlands stop for the elite FIS Series, which also uses the Golden Horn/Thunderbowl venue in early January.

It’s likely that the deep base that’s being produced by the six snow guns on Golden Horn and Thunderbowl will not only ensure there’s a good surface for spring racing but for spring skiing, too.

For more on the AVSC snowmaking project and the club’s capital campaign, be sure to tune into “Weekly with Walt,” at 7 p.m. today on GrassRoots Television.