Concern about avalanches limited the amount of new terrain openings on Aspen Mountain Sunday in the wake of the weekend’s 15-inch snowstorm, and Aspen Skiing Co. crews will decide today when Aspen Highlands will open for the season.
The new snow allowed Snowmass Ski Area to more than double its open terrain, going from 117 acres to 375, SkiCo spokesman Jeff Hanle said. New openings included the Sneaky’s and Mick’s Gully runs off of the Big Burn chairlift, as well as runs on Sam’s Knob.
On Aspen Mountain, the morning gondola line stretched to Durant Avenue around 9 a.m., when the gondola opened. The sketchiness of the snowpack became apparent on the ride up, with extensive snow fracturing visible along the top of Bell Mountain.
Another slide was visible underneath Ajax Express, which opened for the first time this season, on the Dipsy Headwall. The slide appeared to be natural, with a crown about 25 yards across and as deep as the previous night’s snowfall.
For most of the day Sunday, skiing on the top of Ajax was limited to 1&2 Leaf, Bellissimo and Deer Park. Spar Gulch did not open until noon, as ski patrol was doing control work on the steep slopes that hover above the run. Top-to-bottom skiing was available all day on Copper Bowl, although skiers had to brave thick clouds created by snowmaking equipment.
“It’s a tricky snowpack,” Hanle said. “We’re taking it slow and making sure everything is right.”
The Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) rated the avalanche danger in the Aspen zone as “considerable” after the weekend storm, which was the biggest snowfall of the season to date.
“New snow, wind loading, and a very weak old snowpack on some slopes have resulted in a rapid increase in avalanche danger for Sunday,” said the day’s forecast on CAIC’s webpage. “Expect to see numerous small- to medium-sized avalanches on any slope that had an old snowpack prior to Saturday’s storm. Use caution if you are traveling in the backcountry today and don’t let the first decent snowstorm in recent weeks cloud your decision making.”
More terrain openings are scheduled for Aspen Mountain today. Hanle said ski patrol hopes to open Seibert’s, Back of Bell #1 and Back of Bell #2. That would take Aspen Mountain’s open terrain up to 190 acres, when 130 acres were open before skiing from the top of the mountain became possible Sunday. Hanle said he’s not expecting more terrain to open at Snowmass on Monday.
Aspen Highlands was scheduled to open Saturday, but that had to be delayed due to a lack of enough natural snow prior to Saturday night’s storm. Last week, SkiCo said Highlands needed at least 8 inches of natural snow to be ready for the public.
Mountain mangers, ski patrol and other staff will assess Highlands today and decide when it will open and on what terrain, Hanle said.
With SkiCo reporting 15 inches Sunday morning, the upper Roaring Fork Valley had the highest snow totals in the state from the weekend storm; Vail and Breckenridge reported 9 inches while Steamboat reported 8 inches and Crested Butte reported 7 inches. Most local snow forecasters predicted less snow than what actually occurred in Aspen.
“We were in the bullseye,” Hanle said, noting that he’s always happy to see more snow than what the weatherman expects. “It means all that clean living is paying off.”