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Ski season extended at some resorts despite average snow

Snowmaking operations and colder than normal temperatures are helping some resorts extend the season.

ASPEN, Colo. — It hasn’t been a huge snow season in the Colorado mountains, with most locations coming in with average numbers -- but that isn’t stopping Aspen Mountain from extending the ski season.

The resort announced they will run the lifts through April 24, which means one extra week of spring skiing. 

Aspen has reported 173 inches of snow so far this season. It looks like they might end up coming up a little short of their historic average, which, according to a spokesperson, is 300 inches by the end of the season.

But March is typically one of their bigger months, and they’ve already got 31 inches in the first 14 days, including 7 inches on Sunday.

“And it was cold," said Jeff Hanle, Vice President of Communications at Aspen Snowmass. "I mean, it was really cold for March. We were kind of surprised. So that really set us up to make it an extra week.”

Credit: Arapahoe Basin, Ian Zinner

He said colder-than-normal temperatures have been persistent since the beginning of January, and that appears to be preserving the snowpack well.

Hanle also credits Aspen Mountain's new snowmaking operation that now goes all the way to the higher parts of the mountain. 

"That's meant to be our safeguard against a warming climate," Hanle said. "While not many places could make snow in that very warm November that we had, we were able to start making snow higher up where the temperatures were colder."

He said this was only the second season with new snowmaking lines. They were able to lay down a solid base that he said kept the natural snow in place once it did start falling.

It is possible that there will still be low snowpack at the Aspen Mountain base area in late April, but they have a gondola that can carry skiers straight to the higher parts of the mountain if need be. 

Snowmass, Buttermilk, and Aspen Highlands closing dates will remain unchanged. Hanle said they only have the staff to keep one of the four mountains open an extra week, and they chose Aspen Mountain.

He said they have been short-staffed all season due to an affordable housing issue that's plagued all mountain businesses, but they know they will also lose some of their seasonal employees that have commitments elsewhere after the original closing date.

The resort plans to use some employees that would normally work desk jobs to double down and run ski lifts, park cars and bus tables. 

"We actually started doing that back in 2008 during the last recession and we've kept that program going because it improves employee relations," he said. "When they see Mike Kaplan, the CEO of Aspen Skiing Company, out there loading a ski lift, they have a lot of respect for that."

Aspen isn't the only resort to make an extension this season. Vail Mountain will be keeping the lifts running through May 1. They said that will be the longest continuous ski season in Vail history. 

A press release from Vail Resorts also credited expanded early season snowmaking operations with the ability to extend the season. 

Those closing dates are still early compared to ski areas like Arapahoe Basin and Loveland, which have higher base areas, more late season snow, and no obligation to hotel bookings. Those resorts are famous for staying open until Memorial Day weekend and beyond.

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