By Roberta McGowan
Sopris Sun Staff
Tune up the equipment and get the boots and cold weather clothing out of storage. Ski season is back!
With a boost of cold weather and plenty of snow making, alpine, nordic, cross-country skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing are here big time.
In just a little more than two weeks, all valley resorts will be welcoming skiers and running lifts. So, pick your poison: Sunlight, Snowmass, Buttermilk, Highlands or Aspen Mountain.
It’s important to note both Aspen and Sunlight mountains are adhering to pandemic protocols established by the Colorado State Department Public Health and Environment. such as masks and social distancing.
Sunlight Mountain Resort in Glenwood Springs, with nearly 730 skiable acres and a 2000 ft. vertical drop, draws avid snow sports enthusiasts from the Roaring Fork Valley to Parachute from beginners to intermediate to advanced devotees.
Groomed cross country and snowshoe trails total 29 kilometers (18 miles) with opportunities for all levels of participants. As explained on the resort’s website, these trails can lead to the Sunshine Meadow backcountry log cabin built in the 1800s.
Troy Hawks, Sunlight sales and marketing director, “We are very excited for our 54th season to begin on Friday, Dec. 11.”
“Skiing is such a unique sport; you’re constantly discovering new techniques, and snow challenges can change from day to day and run to run,” he smiled.
The pandemic temporarily put on hold plans for 100 additional skiing acres of forest to the east of Perry’s Plunge. This past summer, the mountain was forced to trim back the maintenance crew by 70 percent, but employees were able to further widen Vortex, one of the new runs opened last season.
Sunlight has also done some freshening up. The entire campus, Hawks announced, has been repainted. Hawks also reported the mountain is looking for additional ski instructors and is asking people to go to sunlightmtn.com for more details.
The four mountains that make up the Aspen Skiing Company (SkiCo) complex sit at the upper end of the Valley, southeast of Glenwood. Internationally recognized as one of the world’s leading destinations, Aspen usually draws visitors from around the globe, but this year is expected to be different.
As Aspen Communications Manager Liz Rovira said, “We had a great Thanksgiving opening weekend. Although, currently, commercial lodging is limited to 25 percent of capacity, this year more private housing – like Airbnbs – are available.”
In addition, she said, work visas were not available, so no instructors, lift operators or other employees can travel here. Foreign visitors are quite limited, but skiers from Mexico can cross the border.”
Unfortunately she noted, SkiCo had to cut 30 people who were year round staff, “This was the first time that happened in 20 years.”
Several new amenities have been added on Snowmass, she reported, as the new Big Burn Lift is ready to go as a six-pack moving at a faster speed than the previous lift. Two new restaurants have been added. Sam’s, at the top of Sam’s Knob, serves up Italian food while High Alpine offers sit-down service in the former Gwyn’s space.
Aspen is not selling its popular parking pass this year, The pass has allowed holders to park at any fee-based mountain parking area at no additional cost.
Jeff Hanle, Aspen Ski Company vice president of communications, explained that for this unusual year, “Our pass and parking strategy this year is designed to give us a clear picture of demand and capacity as we are likely to have to manage both this season.
Both are designed to guide people towards less busy times and help us manage numbers.
There are a number of alternative ways to reach our mountains that are more efficient financially and environmentally. This includes carpooling, using busses and shuttles, arriving later in the day or skiing at a different mountain that does not charge for parking.”
Both Aspen and Sunlight are home to vigorous children’s programs. The Aspen Valley Ski Club (AVSC) serves approximately 2000 kids ages 3 ½ to 21, and this year has seen a 10 percent increase in participation.
Executive Director Mark Godomsky described AVSC’s pandemic protocol, “We are following all public health procedures such as masks and social distancing.” The club, headquartered at HIghlands, plans to spread out its instruction programs over several of the resort’s mountains, and limit groups to less than 10 attendees.
Sunlight is home to the Buddy Werner Ski Program led by head coach Caroline Rubin which instructs children six to 12 in racing and recreational skiing. Both programs kick off Jan. 9. Rubin is also looking for more people to volunteer on Sundays.
Lynn Merriam, president of the Sunlight Winter Sports Club, is also anticipating an exciting year.