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Sallinen lands on X Games halfpipe podium in debut, Ferreira crashes out

A local kid got on the X Games Aspen podium on Sunday night, but it wasn’t the one most people expected. Even Jon Sallinen didn’t think he’d be taking home a medal.

“It was a little loose — the whole comp was a little loose — with a lot of crashes and a lot of people not landing their runs. But I got two pretty OK runs down, and I stayed in third place somehow,” he said. “I thought (Aaron) Blunck was going to take it for that last run but somehow managed to get it, and I’m super, super stoked.”

In his X Games debut, Sallinen finished third in the men’s halfpipe skiing contest that closed out the festivities at Buttermilk, behind silver medalist Birk Irving of Winter Park and Nevada’s David Wise, who won Aspen gold for the fifth time.

Aspen’s own Alex Ferreira — who won X Games gold in both 2019 and 2020 — crashed hard in both of his first two runs and ultimately withdrew from the competition, finishing in last place.

“Both looked super painful and gnarly, so I hope he’s doing fine, and I wish the best for him,” Sallinen said of Ferreira. Sallinen himself was battling through pain in his ribs from a crash he suffered recently at the World Cup competitions in Calgary. “Right now, I feel fine. Got this medal, so I’m super stoked.”

Sallinen grew up ski racing in his native Finland before moving to the Roaring Fork Valley as an exchange student. He closed out his high-school education at Colorado Rocky Mountain School in Carbondale, graduating in 2020. Through his brief time working with the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club, which really got him going on the path toward becoming a professional halfpipe skier, he connected with local freeskiing icon Peter Olenick, who has become his primary coach.

Sallinen has made a rapid rise up the sport’s ladder, even competing in the 2022 Beijing Olympics for Finland, finishing 23rd. He had a breakthrough win on Jan. 19 at the Calgary World Cup — Ferreira won the second event two days later — but an X Games podium is the sort of thing that can truly change a career.

“I don’t know what’s going to go on from here, but this is the biggest achievement I’ve got so far, and I’m super happy to see what’s coming up,” Sallinen said.

Crested Butte’s Blunck, a former X Games champion, did his best to knock Sallinen off the podium with a strong final run, only to have the judges slot him into the fourth spot. Canada’s Brendan Mackay was fifth, Canada’s Simon D’Artois was sixth, and Canada’s Noah Bowman was seventh, with Ferreira in eighth.

Notably absent was New Zealand’s Nico Porteous, the reigning Olympic and X Games champion, who did not compete this year.

Old Man Wise takes charge

Wise, the 32-year-old from Reno, is ancient by today’s standards, when anyone over 25 is considered a savvy veteran. But it seems the old man can still shred.

“Every X Games gold that I’ve won has been a surprise. And I kind of want to live my life that way. I don’t want to go in with this entitlement or this expectation that I’m going to win,” he said. “I’m an entertainer at the end of the day. If my entertainment for folks earns me a gold medal, great. So I’m just as surprised this time as I was the very first time I won it. It’s such an honor to still be here in the game.”

Wise, a three-time Olympic medalist (including gold in both 2014 and 2018), first competed at X Games in 2011. The first of his now five gold medals came in 2012, with others coming in 2013, 2014, and 2018.

While it may be hard to accept, he has also embraced his role as mentor and wise sage for the younger generation — as long as they know he can still keep up with them.

“I wasn’t feeling old today while skiing because I was feeling great. But I did start to feel old when they told me,” he said about being told his first medal came 11 years ago. “A lot of my younger teammates have grown up watching me ski, which makes me feel really old. But it’s also exciting. It’s like a living legend thing. Not only was I there then, but I’m still here now, and I have a lot to give those guys.”

Don’t expect Wise to slow down anytime soon. Sunday’s X Games win only fuels his fire to compete, and he already has eyes on a fourth trip to the Olympics, with the 2026 Games in Italy next up. He would be 35 if he were to go, much like Shaun White was this past winter when he competed in his final Olympics in Beijing.

“I love being able to still be out here competing but also take on this mentorship role and enjoy the ride with my peers,” Wise said. “I wouldn’t be here sending it as hard as I am if I didn’t think I was going to make a run for ’26. I love this job. I just do.”

acolbert@aspentimes.com

X Games Aspen 2023: Predicting who comes out on top in skiing

Let’s make some skiing predictions.

I made my X Games snowboarding predictions a day earlier and remain only mildly lukewarm in terms of confidence, but maybe I’ll feel better about the skiers.

How is Basalt local Hanna Faulhaber going to fare in her second X Games after winning bronze as a rookie a year ago? Can Aspen native Alex Ferreira win a third X Games gold medal? Sadly, I don’t have those answers for you, but I’ll make my best guesses at the very least.

Women’s Big Air, 5:30 p.m. Friday

Projected winner: Mathilde Gremaud

The first ski competition of X Games this year should be fun. Women’s ski big air is underappreciated and has some of the best athletes in the sport. On top of that list is my pick, Swiss superstar Mathilde Gremaud, who has twice won ski big air in Aspen (2019, 2021). She struggled and finished eighth last winter, but I see her bouncing back. Olympic big air champ Eileen Gu wasn’t on the start list as of Thursday night — she’s still slated for slopestyle and halfpipe — but big hitters like Sarah Hoefflin and Tess Ledeux will be back. France’s Ledeux won both big air and slopestyle gold at X Games last year.

Knuckle huck, 7:30 p.m. Friday

Projected winner: Joona Kangas

The most difficult contest to predict, but one of the most fun to watch. Like non-sports fans trying to fill out a bracket during March Madness, I’m picking Joona Kangas to win based solely on him having an awesome name. He’s a 25-year-old from Finland making his X Games debut. He’s also an Olympian having competed in slopestyle at the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang. That, however, is the end of what I know. His competition includes Swedish legend Henrik Harlaut and Utah’s dynamic duo of Alex Hall and Colby Stevenson.

Men’s Slopestyle, 10:30 a.m. Saturday

Projected winner: Birk Ruud

Another stacked field that’s difficult to predict. Alex Hall is the reigning Olympic champion in slopestyle who also won gold here in Aspen in 2019, so the Utah skier should be a popular pick. But, I’m going with Norway’s Birk Ruud. The 22-year-old just finished third in Laax — Hall was second and Andri Ragettli first — so he comes in with good form. Ruud is more known for his big air talents here at X Games, having won Aspen big air gold in 2019. He’s only competed in slopestyle in Aspen once, finishing ninth in 2020. But, he did finish fifth in slopestyle at the Beijing Olympics last winter, so he’s certainly capable.

Utah freeskier Alex Hall is a favorite to take gold in the men’s big air.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Women’s Halfpipe, 5 p.m. Saturday

Projected winner: Eileen Gu

I really, really, really want to pick Hanna Faulhaber. And, I really believe Basalt’s own is a legitimate contender in only her second X Games appearance (she won bronze in her debut last year). But, Eileen Gu exists on a different planet than most humans, in the best way. The San Francisco skier, who still represents her mother’s homeland of China in competition, won three medals in three events in her X Games debut two years ago. She sat out X Games last year to focus on the Olympics, where she again won three medals in three events, including two gold. Gu is virtually untouchable in the halfpipe right now, dominating the way Chloe Kim does in snowboarding. Canada’s Cassie Sharpe, one of her top challengers, is sitting out this year, but Estonia’s Kelly Sildaru is back and a worthy opponent. Sildaru won last year in Gu’s absence.

The halfpipe before training on Thursday ahead of the return of X Games to Buttermilk Ski Area in Aspen.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Women’s Slopestyle, 11 a.m. Sunday

Projected winner: Eileen Gu

If you read my snowboard prediction piece on Thursday, you know I’m cowardly and don’t like to dive off the deep end too much in my picks. But, Gu is so good it would be silly not to pick her. If she’s healthy and going 100%, she can’t be beat. Kelly Sildaru is her toughest competition. The phenom has cooled off a bit the past year or so, but she was slopestyle skiing’s dominant force only a few years ago. Gu vs. Sildaru will be about as good as good gets. And, the field remains stacked after those two, adding more intrigue. I’m probably as excited for this event as any at X Games this year.

Men’s Big Air, 5:15 p.m. Sunday

Projected winner: Alex Hall

I mean, Alex Hall tends to win something wherever he goes anymore, and it’s difficult to believe he leaves Aspen empty-handed. He won this contest last year at Buttermilk in large part because of the very casual double cork 2160 he landed. The number of spins required to win big air contests these days truly is defying the laws of physics. He will have to hold off someone like Birk Ruud, although my darkhorse is Matej Svancer, who is ready to break through into superstardom.

Crested Butte halfpipe skier Aaron Blunck trains Thursday at Buttermilk Ski Area.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Men’s Halfpipe, 6:30 p.m. Sunday

Projected winner: Alex Ferreira

No, this isn’t me trying to be a homer by picking the local guy. Fact is, with New Zealand standout Nico Porteous apparently sitting this one out, I think Alex Ferreira is the best of the bunch. Now, Porteous has become the best halfpipe skier on the planet, an assertion backed up by his Olympic gold medal from Beijing. But Ferreira, who won X Games Aspen gold in both 2019 and 2020, is healthy and coming off a World Cup win in Calgary and loves to compete in front of the home crowd. Yes, the field remains stacked with Aaron Blunck, David Wise, and Birk Irving all set to compete — and that’s just the American roster. Watch out for Finland’s Jon Sallinen, who is making his X Games debut. The 2022 Olympian is part of Peter Olenick’s crew training out of the Roaring Fork Valley.

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Mikaela Shiffrin wins record 83rd World Cup race to surpass Vonn

SAN VIGILIO DI MAREBBE, Italy (AP) — Exhaustion. Relief. Satisfaction.

American skier Mikaela Shiffrin felt all that and more after winning a record 83rd World Cup race Tuesday.

Shiffrin’s giant slalom victory broke a tie on the all-time women’s list with former American teammate Lindsey Vonn, who retired four years ago when injuries cut her career short.

“I don’t think there are words to explain all the feelings,” Shiffrin said. “In the end of it, it’s like there’s too much excitement to feel. I don’t know if that makes sense. So it’s something you can’t explain. So I just try to breathe a bit and enjoy it.”

Shiffrin now needs only three more wins to match Ingemar Stenmark’s overall record — between men and women — of 86 victories. Stenmark competed in the 1970s and 80s.

Shiffrin led from start to finish at the Kronplatz resort in the Italian Dolomites, crossing 0.45 seconds ahead of world champion Lara Gut-Behrami and 1.43 ahead of home favorite and former overall champion Federica Brignone.

Shiffrin posted the fastest first run and was therefore the last skier to race in the second run.

“I was a bit nervous for the second run, but mostly, I hate waiting,” Shiffrin said. “Finally, when it was time to go, then it was like everything went quiet, and I just pushed as hard as I could every turn. It was pretty amazing to come through the finish and see that I was quite fast. Because I could hear that the other athletes were skiing well. I thought, ‘I could lose this, so I better try to ski a really good run.’ And it was.”

Shiffrin seemed exhausted and relieved immediately after finishing, bending over and resting her head on her poles and then biting her lips before going over to embrace Gut-Behrami and Brignone.

Brignone told Shiffrin, “Congrats,” and Shiffrin responded, “Oh my god.”

Unlike when she broke down into tears when she matched Vonn’s record of 82 wins earlier this month in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia, Shiffrin kept her composure during the playing of her national anthem, singing along to the words.

Then a gold-colored crown was placed atop her head.

It was Shiffrin’s ninth win of the season.

What’s more is that Shiffrin is still only 27 and could have many more years of elite racing left in her career. Vonn was 33 when she won her last World Cup event and Stenmark was 32.

“I just feel so lucky to be her teammate in this era and watching her break history every day,” said Nina O’Brien, the only other American finisher in 18th. “And she’s been really supportive as well.”

American skier Paula Moltzan was fifth after the first run but fell midway through her second run, losing her balance and getting twisted around before sliding down the mountain.

The record also comes nearly a year after Shiffrin didn’t win a medal in six events at the Beijing Olympics after entering amid big expectations. She didn’t take long to rebound from her Beijing performance, claiming her fourth overall World Cup title at the end of last season.

Now she’s the most successful female skier of all time.

United States’ Mikaela Shiffrin speeds down the course during an alpine ski, women’s World Cup giant slalom, in Kronplatz, Italy, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023. American skier Mikaela Shiffrin won a record 83rd World Cup race Tuesday. Shiffrin’s giant slalom victory broke a tie on the all-time women’s list with former American teammate Lindsey Vonn. Vonn retired four years ago when injuries cut her career short. (AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati)
APTOPIX Italy Alpine Skiing World Cup

“That’s a pretty good image for the sport, for women’s Alpine skiers,” said Tessa Worley, a two-time world champion in GS. “And she’s still doing amazing things. So it’s an inspiration for us to just go and keep pushing.”

Shiffrin had to learn how to handle the nerves that come with leading the first run.

“It’s still hard for me to believe that, apparently, I have the mental focus again to be strong again in the second run,” she said. “That’s something I don’t take for granted.”

Shiffrin started her second run immediately after Gut-Behrami had taken the lead by a large margin.

“I saw her from the start and then I was thinking, ‘Why did I watch? I can’t go that fast.’ So, then I was a little bit, kind of wild on some spots but it felt so clean,” Shiffrin said. “I thought I wouldn’t be faster but I thought I could maybe be close. And then, somehow, I got there to the finish and it was quite good.”

Shiffrin can quickly add to her record total in another giant slalom at Kronplatz on Wednesday. Then she has two slaloms — her best event, having accounted for 51 of her 83 victories — in Spindleruv Mlyn, Czech Republic, next weekend. That was where Shiffrin made her World Cup debut as a 15-year-old in March 2011.

If she wins all three of her next races, she could match Stenmark by Sunday.

After a short break, Shiffrin will then again be a multi-medal threat at the world championships in Courchevel and Meribel, France, which start on Feb. 6.

Vail’s Mikaela Shiffrin edges Gut-Behrami in GS for career win 79

SEMMERING, Austria (AP) — Everyone in ski racing seems to be counting Mikaela Shiffrin’s World Cup wins. Except for Mikaela Shiffrin herself.

The four-time overall champion won a gripping duel with Swiss rival Lara Gut-Behrami in a giant slalom Wednesday to earn career victory No. 79.

Shiffrin also won Tuesday’s GS on the same course and is now three World Cup wins short of the women’s record held by Lindsey Vonn.

“What does it mean to have 79 victories? I can’t answer that question,” the American said. “Because it’s been 12 or 13 years of racing, and good races and bad races, and highs and lows. The last three years have been really difficult.”

Beyond Vonn, only Swedish skiing great Ingemar Stenmark (86) has more World Cup wins.

For Shiffrin, 79 wins, or any other number, cannot properly summarize her entire World Cup career, which started in 2011.

“It means a lot. But today I just say it’s not 79 but it’s just one, and I’m really happy with it,” she said.

Shiffrin could even get one closer to Vonn’s best mark before the end of 2022 as the three-day series at Semmering will be concluded with a night slalom Thursday. She won all three events the previous time the resort near the capital Vienna hosted races on three consecutive days, in December 2016.

On Wednesday, Shiffrin trailed leader Gut-Behrami by 0.22 seconds after the opening leg but the pair swapped places after a thrilling final run in which both made mistakes, with the American racer ultimately beating her rival by 0.10.

“It was hard, it was so dark, some really big bumps, I tried to push,” Shiffrin said.

Marta Bassino, who leads the GS standings, was 0.47 behind in third, followed by Italian teammate Federica Brignone in fourth.

It was Shiffrin’s 16th win in GS, putting her in joint second place on the all-time winners list alongside Annemarie Moser-Pröll and Tessa Worley. Only Vreni Schneider won more giant slaloms with 20.

The win also stretched Shiffrin’s lead in the overall standings to 305 points over Sofia Goggia. The Italian speed specialist is not competing in Semmering.

Shiffrin and Gut-Behrami set up their duel by building a big lead over the rest of the field in the opening run, when the Swiss skier looked flawless on the icy Panorama course.

With the gates set in an uncharacteristically straight line, Gut-Behrami and Shiffrin completed the course in less than a minute, about five seconds faster than Tuesday.

Shiffrin led Gut-Behrami’s time throughout her run but could not match the Swiss skier’s pace at the flat bottom section.

“It’s quite a straight course, a really fast course, and it has bumps in it,” Shiffrin said. “It’s kind of hard to ski something with so little turn and I’m really happy that I was able to do it that well.”

In the second leg with more turns, no racer had a clean run. Starting last as the first-run leader, Gut-Behrami lost her advantage over Shiffrin at the first split time, but she gained time again in sections where her rival struggled.

The fastest second-run time was clocked by Valérie Grenier, who improved from 12th after the opening run to fifth. It meant redemption for the Canadian skier, who posted the fourth-fastest time in the opening run of Tuesday’s race before being disqualified for having started too early.

Shiffrin’s American teammate Paula Moltzan finished ninth to claim her third top-10 result in GS this season.

Forecast promises cold gift of fresh snow for Christmas skiers

A major winter storm is coming through Aspen, triggering winter-storm and wind-chill watches and promising to deliver fresh snow just in time for Christmas.

Snow showers were forecasted to start as early as Tuesday night, according to the National Weather Service, but the majority of the snow will fall during the day Wednesday and through the night.

OpenSnow predicts all four mountains will get about six inches of snow over the course of the storm.

Wednesday is predicted to have a low of -1 and a high of 11. Thursday will have a low of -6 and high of 11. NWS forecasts it will warm up on Friday, with a high of 29 and a low of 11. However, there is still a chance of snow going into the weekend.

The winter-storm watch goes into effect mid-day Wednesday and will remain through Thursday morning. The wind-chill watch will be in effect from Wednesday night through mid-day Friday. Winds could gust as high as 60 mph, with dangerously cold wind chills that may reach up to 50 degrees below zero, the Weather Service said said.

The Forecast Discussion states: “The good news, if you can call it that, is these strong winds will only persist for about 9-12 hours.”

The Weather Services advises planning for slippery road conditions during the winter-storm and wind-chill watches. Strong winds can blow snow and reduce visibility for drivers. They also have the potential to cause tree damage.

According to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC), there is considerable avalanche danger for above, near, and below tree lines. Chances of human-triggered avalanches are likely and can easily be triggered from a distance.

“Observers reported seeing collapses so large they would shake trees 50 feet away from them. When you see these obvious signs of instability, it is a clear indicator of dangerous avalanche conditions,” CAIC’s website states.

To reach Audrey Ryan, email her at aryan@aspentimes.com.

Colorado ski conditions report

Roaring Fork Valley ski areas

Aspen Highlands — Wed 5:41a packed powder 31 – 43 base 102 of 122 trails 84% open, 961 acres, 5 of 5 lifts, Mon-Fri: 9a-3:30p; Sat/Sun: 9a-3:30p.

Aspen Mountain — Wed 5:41a packed powder 30 – 32 base 71 of 76 trails 93% open, 656 acres, 7 of 8 lifts, Mon-Fri: 9a-3:30p; Sat/Sun: 9a-3:30p.

Buttermilk — Wed 5:41a packed powder 22 – 24 base 41 of 44 trails 93% open, 454 acres, 5 of 8 lifts,

Snowmass — Wed 5:41a packed powder 26 – 41 base 69 of 98 trails, 70% open 1935 acres, 14 of 20 lifts, Mon-Fri: 9a-3:30p; Sat/Sun: 9a-3:30p.

Sunlight — Wed 5:14a packed powder machine groomed 20 – 22 base 55 of 72 trails, 76% open 2 of 3 lifts, Mon-Fri: 9a-4p; Sat/Sun: 9a-4p.

Statewide

Arapahoe Basin — Wed 5:48a packed powder machine groomed 33 – 33 base 23 of 147 trails 16% open, 282 acres, 6 of 9 lifts, Mon-Fri: 9a-4p; Sat/Sun: 8:30a-4p.

Beaver Creek — Wed 5:20a machine groomed 33 – 33 base 72 of 169 trails 43% open, 1022 acres, 19 of 25 lifts, Mon-Fri: 8:30a-4p; Sat/Sun: 8:30a-4p.

Bluebird Backcountry — Plan to Open 12/29

Breckenridge — Wed 4:47a machine groomed 27 – 27 base 87 of 187 trails 47% open, 1195 acres, 16 of 35 lifts, Mon-Fri: 8:30a-4p; Sat/Sun: 8:30a-4p.

Cooper — Wed 5:54a packed powder machine groomed 13 – 25 base 43 of 64 trails, 83% open 400 acres, 4 of 5 lifts, Mon-Fri: 9a-4p; Sat/Sun: 9a-4p.

Copper Mountain — Wed 5:06a 33 – 33 base 99 of 156 trails 63% open, 16 of 23 lifts,

Crested Butte — Wed 5:21a machine groomed 31 – 31 base 81 of 160 trails 51% open, 760 acres, 9 of 15 lifts, Mon-Fri: 9a-4p; Sat/Sun: 9a-4p.

Echo Mountain — Wed 10:44a machine groomed 18 – 18 base 3 of 8 trails 38% open, 1 of 3 lifts, sm Mon-Fri: 10a-4:30p; Sat/Sun: 9a-4:30p.

Eldora — Wed 12:49p 1 new machine groomed 24 – 24 base 32 of 65 trails 52% open, 355 acres, 10 of 10 lifts, sm Mon-Fri: 9a-4p; Sat/Sun: 8:30a-4p.

Granby Ranch — Wed 10:49a machine groomed 30 – 30 base 16 of 41 trails 29% open, 4 of 5 lifts, Mon-Fri: 9a-4p; Sat/Sun: 9a-4p.

Hesperus Ski Area — Operating no details Thu/Fri: 4p-9p; Sat: 10a-9p Sun: 10a-5p; Open Thu-Sun.

Howelsen Hill — Wed 10:53a machine groomed 30 – 30 base 15 of 15 trails 100% open, 3 of 3 lifts, Mon-Fri: 11a-8p; Sat/Sun: 10a-4p.

Irwin — Wed 6:49a powder 40 – 50 base 60 of 100 trails, 60% open

Kendall Mountain — Operating, no details

Keystone — Wed 6:46a machine groomed 25 – 25 base 62 of 130 trails 48% open, 1103 acres, 19 of 20 lifts, Mon-Fri: 8:30a-4p; Sat/Sun: 8:30a-4p.

Loveland — Wed 4:47a packed powder machine groomed 27 – 27 base 28 of 94 trails, 30% open 368 acres, 7 of 10 lifts, Mon-Fri: 9a-4p; Sat/Sun: 8:30a-4p.

Monarch — Wed 5:48a packed powder machine groomed 27 – 27 base 50 of 67 trails, 75% open 597 acres, 7 of 7 lifts, Mon-Fri: 9a-4p; Sat/Sun: 9a-4p.

Powderhorn — Wed 5:54a packed powder machine groomed 42 – 42 base 52 of 53 trails 98% open, 4 of 4 lifts, Mon-Fri: 9a-4p; Sat/Sun: 9a-4p.

Purgatory — Wed 5:47a packed powder machine groomed 27 – 31 base 37 of 105 trails 34% open, 369 acres, 7 of 12 lifts, Mon-Fri: 9a-4p; Sat/Sun: 9a-4p.

Silverton Mountain — Plan to Open 12/29

Steamboat — Wed 5:13a 1 new packed powder 51 – 67 base 156 of 169 trails 93% open, 2745 acres, 15 of 18 lifts, Mon-Fri: 8:30a-4p; Sat/Sun: 8:30a-4p.

Telluride — Wed 5:17a packed powder machine groomed 20 – 20 base 49 of 147 trails 33% open, 429 acres, 14 of 17 lifts, Mon-Fri: 9a-4p; Sat/Sun: 8:30a-4p.

Vail — Wed 5:19a machine groomed 44 – 44 base 115 of 273 trails, 42% open 3131 acres, 21 of 33 lifts, Mon-Fri: 9a-3:30p; Sat/Sun: 9a-3:30p.

Winter Park — Wed 5:18a packed powder machine groomed 34 – 35 base 120 of 168 trails 79% open, 1635 acres, 20 of 24 lifts, Mon-Fri: 9a-4p; Sat/Sun: 8:30a-4p.

Wolf Creek — Wed 7:10a machine groomed 45 – 50 base 133 of 133 trails 100% open, 42 miles, 1600 acres, 9 of 10 lifts, Mon-Fri: 9a-4p Sat/Sun: 9a-4p.

Top-to-bottom skiing and a new mountain manager as Aspen Mountain opens

The quiet off-season came to a close with the early opening of Aspen Mountain on Saturday. Skiers and snowboarders lined up early, eager to get to the top to start off the season. Excitement was in the air as people loaded the Silver Queen Gondola, ready for the start of a new season.

Longtime Aspen Skiing Co. employee Travis Benson took the reins as mountain manager at Ajax over the summer and had his first opening day on Saturday. Formerly the Buttermilk mountain manager, he has been with Skico since 2005. Benson, an Aspen native, is the former head coach of the Aspen High School football team.

His first Opening Day as Aspen Mountain manager went went smoothly, he said, but not without knocking on wood because “it’s only 2:15,” and the day was not over yet.

“Winter is here, and it’s exciting,” he said. “Opening on a good snow surface on a sunny day. There were lots of smiles.”

People wait in line to load the Silver Queen Gondola for some of the first runs of the season on Saturday, opening day at Aspen Mountain.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Aspen Mountain opened with top-to-bottom skiing. The cold weather, paired with the ability to make snow across the mountain, allowed for an early opening that excited beginners and experts.

Benson said things went smoothly and estimated they were able to open about 260 acres of skiable terrain, which made for a “huge success” on Opening Day.

“From maintenance all the way through to what I call the ‘dark ops’ of cats and snowmaking, to lift-off patrol to guest-facing services, everybody was on point. I am truly honored to be working with this team,” he said.

Skico President and CEO Mike Kaplan greeted everyone at the bottom of the Silver Queen Gondola in the early morning, calling this his “last first day.”

“It’s awesome. I couldn’t ask for it to be any better, right? The sun’s out, we have incredible snow on the ground,” said Kaplan, who will step down from his post after this season.

Both he and Benson gave kudos to employees and emphasized how smoothly operations went because of their efforts.

“Hats off to the operations team,” Benson said. “From snowmaking to winter trails to lift operations crew and maintenance. Everyone was diving in and cranking away to get us where we are. The guest services team was out in force this morning. Every ounce of this mountain, every employee put in a ton of work.”

“(The crews) took advantage of every minute of cold temperatures and every inch of snow we got and put it down,” Kaplan said.

He estimated staffing was up 40% from where they were last year.

“We’re doing a lot better with staffing, significantly better than last year,” he said. “We’re in much better shape than we were really the last two years.”

Aspen Mountain kicked off the year with Buckhorn Cutoff, Buckhorn Trail, Copper, Copper Bowl, Silver Bell, Deer Park, Dipsey Doodle, Easy Chair, Lazy Boy, Midnight, North American, One and Two Leaf, Pumphouse Hill, Silver Dip, Spar Gulch, and Little Nell all open. Silver Queen Gondola, Ajax Express, and the Gent’s Ridge chairlift were running.

“It’s amazing up there. I couldn’t be happier,” Kaplan said.

A young skier begins the journey down Aspen Mountain on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022, which was Opening Day for the 2022-23 ski season in Aspen.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

The Sundeck at Aspen Mountain was open for food and drink. Music on the Mountain returned from noon to 3 p.m. for the crowds of people to enjoy during their mountaintop break.

Kaplan added he was planning on tackling both Aspen and Snowmass Ski Area on his last first day as president and CEO.

Looking forward, Aspen Mountain is dependent on Mother Nature to see what terrain will be open next.

“We have some more snowmaking capabilities on the west side, but Mother Nature is going to have to assist us with some of the other steeper terrain,” Benson said.

Opening day at Snowmass was equally successful and featured a lot more terrain than Skico originally expected.

As of Friday, the night before opening day, Snowmass was set to open with only 78 acres, recently adding skiing to the top of Village Express Lift into play. Upper Scooper, Lower Hals, Fanny Hill, Elk Camp Meadows, Upper Hals, Upper Velvet, Pocket Park on lower Fanny, and the ski-back trail to the clinic were scheduled to be open. The operating lifts were scheduled to be Sky Cab, Village Express to midway, Elk Camp Gondola, and Elk Camp Meadows.

However, officials said they were able to open the frontside of Sam’s Knob, as well as a portion of Big Burn. This brought the skiable terrain up to 418 acres over 18 trails at Snowmass.

Aspen Highlands is still set to open Dec. 10. Buttermilk will open Dec. 17, giving ample time for construction to wrap up on the new base area.

To reach Audrey Ryan, email her at aryan@aspentimes.com.

Steamboat Resort announces largest opening day in nearly a decade

Steamboat Resort is scheduled to open on Wednesday, Nov. 23, with 17 trails and nearly 100 acres of terrain, according to a news release on Thursday, Nov. 17.

The amount of terrain is the most available on opening day since the 2014/2015 season eight years ago. The release credits Steamboat snowmaking teams for the ability to open so much terrain so early, as well as five feet of pre-season snowfall.

Skiers and riders will have acess to Christie Peak Express, the Gondola and Burgess Creek as well as two base area magic carpets.

Opening day trails include:

  • Sitz Back
  • Sitz
  • Jess’ Cutoff
  • Vogue
  • Short Cut
  • Stampede
  • Heavenly Daze
  • Wrangler
  • Buckaroo
  • Arc
  • Tower
  • Rudi’s
  • Lightning
  • Ego
  • Lower Rainbow
  • Skyline
  • Velvet

Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. is also expected to debut new features in the base area on opening day, such as the ice rink and stage.

Beaver Creek to open Monday — two days ahead of schedule

Fresh snow, freshly-baked cookies, and an early start to the season — what’s not to love?

Following more than 50 inches of early season snow, coupled with favorable snowmaking temperatures, Beaver Creek Resort will open Monday, Nov. 21, for the 2022-23 winter season — two days earlier than planned. The opening terrain package will include top-to-bottom skiing with more than 200 acres of terrain, including Red Buffalo and Haymeadow parks, as well as Gold Dust.

Centennial Express Lift and Haymeadow Gondola will spin from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., while Cinch Express Lift will spin from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Beaver Creek’s newest edition to its Signature Parks Collection, McCoy Park, will open later this season.  

“Opening Day is one of my favorite days of the year,” said Nadia Guerriero, vice President and chief operating officer at Beaver Creek Resort in a news release. “There’s nothing better than getting back to skiing and snowboarding together. As perpetual hosts, our team can’t wait to welcome our guests to experience the magic of Beaver Creek. From fresh cookies to perfect corduroy, we have been hard at work preparing for this season’s kickoff.” 

A live DJ and signature Beaver Creek chocolate chip cookies, as well as coffee and hot cocoa, will be available at the Centennial Express base area in the morning, with additional activation at Spruce Saddle Lodge. 

Opening week events, including the World’s Best Chocolate Chip Cookie Competition, Beaver Creek Tree Lighting Spectacular, and holiday market, will proceed as planned.  

World’s Best Chocolate Chip Cookie Competition 

On Nov. 23, festivities will continue in Beaver Creek Village starting at 1 p.m. with the World’s Best Chocolate Chip Cookie Competition, featuring five local bakers from Colorado’s Eagle and Summit Counties.  

Each baker has hand-crafted their own recipe and will bake 1,000 cookies for visitors and judges to crown the winner, based on taste, appearance, creativity and texture. All participants will receive a cash prize, with the grand champion taking home $2,000.  

Beaver Creek Tree Lighting Spectacular 

The Beaver Creek Tree Lighting Spectacular will take place Friday, Nov. 25. Beaver Creek Village will be bustling with activities, including:  

  • Complimentary ice skating from 10 am. to 3 p.m.
  • Meet & greet with Santa from noon to 2 p.m.
  • Craft workshop with Alpine Arts Center from 1 to 3:30 p.m. 

The Tree Lighting Spectacular show will begin at 5 p.m., with ice skating performers and two live music groups: Brothers of Brass and On the Rocks. Following the lighting of the tree, fireworks will illuminate the sky.  

Both Friday, Nov. 25, and Saturday, Nov. 26, a holiday market filled with local Eagle County artisans will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Opening Day mountain dining

Dining will be open at Spruce Saddle Lodge, located at the top of Centennial Express Lift, the Ice Cream Parlour located at the top of Haymeadow Express Gondola, and Citrea located in Beaver Creek Village next to the Ice Rink.

Early season and uphill access 

Early season conditions exist, and Beaver Creek Resort requires all skiers and riders to observe all posted signs and warnings. Closed trails may contain hazards due to limited natural snow coverage and snowmaking operations. Visitors must stay off closed trails and out of closed areas. Uphill access at Beaver Creek is currently not open due to early-season mountain preparations and snowmaking. The resort will announce when uphill access is open to guests once early-season operations are complete and there is adequate terrain to safely permit these activities.  

Get ready to shred, Sunlight is officially opening a little early

Start doing your snow dances to the snow gods because one more good dump means Sunlight Mountain Resort will be open early for the season.

“If we get one more decent storm we can open Dec. 2 for the season with additional terrain and lifts open,” Ross Terry, Sunlight assistant GM said.

One thing to be extra thankful for this coming week is that Sunlight will be open on a limited basis the weekend after Thanksgiving, Nov. 25-27. 

“That will be the Tercero lift only servicing our main Midway run, thanks to the hard work of our snowmakers,” Troy Hawks, Sunlight marketing and sales director, said in an email. 

Sunlight will be closed again Nov. 28 for the week. 

“If we don’t get any additional snowfall, we will open back up Dec. 2, but just for the weekend only,” Terry said. 

This is Sunlight’s 55th season, and guests will be able to enjoy a new ski-rental facility, a new digital trail map at the top of the mountain, a newly inaugurated Mini-Mayor and new outdoor food station on the West Deck, Hawks said. 

This will be the last year the Segundo lift will be run before it is replaced in 2023, so be sure to get up there this season for a couple of farewell rides. 

The replacement chair will be a three lift chair that was previously owned by Arapahoe Basin. The Segundo lift formerly was located at Aspen Mountain.

Sunlight also has a new snow grooming machine this season for smoother riding. 

Follow Sunlight on Facebook for operations updates.