ASPEN HIGHLANDS’ WORST POWDER DAY EVER
by Todd Hartley
I guess I believe in global warming. I mean, I don’t want to, but in the face of what is basically indisputable evidence, I kind of have to. Still, I’ve always clung to the hope that maybe the planet has just been in a cyclical warm spell for the past two decades. Perhaps, I thought, if we just had a really cold winter or two, the ice caps and glaciers would grow, the pine beetles would die, and the whole global-warming thing would prove to be a false alarm along the lines of Y2K.
In light of recent events, however, I’m forced to admit that global warming is all too real.
What cemented the idea in my mind? Skiing at Aspen Highlands a few days ago. Before that, I didn’t realize just how bad things had gotten. After seeing the chaos that 9 inches of heavy spring snow can unleash, however, I’m terrified about Earth’s future.
For those of you who didn’t try to ski Tuesday, let me describe what happened: The day started off full of promise. Sunday and Monday, I’m told, were two of the best days of the season, with great snow and few people on the hill to ski it. It snowed all day Monday and well into Monday night, so there was no reason to suspect that Tuesday would be any less awesome.
I woke up early Tuesday morning and checked the snow report: 9 inches over the previous 24 hours and nearly 3 feet in the previous week. I finished up some work I had to do, dropped my son off at the bus stop and got ready for what I assumed would be an epic day on the slopes.
I called a friend of mine who lives in Aspen, and he asked if I could pick him up. Being overly generous by nature, I agreed and drove up to get him. My friend climbed in the car, and we set off for Highlands shortly after 9 o’clock.
Before we got within two miles of the base, though, it was clear to us that something had gone horribly wrong. There was a line of cars stretching all the way back past Aspen Middle School and a bunch of cars heading the other way, having obviously been turned away from the full parking lot. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who’d been lured by the promise of free parking.
With no other recourse, we turned around and headed to Buttermilk to park there, but we found ourselves perplexed and more than a little irate at how many cars there were. It seemed impossible that so many people could be in Aspen in the middle of April.
Upon arriving at the Buttermilk parking lot, we learned the truth of the matter. Vail had closed the week before, and drawn by the promise of free parking and a powder day, everyone in the Eagle Valley decided to road trip to our neck of the woods. I envisioned them sending out a Facebook alert telling everyone to get to Highlands at 7 in the morning just to stick it to us Aspen locals.
I knew the recession was bad, but I had no idea how bad. Evidently, no one in central Colorado has a job because they were all at Highlands on Tuesday, when they should have been working.
Within minutes, the line waiting for the shuttle bus at Buttermilk was more than 100 people deep. Things were so bad that Aspen Skiing Co. CEO Mike Kaplan himself was standing there assuring people that more buses were on the way. And you could tell he hadn’t intended to be there because he was already in his ski boots, missing out on first tracks just like the rest of us.
Anyway, after enduring what can best be described as the clusterest f— of all time, my friend and I finally made it to the slopes, where we learned the punch line for the joke the day had become: In most places, all that snow, far from being fresh powder, was so heavy and sticky that it was quite literally dangerous — at least for a couple of old farts with balky knees.
We skied a few good runs on the shady side of the mountain, where the snow was a little better, but I’m still in shock at how 9 inches of snow led to such pandemonium. I guess that’s just one of the perils of climate change, eh?
Todd Hartley can’t imagine Aspen locals doing something similar at Vail.