Powder-hungry locals wreak traffic, parking havoc near ski area
Aspen Highlands saw one of its busiest days of the season on Tuesday, as thousands of people went for the powder at the only remaining mountain open in the area.
“It was a big day for Highlands,” said Aspen Skiing Co. spokesman Jeff Hanle, who estimated that there were a couple thousand people there on Tuesday and the number of skier visits was close to what a day during Christmas week would be.
Hundreds of people lined up before the opening of the Exhibition chairlift at the base. Another 100 or so waited for patrol to drop the rope so they could hike the bowl, which occurred around 10 a.m. The line of people hiking the bowl was constant during the morning hours.
A line of cars was backed up on Maroon Creek Road past the Aspen schools campus in the early morning, causing long delays for motorists who were dropping children off for class, those looking to use the Aspen Recreation Center (ARC) or park at Highlands.
The SkiCo will be running the Highlands/Buttermilk shuttle daily the rest of the week. People can park at Buttermilk and take the shuttle to Highlands, which will leave on the hour and half hour all day. There will also be one skier shuttle doing laps to Highlands from Rubey Park, leaving on the hour and half hour. The Castle/Maroon bus, which goes to Highlands, is running on its regular schedule of departures from Rubey Park every 20 minutes at :00, :20 and :40.
Tim Ware, director of parking for the city of Aspen, said the number of people attempting to park at the ARC and catch the bus to Highlands was more than what his department had expected on Tuesday.
“There were a lot of cars,” he said. “It caught us off guard.”
Parking department personnel responded early on Tuesday, directing people to the shuttle at Buttermilk and posting signs alerting people that they are not allowed to park at the ARC. Spaces in the parking lot are reserved for people using the ARC.
Ware said he received a few calls from people complaining that parking should be set aside at the ARC for skiers and boarders. And while Ware said he gets their argument, ARC customers also expect to be able to find a parking spot.
He said parking officers will be stationed all week at the ARC parking lot, directing people to Buttermilk. Ware said the best option is to use public transportation.
Hanle said parking will be free at Highlands through the week, but the company will charge over the weekend. A decision hasn’t been made about free parking for the bonus weekend of April 27-28, he said.
Hanle also reminded people that they are not allowed to use snowmobiles on the front side of Aspen Mountain.
“We’re not going to let people do it,” he said, while acknowledging that SkiCo is not a law enforcement agency.
Enforcement falls to either the U.S. Forest Service or the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, and SkiCo will report scofflaws to those agencies. Hanle said it’s a safety issue since a lot of work is being done by SkiCo on-mountain crews.