Popular ski programs for hundreds of kids at Snowmass canceled until Jan. 20

A kids' ski school class makes it turns at Snowmass in December 2016.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times |

The lack of snow is forcing alterations to an immensely popular ski and snowboard lesson program for hundreds of Roaring Fork Valley kids at Snowmass.

Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club announced Thursday it must cancel the first two Saturdays of its SnoWarriors, SnoCru and Aspenauts programs at Snowmass. There will be no classes Saturday and Jan. 13, according to AVSC Base Camp director Trish Shepard. The programs are scheduled to launch Jan. 20 but that depends on cooperation from Mother Nature.

The kids’ programs at Aspen Highlands will start as scheduled because snow conditions there are slightly better, Shepard said.

“We stage 500 children out of the Two Creeks base (at Snowmass) and that has no snow on it,” she said.

“We stage 500 children out of the Two Creeks base and that has no snow on it.” — Trish Shepard, AVSC

It wasn’t practical to try to stage them elsewhere at Snowmass, such as Fanny Hill, because there is so little terrain open to safely accommodate all the children, Shepard said.

AVSC originally planned to just postpone the opening Saturday and hoped there was enough snow Jan. 13. The forecast doesn’t appear favorable, so the decision was made with Aspen Skiing Co. officials to cancel the first two weeks of the programs “and pray that we get snow by January 20,” Shepard said.

The eight-week lesson program cannot be extended later in the season because that would push it into spring break. Many of the ski pros who teach the AVSC programs already have clients coming in for spring break, Shepard said.

Parents will be refunded for a pro-rated portion of the money they paid for the program to reflect the cancellations, according to Shepherd.

The lessons at Snowmass are a rite of passage for many kids growing up in the Roaring Fork Valley. Buses bring kids from as far away as Glenwood Springs.

The SnoWarriors-Snowmass is for kids in grades 1 through 6. SnoCru-Snowmass is for kids in grades 7 through 12.

The Aspenauts Snowmass program typically brings around 200 kids ages 3½ to kindergarten to the Treehouse in Snowmass each season. They were scheduled for a seven-week program starting Jan. 13. That will be pushed back to Jan. 20 as well, Shepard said.

The Aspenauts, Warriors and Cru at Snowmass will be held Saturdays from Jan. 20 through March 3, if the snow materializes.

While the programs will start as originally scheduled at Aspen Highlands, the kids will focus on skills building and technique.

“There will not be a lot of free skiing,” Shepard said, citing the conditions.

Programs at Buttermilk are scheduled to get underway by Feb. 3.

Shepard said the AVSC staff doesn’t recall having to cancel the start of the ski and snowboard lesson program at Snowmass for at least a decade and probably much longer.

Snowmass Ski Area received 43 inches of snow in November and December — only about 48 percent of average. The Campground section of the mountain hasn’t been able to open yet. The Elk Camp chairlift is open for sightseeing only. The Big Burn section of the mountain had opened but was closed after wind scouring. There are 27 of 93 trails open and 704 of 3,387 acres.

The low snow conditions are requiring contingency plans of various types, but Aspen Skiing Co. is not considering closing portions of its ski areas, Vice President of Communications Jeff Hanle said. Instead it is adding off-slope activities to provide alternatives for travelers who are in town.

“If they’re coming, we don’t want to cut back on their experience to save money,” Hanle said.

Ullr Nights were added at Snowmass during the busy holiday period as well as an apres ski event at the Sundeck on Aspen Mountain.

Another Ullr Night will be held at Elk Camp on Friday from 5 to 9 p.m. Activities include snow biking, snowshoe tours, music, an ice bar and a bonfire with s’mores.

Skico also opened the Breathtaker Alpine Coaster at Elk Camp this winter and it’s proving popular. Nighttime rides for Friday are sold out. Daytime rides on the mile of elevated track are available and reservations can be made in advance.

Skico is hosting a “Bring on the Snow” party at Gwyn’s High Alpine restaurant at Snowmass on Saturday. The music, snow dancing, food and drink specials begin at 1:30 p.m.