Aspen Highlands’ opening delayed until Dec. 16 but Aspen Mtn will add terrain Saturday
The struggle to get the ski season going continued Wednesday when Aspen Skiing Co. announced Aspen Highlands won’t open as scheduled Saturday and only Panda Peak will open at Buttermilk.
Skiers and snowboarders will get a consolation prize with more terrain opening at Aspen Mountain and Snowmass.
“Keep those snow dances coming,” Skico posted on its Facebook page.
Katie Ertl, senior vice president for mountain operations, said Highlands would open Dec. 16 after more work is done this week to build mazes and ramps for the Exhibition chairlift.
“We’re going to have to get creative about ways to get snow to the top of Exhibition,” she said.
There isn’t snowmaking capability at the top station of the lift, so mountain operations teams have to figure out how to transport it there. It could mean hauling it in buckets via the lift, Ertl said.
Skico announced that the plan for Aspen Highlands on Dec. 16 is to open “several runs” off of Loge Chair, a portion of the G Zones in Highland Bowl, Golden Horn and Thunderbowl.
Trails have slowly but steadily been opened at Aspen Mountain and there’s now 210 acres of skiable terrain along with 3,200 feet of vertical, Skico said on its website Wednesday.
Another 81 acres will enter the mix on Saturday with the opening of Copper Bowl, Copper Connector, Copper Lower, Lazy Boy, Bank of Bell 1 and 2 and Seibert’s. The Gent’s Ridge chairlift also will be fired up.
Ertl said snowmaking was favorable this week and that the guns were blowing for most, if not all, of the prior two days. Snowmaking extends above the bottom station of the Gent’s Ridge chair. In addition, snowmaking guns on Deer Park were aimed to shoot snow into the Copper-side of the mountain to help get the east side ready, she said.
Snowmass currently has only 59 acres of skiable terrain but will add another 33.4 acres Saturday. The Max Park, Upper and Lower Lunch Line trails will be opened, allowing the Village Express chairlift to be ridden to the top. It has only been open to the mid-point station thus far.
Snowmass’ big 50th anniversary celebration is scheduled Dec. 15 to 17. Skico sold more than 12,000 lift tickets at $6.50 for Dec. 15 in honor of ticket prices in the opening season. Hosting the hordes will be difficult. Ertl said Skico “will communicate honestly” about the conditions with visitors who plan to attend.
Skico is considering if it can offer alternative dates for the tickets to be used, possibly in April, though details are far from worked out, she said. Many of the people who purchased lift tickets also booked lodging. Cancellation policies vary from property to property.
Lift ticket prices are $94 for adults ages 18-64 and $54 for 7- to 17-year-olds and seniors 65 and older at both Aspen Mountain and Snowmass.
At Buttermilk, only Panda Peak will open this Saturday, Skico said. One of the challenges for Skico will be getting the base-area facilities prepared for the Winter X Games in January.
The 10-day weather outlook as of Wednesday evening offers only paltry chances for natural snow in the Aspen area. However, nighttime temperatures will be cold enough for sustained snowmaking.
Ertl said the mountain operations teams at each mountain are strategizing over how best to make and move snow. Meanwhile, ski industry workers know the snow will come, at some point.
“There’s still a lot of optimism, frankly,” Ertl said.
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Chason P. Russell, a 41-year-old professional adventure guide and Mountain Rescue Aspen volunteer, died June 17 while kayaking the Crystal River, according to the Pitkin County Coroner’s Office.