Finally! More than 50 percent of Aspen-Snowmass ski terrain is open | AspenTimes.com

Finally! More than 50 percent of Aspen-Snowmass ski terrain is open

Aspen Skiing Co. finally topped 50 percent of terrain open at its four ski areas Thursday after 7 inches of powder provided a big boost at Snowmass.

The available terrain changed by the hour Thursday but hit 2,809 out of 5,585 acres by 3 p.m., according to Jeff Hanle, vice president of communications.

Snowmass opened about 350 acres of additional terrain Thursday after going over the 1,000-acre mark Wednesday. The ski area opened seven trails on the Big Burn, which was forced to close earlier this season because of wind scouring. In addition, more terrain was opened on Sam's Knob and Elk Camp.

That boosted the amount of terrain at Snowmass to 1,356 acres or 40 percent of the available terrain. The other ski areas have a higher percentage open.

“We’re not going to start closing things to save money.”

— Jeff Hanle, Aspen Skiing Co.

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The Face of Bell opened on Aspen Mountain on Thursday after four inches of snow added to the depth there.

Unfortunately, the storm forecast for Wednesday and Thursday petered out before dumping the expected amounts of snow.

It's been a battle for Aspen Skiing Co. as well as most ski areas in the Central and Southern Rockies to get terrain open so far this season because of low snowfall amounts. Snowmass was 48 percent of average snowfall in November and December, according to Skico.

Hanle said business is down but he didn't know yet by how much. Colorado Ski Country USA, a trade association for most ski areas in the state, is compiling a report on its members' performance over the first third of the season, as it does every year.

Hanle said he suspects that some visitors didn't ski as many days as they would have with normal conditions over the holidays. Ski-pass use by valley residents also is probably down for the season, he said.

"We definitely have taken a hit," Hanle said.

Skico's response to the drought is to go the "value added" route by adding activities rather than charging less for a lift ticket. The single-day window price peaked at $169 over the holidays, as was scheduled, Hanle said. It's now down to $155. Most visitors take advantage of advance, multi-day ticket purchases, which reduce the price per day, Hanle said.

Skico didn't consider charging half of the planned price since half of the terrain was open.

"We're not going to discount our way out of it," Hanle said. In a later conversation, he added, "When we look at the rest of the industry and what we're charging, we're very comfortable with the price."

Clientele are generally "pretty understanding" of conditions, he added.

No information was available on Skico's peak employment this season compared with normal years, or the number employed now. In some cases earlier in the season, lift operators who were out of work were given opportunities to work other duties, such as at restaurants, Hanle said. Some ski pros probably haven't taught as much as they would have in other seasons, he added.

"There's not many people not working now," Hanle said.

He reiterated a comment made last week that Skico has no intent of shutting down any of its slopes.

"We're not going to start closing things to save money," Hanle said.

Skico has added activities such as après ski nights at the Sundeck to sweeten the pot for visitors. The next party at 11,212 feet in elevation is Saturday starting at 3:30 p.m. with a fee of $10 to ride the Silver Queen Gondola.

Skico also started the Friday Morning Uphill Breakfast Club at Buttermilk. Uphillers can purchase breakfast at the Cliffhouse restaurant starting at 8:45 a.m. So far, the Tiehack section of Buttermilk hasn't been able to open, but that might change soon, Hanle said.

scondon@aspentimes.com