Just two days after announcing its intentions to open a day early, on Wednesday, Aspen Skiing Co. made the decision that in order to open lift-access skiing and riding as planned, it would have to shut down uphilling, at least temporarily.
SkiCo Vice President of Communications Jeff Hanle said Sunday evening that while not in the original considerations, uphilling became an apparent variable in the opening equation Sunday.
“We were not going to shut it down on Aspen and Snowmass until we open, but there were just way too many machines and people up there today,” he said. “It was a perfect storm of great weather and very limited terrain that’s mamade — groomed — all the way up to the top.”
At the end of the would-be on-mountain day, at about 3 p.m., SkiCo announced it would be closing Aspen and Snomass to uphilling, starting today.
“In order to prep for opening for the season, we will not be allowing uphill traffic 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through Sunday, Nov. 29,” the statement posted to social media accounts read.
Hanle emphasized that the decision was one made out of safety concerns.
“Snowcats and snowmobiles and snow-making guns were there, and we just talked this afternoon and said, ‘We’ve gotta shut it down,’” he said.
That doesn’t mean resident uphilling enthusiasts don’t have an outlet, he continued: Aspen Highlands and Tiehack on Buttermilk are both still viable options.
“There are just too many moving pieces up there to be safe,” he said of the other larger on-mountain areas.
Putting uphilling on ice isn’t a permanent situation — but SkiCo doesn’t have an immediate date as to when it will be permitted for skinning, either.
“When we get more snow, we’ll get more terrain. When it’s not opening weekend, there will be fewer people,” Hanle said hopefully.
It’s that same hope — more snow and, in turn, more terrain to create the natural stage for social distancing — that fuels Ski Co executives’ aspirations to shelter Aspen-Snowmass from a reservation system this season, but there have been acknowledgements that such a system may not be avoidable.
“There are so many moving parts. Suppose we get a ton of snow, and we get to open every inch of terrain we have. We all of a sudden have more room to spread out,” Hanle told the Aspen Daily News Friday. “But if we don’t have a ton of terrain at the holidays and we have a ton of business, it’s going to be really tough to manage, and a reservation system would probably need to be implemented.”
If reservations are enacted, pass holders would digitally reserve days that they are interested in skiing, and SkiCo would then adjust available remaining tickets accordingly.
“We’d go, ‘OK, we have this many people, we have this much terrain open. We can’t sell any more lift tickets,’” Hanle said.
But again, that equation will be a direct result of Mother Nature’s temperatures and precipitation.
“One of the big unknowns is how much terrain we will have open — because we haven’t had snowmaking weather, and we haven’t had natural snow,” he continued.
Aspen Mountain will have top-to-bottom skiing available next week, and Nell and Bell chairs will be running to ease pressure off the Silver Queen Gondola. Snowmass will have 86 open acres across the mountain.
The Sundeck will be open at 25% capacity, as will Elk Camp and Ullrhof restaurants. Bumps at Buttermilk will be closed, but restroom facilities will be available for those using the bunny hill.
Alycin Bektesh contributed to this reporting.