police cruiser

An Aspen Police Department cruiser in front of a Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office vehicle. 

The Aspen area saw a surge in drivers under the influence over the weekend, with eight DUI arrests recorded between the upper-valley law enforcement agencies.

“Oh, this [past] weekend was definitely a big bump up in busyness,” Aspen Assistant Police Chief Bill Linn said Monday. “In the COVID era, we’re not accustomed to having this many contacts in our DUI arrest.”

Of the eight DUI arrests — the number reported across Aspen Police and the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office from Friday to Sunday — two were associated with Aspen Highlands’ closing day, Linn said. Highlands and Buttermilk ski areas both closed for the season on Sunday.

None of the DUIs recorded on Sunday were connected to Buttermilk’s end-of-season festivities, which are more mellow and family oriented than its upvalley counterpart. Highlands’ closing day, by comparison, is traditionally a massive celebration complete with a base-area rave that draws thousands.

With pandemic restrictions in place this year, just fewer than 2,000 skiers and snowboarders scanned their pass at Highlands on Sunday, according to Aspen Skiing Co. Vice President of Communications Jeff Hanle. In a “normal” season, about 4,000 people — locals and visitors alike — scan their passes on Highlands closing day, Hanle said. The total number of “attendees” is presumably even greater, given the contingent of partygoers who would show up sans ski gear.

Linn, who was in uniform at Highlands on Sunday, wasn’t impressed by the general conduct.  

“I can tell you that what I saw there did not seem like COVID was on anybody’s mind,” he said. “Although the crowd size was a lot smaller than previous years’ Highlands closing parties, the behavior looked pretty much like it did in any other year.”

Amid the pandemic, the number of DUI arrests last weekend — eight — is more reflective of what the department would experience over a few weeks, Linn said.

Arrest reports from APD and the sheriff’s office also reveal many other offenses in conjunction with the DUI arrests, including theft, obscene gestures, underage drinking, displaying fictitious plates, expired tags and more than one count of driving without a valid license — as well as physical harassment.

Asked if these types of offenses are usually associated with driving under the influence, Linn said, “It’s pretty routine to have other things present themselves and end up on the ticket as well … because once you [look] into the DUI, other things often turn up as you’re conducting the investigation.”

As the weather warms up, more and more people receive the COVID vaccine and attitudes grow increasingly lax, Linn said he hopes people will make better decisions before getting behind the wheel.

“It seems as though perhaps people are blowing off some steam, but unfortunately, they need to make the right choice about how they’re going to get home,” he said. “Clearly, with this many DUIs, the roads probably weren’t as safe as they should have been over this [past] weekend.”

Linn concluded: “A DUI or a traffic accident like that is the sort of thing that changes peoples’ lives forever, and we just want to try to get people to make better choices.”

Erica Robbie is the editor-in-chief of Local Magazine and Local Weekly as well as the arts & culture editor for the Aspen Daily News. She can be reached at erica@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @ericarobbie.