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An early opening day kicks off the ski season at Aspen Snowmass

Fresh tracks mark the snowy slopes at Aspen Mountain.
Kaya Williams
Aspen Public Radio
Fresh tracks mark the snowy slopes at Aspen Mountain on Saturday. Ajax and Snowmass Ski Area opened five days earlier than planned with top-to-bottom skiing and pockets of powder.

Aspen Mountain and Snowmass Ski Area opened five days sooner than planned on Saturday thanks to good early-season conditions.

So how early do you have to show up to get the very first gondola of the season at Ajax?

Haines Donnelly said he arrived around 7 a.m. so he could try to get first tracks and the first gondola cab. But some other early birds had the same idea — and showed up before the sun did.

“They said 4:30 (a.m.), so (they) beat me by quite a bit,” Donnelly said.

Inside the gondola terminal, a crew of 13- and 14-year-olds, plus two early-rising 20-somethings got dibs on the very first ride up for the season.

Owen Weiss, 24, brought a camp stove to cook scrambled eggs while he waited in the dark.

And even though 26-year-old Ryan Lipari arrived almost 3 1/2 hours before the lifts opened, he still wasn’t quite the first one.

“I was here at 5:30 (a.m.), and these guys were here in their sleeping bags,” he said, referring to the younger riders who beat him and Weiss to the wait.

Teenage shredders Hunter Maytin, Jack Suma, Henry Klumb and Jet Thorne say they’re just out here to have fun and to start their season off right, even if that means setting up camp in sleeping bags long before most people are thinking about putting on their boots.

Once they got to the top, the first-chair crew and everyone else in line had 236 acres of skiing to explore on Aspen Mountain.

There was coverage from the top of the mountain to the base, and those who got out on the mountain before 11 a.m. had plenty of fresh powder to turn in, too. (By lunch time, Ajax was already starting to develop the bump runs that will remain a fixture for most of the season.)

At Snowmass Ski Area, crews opened far more than the originally announced 78 acres.

Some last-minute terrain openings allowed skiers and snowboarders to ride the Sam’s Knob area and terrain off of the Big Burn, too. Additional beginner terrain was available at Elk Camp Meadows. By Sunday, the mountain already had 421 acres open.

Mike Kaplan Gondola Base Aspen Mountain Skico
Kaya Williams
Aspen Public Radio
Aspen Skiing Co. President and CEO Mike Kaplan greets skiers and riders at the base of the Silver Queen Gondola on opening day at Aspen Mountain on Saturday. The 2022-23 ski season is Kaplan's last at the helm before he retires from the role.

The first day of the season was also the last opening day with Mike Kaplan at the helm of Aspen Skiing Co.

Skico’s retiring president and CEO had plenty of stoke and appreciation to spread with the crowd at Ajax as he entered his final winter in charge before stepping down at the end of the 2022-23 ski season.

Kaplan was posted up at the base of the Silver Queen Gondola before the lifts opened Saturday, ready to amp up the crowd and scan some lift tickets, too.

He gave a quick speech to kick things off and doled out kudos to the crews who made an early opening possible, both on the mountain and off.

“It takes a village so to speak. … None of this works without this entire community making it happen,” Kaplan said.

Kaplan shared gratitude for his time at Skico and had some advice for skiers looking to avoid the crowds.

“I’ve had a phenomenal, phenomenal 29.1 years,” Kaplan said. “ I’m looking forward to this 30th. Please enjoy it and have fun."

He added: “And finally, get high, stay high, and I mean that in terms of altitude."

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.