Aspen SkiCo

Aspen Skiing Co. is continuing to maintain Highlands in the event the opportunity to reopen later this season should arise.

If conditions allow at all levels — within the state, Pitkin County and the snowpack — Aspen Skiing Co. hopes it can safely reopen Aspen Highlands at some point during May.

“We’ve been pretty upfront with it all along,” SkiCo’s vice president of communications Jeff Hanle said via phone Wednesday afternoon, “that we’re going to try to maintain the ability to open Highlands very late season if we are given the go-ahead that we can do it, if the conditions are decent and good, and if we can open [Highlands] with a plan that keeps our employees and our guests safe at the direction of the county health and state health.”

Hanle continued: “With all the snow we’ve had and the snowpack, and if the temperatures cooperate and things start to turn around, who knows, it could be Memorial Day. We don’t know.”

While it is too soon to know any more about the possibility of reopening Aspen Highlands, SkiCo is making preparations in the event that it can.

On Tuesday, Katie Ertl, senior vice president of mountain operations, provided an internal update, mostly related to grooming and uphilling, on each of the four mountains. Ertl’s report for Highlands, which was shared with Aspen Daily News, read: “We will continue to do some grooming in hopes of keeping the hill healthy for a potential (if allowed) opening sometime in May. We may see a cat pushing snow to maintain depth.”

Addressing the safety and logistics of potentially reopening, Hanle said: “We would have to be creative, and there would be no lift lines; we’d have to space people somehow, and probably not load every chair, and [not group together] unrelated parties.

“There would be a lot to figure out,” he said.

Although not entirely certain, reopening the on-mountain restaurants at Highlands is an unlikely prospect. “Perhaps a limited operation,” he said, “but it would take a lot to staff up and resupply a restaurant.”

On Wednesday, Mount Baldy ski area in Southern California reopened to skiers in a limited capacity after closing early due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A Tuesday mountain report on the resort’s website attributed the decision in part to the reopening of golf courses, as well as above-average snow conditions for April.

“With coverage on the mountain about as good as it gets for April and golf courses reopening around Southern California, we have decided to follow suit and open for ‘Ski & Ride Times’ beginning tomorrow morning,” the post read.

Per Pitkin County’s latest direction, golf courses are among the local sectors that could soon ease back into operations while maintaining social distancing strategies.

Asked if attracting visitors to Aspen-Snowmass is of concern, and if so, how SkiCo could manage this, Hanle said: “Yes, there’s concern about that, but again, we don’t know if or when this is going to happen and what else will be going on at that time. Typically, when we’ve opened for Memorial Day in the past, there are not destination skiers coming here to ski, for the most part. It’s locals.”

Hanle added: “Could we say it’s pass holders only? I don’t know. I really don’t have any idea yet. A detailed operational plan would have to be worked out.”

Those details could not be substantiated by a White River National Forest spokesman on deadline.

“There are thousands of little nuances that we would have to consider, and decide what might or might not work, and see if it is doable,” Hanle said. “But it’d be fun if we could.”

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.