Thursday night and Friday’s snowstorm delivered enough accumulation to allow for top-to-bottom skiing on the Silver Queen Gondola during Aspen Mountain’s opening day on Saturday.
With return skiing on the upper mountain’s Ajax Express quad chair and open runs including Bellissimo, Upper Copper, Deer Park, Dipsy Doodle, Easy Chair, One and Two Leaf, Pumphouse, Silver Bell, Blondie’s, Pussyfoot and Silver Dip, Ajax will open with just shy of 150 acres, according to an Aspen Skiing Co. press release issued early afternoon on Friday.
That is an improvement from the terrain that was to be offered when SkiCo announced earlier this week that Aspen Mountain, as well as Snowmass Ski Area, would open five days earlier than the traditional Thanksgiving season kickoff. At the time of the initial announcement, Ajax’s opening lineup was to be limited to 75 acres served by the Little Nell and Bell Mountain chairlifts on the Deer Park, Spar Gulch and Little Nell runs — all of which are served by snowmaking. Snowmaking on Aspen Mountain ends near the top of Deer Park and there was not enough natural coverage from there to the top of the mountain to facilitate skiing accessed by the gondola, SkiCo officials had determined.
That all changed Thursday night, when the winds shifted to the more favorable upslope — or northwest — direction, and 10 inches of snow fell on Aspen Mountain by dawn, with more coming throughout the day Friday. That’s on top of two inches tallied by midday Thursday.
“Anything that has been tilled and track packed is actually fabulous,” reported Katie Ertl, SkiCo’s vice president of mountain operations, who took a few runs to assess the terrain Friday morning. “But where that hasn’t occurred, it’s so deep and dense. It was fabulous and interesting all at the same time.”
The snow that fell during Thursday and Friday’s storm was wet, “which is great for packing into the base,” she said, predicting, “fantastic early season conditions.”
Ertl noted that Blondie’s, an expert, ungroomed run on the top of the mountain, which will be open, has enough of a pitch to make it through the dense snow, so that’s promising.
Intermediate runs from One and Two Leaf to Dipsy Bowl will be open; Dipsy Headwall is questionable. Crews are working to prepare the Buckhorn Cutoff and open North American, but it’s unclear if that will happen by Saturday.
Ertl added that ski patrol hopes to open Sunrise/Sunset and Hanging Tree this weekend as well.
The Silver Queen Gondola runs from the downtown core to the top of Aspen Mountain, with a rise of about 3,200 feet vertical feet covered in around 15 minutes in optimal conditions.
“I was certainly hopeful,” Ertl said regarding the snow forecast for Thursday night, “but I have to say I woke up [Friday] morning greeted with a lot more than I had expected and so grateful and excited for sure.”
In an additional sign that ski season is upon us, Aspen Mountain Ski Patrol warned the community via a Pitkin Alert notification at 3:11 p.m. Friday that they would be setting off avalanche mitigation charges between 3:30 and 4 p.m.
“Please take precautions for any humans or pets sensitive to loud noise,” the message said.
Snowmass will also be open Saturday, with 60 acres of skiing accessed off the midway unload point of the Village Express chairlift. Elk Camp Meadows accessed by the Elk Camp Gondola will be open for beginners and the Breathtaker Alpine Coaster will be up-and-running. The Elk Camp Restaurant will be open with food and beverages.
Aspen Mountain lifts will run from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and the Sundeck will be open for food and beverage service. On Snowmass, the Village Express lift will operate from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. with the Elk Camp Gondola running from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk are scheduled to open Saturday, Dec. 7.
For the detailed snow report, visit www.aspensnowmass.com/our-mountains/snow-report.