Shredding down Ajax

A snowboarder carves down the front side of Aspen Mountain. 

The four mountains under the Aspen Skiing Co. umbrella will all open in some capacity next week, in an effort to keep guests spread out for the 2020/21 season kickoff amidst tightening public health restrictions and the warning that a reservation system may be on its way.

SkiCo announced its opening day plans Friday afternoon, including the announcement that Aspen and Snowmass mountains will open to the public one day early, on Wednesday. In typical seasons, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk would not open until December — but this year, they will both have limited terrain open on the Thanksgiving holiday. Buttermilk’s Panda Peak bunny hill will be open all through Saturday, and first-time skiers are encouraged to get their legs under them using that availability. 

Highlands’ Thunderbowl lift will be spinning for the public on Thursday, as well, with 50 acres of skiable terrain but will then revert to exclusive use by the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard club until Dec. 12.

In the announcement, SkiCo stressed that public health protocols will need to be followed, including mandatory masks at all times when not actively skiing or riding. 

“Please understand this is not a typical opening day, and if we want to be skiing in December and beyond, it is crucial that we all recognize this and do our part. We are all excited to get on the slopes and make some turns, but let’s try to each do our part to keep the season alive,” the statement reads.

SkiCo is not requiring reservations at this point but is working to keep people spread out with the additional days available and the additional open terrain. Jeff Hanle, vice president of communications, said that ticket sales have not yet sold out but that the resort itself has more of its lodges booked than this time last year. He said if terrain remains limited during the Christmas and New Year holiday, reservations will come into play. 

“It’s that continued trend of people wanting to be outside and people wanting to be out of the cities and in the mountains,” Hanle said.

He said that if terrain remains limited during the Christmas and New Year holidays, reservations will come into play. 

"As we get toward the holiday, we may need to implement a reservation system,” he said.

He added that any reservation system may require locals with an unlimited pass to “book” the day before they get up on the hill so that SkiCo would have a better sense of what crowd numbers would look like. 

The company will open the mountains for employees Tuesday, in an effort to let them get their skiing in without feeling the need to crowd the mountains during the opening-day rush.

“We will then ask this group to use discretion for the rest of the weekend and provide more space and access for our guests and passholders,” the announcement reads.

Hanle said that the company also hopes that the Wednesday opening will encourage locals to get their opening day fill without the presence of visitors, who booked tickets for Thursday and in to the weekend.

No uphilling will be allowed, to reduce on-slope traffic during the holiday.

Alycin Bektesh is a reporter for the Aspen Daily News. She can be reached at Alycin@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @alycinwonder.