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Beginning of the end for ski season

Chad Abraham
Mark Fox/Aspen TimesThe closing-day party at Aspen Highlands.
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ASPEN – After a bluebird day with fresh powder, the lifts at Buttermilk and Aspen Highlands went silent Sunday.The closing days at the family ski area and the locals’ mecca could hardly have been more different. Some 32,000 Corona beer bottles were expected to be quaffed at Highlands, a bartender said.Things were quieter at Buttermilk. A few minutes before 3:30 p.m., when the last lift of the season rose up lower Tiehack, lift worker Juan Francisco Rubio and two colleagues were busy putting the finishing touches on their craft for the Cardboard Downhill. The race, part of Buttermilk’s employee ski day, was set to run starting at 10 a.m. Monday.Just after 3:30, Melissa Torcivia, another lift worker, called up to the upper lift shack with the number of the last chair of the season holding a person.Lift supervisor Joey Woltemath of Carbondale occupied Chairlift No. 21. After 12 years at Snowmass, this winter was her first at Buttermilk.”We’re all glad it’s over; we had a really great year,” she said. “When we have snow, it makes our job a lot easier.”Buttermilk closed with 5 inches of fresh powder atop a 48-inch midmountain base.The ski area, while in the shadow of its three sister resorts, “is making a move,” Woltemath said. “Our skier days have gone up this year.”And the annual ESPN X Games “puts us on the map,” she said. “You see a lot more families coming out here and it’s great to see the kids. Today, we didn’t think we’d be as busy as we are, and it’s all families.”

After her lift ride, Rubio pressed a red button to stop the lift, and the machinery inside the lift tower rumbled to a stop. Silence engulfed Tiehack as an orange mesh strap that said “Lane Closed” was strung near the lift’s entrance.A skier descending through the slush soon broke the silence. Taking off his boots in the parking lot, Billy Shank of Carbondale said he normally skis Aspen Highlands on closing day. But the party has grown too large, he said.”It’s gotten to be such a zoo. Looking from atop (Tiehack), it looked like it was crawling with ants,” he said.Over in the ticket office at Buttermilk’s main base area, Pat Otte and Marsha Breudlinger were busy stocking away supplies for next winter.”We’ve been busy, customerwise. It’s been very constant,” Breudlinger said.She said she had mixed emotions about closing day.”Not seeing our foreign students makes you feel really sad,” she said. “As far as quitting working, we’re all happy about that. Same way you’d be.”At Highlands, hundreds and hundreds of patrons kept bartenders in a frantic state, forgoing individual bottles of beer for six-packs, pitchers and shots.Around 5 p.m., bartender Gaston Figueroa of Corrientes, Argentina, said Iguana’s had sold about 500 cases of beer.Highland Bowl seemingly had about as many people. Atop the bowl earlier in the day, a man in a lizard leotard passed around champagne.Around 5:15 p.m., ski patrol set off explosives on the ridge above the base area to mark the final day.Dogs peed on skis on the hill just above the bar, and the colorful crowd cheered the first ski patroller who skied down, his fists thrusted triumphantly in the air.Vail, Colorado


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