With nearly 3 feet of snow falling on the high peaks in the month of October, Aspen Skiing Co. personnel have been boot packing Highland Bowl for at least a week and plan to fire up the snowmaking equipment on Friday.
Despite the occasional winter-like conditions in the fall, it’s still too soon to talk about an early opening for local ski resorts, SkiCo spokesman Jeff Hanle said. October snow is great, Hanle said — with up to 10 inches falling Wednesday night at the top of Snowmass ski area, and more in the forecast — but “more important is that it continues into November and December.”
“We need a few more significant storms” before any early opening could be considered, he said. The storms also would need to come in quicker succession, with colder temperatures in between than have been seen thus far.
“We really haven’t had that discussion yet” about what an early opening would look like, Hanle said.
According to Aspenweather.net, this week’s snow should put total accumulations at the tops of the ski resorts above 3 feet for the month. All that early snow has to be packed down on steep high-elevation slopes, so they can be safe once they are open. Aspen Highlands Ski Patrol started the massive job of boot packing the bowl last week, Hanle said, while areas of the Hanging Valley Wall and the Cirque at Snowmass also have seen boot packers in October.
“When you get all that early snow and then get a [dry] spell, you have to get some compaction,” Hanle said, noting last week’s warm weather.
Mountain preparations are entering a new phase when snowmaking operations begin Friday. There is no need to build a World Cup race course on the Lift 1A side of Aspen Mountain this year, so efforts will be focused on making top-to-bottom skiing via Spar Gulch and the Little Nell run possible.
“The guns are in place,” Hanle said, adding that the company will keep making snow as long as temperatures are cold enough. “They are locked and loaded and ready to go.”
With one more storm, Hanle said crews will begin “track packing” snow on certain runs, which is when snowcats drive up and down the slope to begin solidifying the base that will be with us through the spring.
Perhaps working in favor of an early opening is the fact that Thanksgiving — opening day for Aspen Mountain and Snowmass — is late on the calendar this year, on Nov. 28. Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk are scheduled to open on Dec. 14.