Aspen Mountain, Snowmass open as hundreds rejoice under bluebird skies
More terrain expected to open Thanksgiving week as another storm is forecast to roll through
The Aspen Times
With hundreds of excited skiers and snowboarders filling the Aspen Mountain Gondola Plaza, some well before sunrise, the mountain opened Saturday with a fresh layer of powder and a high level of stoke.
The first in line arrived at 6 a.m. at the Silver Queen Gondola, and nearly three hours later he and his buddies were the first to load to cheers and excitement.
And the vibe was the same at Snowmass on the bluebird Saturday, but it just took a little longer to get there. Only about 10 people were in line when the Village Express lift loaded just before 8:30 a.m., but by 10 a.m. the limited terrain was filling up with skiers.
Before the faithful loaded at Aspen Mountain, J.T. Welden gave the crowd a few pointers about the 150 acres for opening day.
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“Early-season conditions exist, so take it easy. It’s gonna be a long season,” Welden, the mountain manager, told the crowd. “Keep an eye on one another. And I think at this point we should probably get to skiing and snowboarding!”
And with that, the hundreds gathered on the plaza started to hoot, holler and whistle their approval. By the time the Silver Queen Gondola started loading at 8:45 a.m., the line was down the Gondola Plaza stairs and out to Durant Avenue, curving toward The Little Nell hotel.
“It’s done and we’re open,” Katie Ertl, Aspen Skiing Co. vice president of mountain operations said just minutes before the gondola opened. “The crews have done and amazing job. We are ready to go.”
Ertl and Welden said they would have “flash openings” of more terrain through the weekend at Aspen Mountain and into next week. Another snowstorm is expected to start Monday and last into Tuesday morning with forecasts of 4 to 8 inches.
On Saturday afternoon as ropes dropped on Bell Mountain, skiers were getting opening-day faceshots thanks to the nearly 14 inches of snow that fell at the end of the week.
Welden said the snowmaking and snowcat crews did “their usual amazing job.”
“The guys were here most of the night. They took a few hours off and were back at it at 5 a.m. to clean up what snowmaking we had from overnight,” said Welden, who is going into his second season as mountain manager at Ajax. “Everything was buffed top to bottom. No surprises.”
He said the next move is to get Copper Bowl open and more of Bell Mountain. The Ruthie’s area will be awhile and after they get the west side of the mountain settled.
Paul Crouse of Aspen showed up at 6 a.m. to start the line at the Silver Queen Gondola. His buddy Rob Skorr of Basalt scoped out the plaza well before dawn, then met up with Crouse a few hours later when he came knocking.
“I got here at 3 a.m. and walked around for a little bit. I was like ‘it’s way too cold’ so I went back to my car and got my sleeping bag and slept for a bit,” Skorr said as they waited for the gondy to load. “He came up banging on my window about 6 a.m. He got over (to start the line) about 6, and I got here about 6:15.”
The small group at Snowmass on opening day cheered and high-fived the lift operators waiting for them at the Village Express entrance. By 10 a.m., a larger crowd was making turns down the mountain, and by 11 a.m. there was a line for the lift.
“It was a slower start for the first chair most likely due to the temperature and limited terrain, but there’s a good crowd now,” said Susan Cross, Snowmass mountain manager, at around 11 a.m.
Cross said there will not be any more terrain opened this weekend other than the 60 acres under the bottom half of the Express lift and the Elk Meadows area atop Elk Camp Gondola.
Cross, who also is in her second season as a mountain manager, added the goal is to up snowmaking so that they can open the Big Burn area this week. (Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk are scheduled to open Dec. 7.)
For now, the Village Express chairlift will remain open to midway, providing access on trails down Fanny Hill. Cross and other Skico officials said further terrain opening updates would come through the Aspen-Snowmass app and website.
“I’m just so happy to see so many people out here with smiles on their faces, even with limited terrain,” Cross said. “It makes it all worthwhile to see everyone so happy.”
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Whether in the sky or intensive care unit, Dan LeVan routinely cared for sick or injured members of the U.S. Armed Forces.