Aspen Mountain opens for the season with 180 acres of skiable terrain
How good was Saturday’s opening day on Aspen Mountain? Well, Aspen Skiing Co. president and CEO Mike Kaplan pretty much summed it up in one word.
“So excited. My quote is, ‘Woohoo!’ How’s that?” Kaplan said shortly after the Silver Queen Gondola opened for the 2018-19 season. “We are always cautiously optimistic, just because you never know what tomorrow brings. But man, living in the moment here, it feels good so far. We are excited and I think we are off to a great start and I think it will be a great season.”
Aspen Mountain had originally been scheduled to open Thanksgiving Day, as it does each year, but a surprisingly snowy preseason combined with cold temperatures ideal for snowmaking allowed for plenty of turns to be made Saturday, five days earlier than planned.
The mountain’s early opening was probably enough of a good thing. But a bonus 50 acres of skiable terrain was a welcome addition.
“It was kind of the perfect storm, right? Cold temps — we were basically running snowmaking straight through from midnight on Halloween,” said Aspen Mountain manager J.T. Welden. “It was really that storm last Sunday, a week ago from last Sunday, that put us over the edge. And that was an overachiever. Forecast two to four (inches) and we picked up almost a foot up top.”
Welden, a native of Connecticut who is going into his 29th winter in Aspen, worked his way up from lift operator to ski patrol to most recently the director of operations in Snowmass before taking over management of Aspen Mountain in the spring. He replaced longtime Skico employee Peter King, who retired.
“It’s pretty cool, right? It’s Aspen. Can’t get much better than this,” Welden said. “The crew here is dialed. (Peter King) had it rolling and I just kind of nudge it. It’s kind of a big machine. I just nudge it here a little bit and it stays on track.”
When the early opening was officially announced Tuesday, 130 acres was promised with all 3,200 vertical feet available. When the ropes were dropped Saturday morning, 180 acres was available with the Nell, Bell and Ajax Express chairlifts all running, along with the gondola.
The conditions up top? Good enough for an Olympic skier.
“Super good stashes. I’m elated to be here. Aspen Skico did a great job this year,” said Aspen’s Alex Ferreira, who won Olympic silver in the halfpipe back in February. Fellow local X Games star Torin Yater-Wallace even joined Ferreira for some mid-morning laps on Ajax.
“It’s good. It’s better than mid-January up there, compared to last year. It’s super good. I was surprised. There were a couple of good powder turns up there, as well,” Ferreira said.
Beginning Monday, Welden said they will shut down the Bell and Nell lifts and open the Gents Ridge lift for the season. After that, snowmaking won’t be of much help and natural snow will need to fall for more terrain to be open. The good news is that snow is in the forecast for later in the week.
“We’ll probably be able to get odds and ends here and there. Maybe some little flash openings on some of the natural for a quick couple of hours for powder skiing and riding,” Welden said of continued terrain opening over the coming days.
“It’s looking like a snowy period starting Thanksgiving Day through the weekend,” he added. “If we can get a foot, we’d see a lot of additional terrain. We are pushing hard to get the Gents Ridge chair and associated terrain, Copper trail through Copper Bowl, open early next week. From there we are kind of maxed out on the snowmaking. It’s going to be natural from there.”
Only two seasons ago, opening day was pushed back from Thursday to Sunday due to poor snow conditions, and even then only the Little Nell chairlift was operational. Last winter, snowmaking helped get the mountain open on time, but the terrain was limited to a mere 100 acres, the start of an overall drab winter in Aspen.
This winter’s early-season snowfall has just about everyone feeling optimistic about the coming months.
“Life is short, winters aren’t getting any longer, and we need to appreciate every moment of every one,” Kaplan said. “We appreciate it more than ever coming off a year like last year. Just fantastic to be up and running early, to have amazing temperatures to get great snow down and it’s really nice natural snow up high. We are really set up well for a great season.”
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