Ski patrollers on Aspen Highlands stopped “boot packing” preparations in Highland Bowl area last week, after packing down all the snow that was there in just 11 days of work.
The Aspen Skiing Co. prepares the vaunted hike-to terrain each season by enlisting scores of volunteers to walk up and down the bowl, affixed to climbing ropes. Volunteers earn $100 vouchers toward a ski pass for each day, available after one puts in five days of packing, and a full ski pass after 15 days.
Highlands patrollers, snow-safety team members and volunteers got the present snowpack prepared in less than two weeks. They halted operations on Nov. 27.
Kevin Hagerty, mountain manager at Aspen Highlands, said they will call the boot packers back in once they get some more snow to pack. For now, there’s no more work to be done, he said.
“We went and checked it out yesterday,” Hagerty said on Friday. “It’s holding up pretty good.”
Like all of Highlands, which had been scheduled to open today, Hagerty says about 8 inches of snowfall will allow them to open the Bowl to the public.
Hagerty said most of the G-zones area are packed and ready to be skied, once they get a little more snow cover on top of them.
“There are other areas that just don’t have any snow,” he added.
The Y- and B-zones, Hagerty said, still have to collect snow and get packed before SkiCo can open them.
Hagerty was upbeat about the season in the Bowl, however.
“Once we get some snow we’re gonna have the best steep skiing in Colorado,” he said.
But for the 140-some local men and women who volunteer as boot packers, the stop of preparations has presented a dilemma: Whether to pay for a ski pass or to wait until they’re called back to duty in the Bowl.
When patrollers told the volunteers after a week of packing that they might suspend operations, boot packers were concerned.
“You could just see the look on people’s faces, like, ‘What are we going to do?’” said Scott Kury, who got in eight days of boot packing so far this year.
Kury had arranged his early winter schedule to allow him to get his 15 days of boot packing in to earn a full pass. Like many of the volunteer boot packers, he’s hoping for snow and to be able to get the rest of his packing days in to earn a full pass. It’s his second year of boot packing.
Like Hagerty, though, he was complementary of the conditions in the Bowl itself.
“It’s in good shape in there,” Kury said. “But we got everything done that we could.”
Due to lack of snow on the lift-served terrain at Highlands, the boot packers had to download after each day’s work, rather than skiing to the base as usual.
For now Kury, like a lot of volunteers, is hoping for snow and taking advantage of uphill skinning, rather than bucking up for a pass just yet.
“I can’t afford to cash out at this point,” Kury said. “I’m not sure what I’m going to do, because once it starts snowing I’m going to want to be up there. Right now I’m in a holding pattern.”