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Quite the feet: Dump of snow makes early-season turns possible in Aspen and Snowmass

Lift 1A Aspen Mountain Snow.jpg
Kaya Williams
Aspen Public Radio
Lift 1A at Aspen Mountain hangs over a snowy landscape Monday. The few inches of fluffy white stuff that collected at the beginning of the week accumulated into feet in some areas by Thursday as an early-season storm blanketed the region.

With nearly 2 feet of fresh snow on the mountains this week, you might already be scouting your line for some early-season turns.

Aspen Skiing Co. spokesman Jeff Hanle says the white stuff at Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Snowmass Ski Area and Buttermilk Mountain is fair game for uphillers who want to chase fresh tracks right now.

But skiers and snowboarders should approach the areas with the same equipment and caution they would bring to unpatrolled, backcountry terrain.

“You are going up on your own, so exercise extreme caution,” Hanle said. “Don't get yourself hurt. Recognize that there might be almost 2 feet of snow up top, but there's not nearly that much down at the bottom.”

Hanle said Skico will start a real push for snowmaking Tuesday if temperatures allow.

People heading up on the mountain now should watch out for rocks and roots as well as vehicles and snowmaking equipment, he says.

And starting Tuesday, the company will require uphillers to wear a Skico-provided bright-orange uphill armband as mountain operations ramp up, Hanle says.

The armband comes with the uphill pass that Skico launched last year, and you’ll need to wear it whether the mountain is open for operations or not.

The uphill pass is $69 on its own, but it also comes with any premier pass if you opt in.

Hanle said you don’t need to follow a designated uphill route until the mountains open for the lift-served ski season, though.

Aspen Mountain and Snowmass Ski Area are scheduled to start spinning the lifts on Thanksgiving Day.

Aspen Highlands is set to open Dec. 10, and Buttermilk Mountain opens Dec. 17.

With this early-season snow, could an early opening be in the cards?

That depends on snowfall and temperatures, Hanle said, and right now, it’s still “too early to tell,” he said.

The forecast shows warmer weather coming in the next week, Hanle said.

Once the lifts start turning, Hanle says eager beavers should still exercise backcountry safety in the sidecountry terrain area known as Pandora’s, off the side of Aspen Mountain.

Crews have already started prepping the area for inbounds skiing in the 2023-24 ski season, but this winter, “it'll be treated as backcountry," Hanle said. "There'll be no control work.”

He added: “So just like before, if you're going out there (in Pandora’s), be safe, take the right equipment, ski with friends who know what they're doing."

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center reports that there’s enough snow now that avalanches are possible, and it doesn’t take much to cause a slide on grassy slopes or steep rock slabs.

Backcountry users should avoid steep slopes with stiffer, wind-drifted snow.

The CAIC will start issuing backcountry avalanche forecasts in mid-November, according to its website.

Kaya Williams is the Edlis Neeson Arts and Culture Reporter at Aspen Public Radio, covering the vibrant creative and cultural scene in Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley. She studied journalism and history at Boston University, where she also worked for WBUR, WGBH, The Boston Globe and her beloved college newspaper, The Daily Free Press. Williams joins the team after a stint at The Aspen Times, where she reported on Snowmass Village, education, mental health, food, the ski industry, arts and culture and other general assignment stories.