SNOWMASS - The Elk Camp Restaurant at Snowmass Ski Area won't be just another burger joint when it opens in November. In fact, burgers won't even be on the menu.Aspen Skiing Co. is going more upscale with its $13 million investment. As envisioned now, Skico's newest eatery will feature rotisserie items such as roasted chicken and other meats and vegetables, fresh pastas, soups, salads, specialty sandwiches, pizzas and, of course, signature desserts.This is the second summer of construction at the restaurant. Work was put on hold last ski season, and crews were back early this spring. The restaurant will be completed in time for the opening of the 2012-13 season, said Rich Burkley, Skico vice president of mountain operations.The new restaurant is 14,769 square feet. It replaces the 17,500-square-foot Cafe Suzanne. While the new eatery is smaller, it's also designed better, with nearly all operations on one floor. It will have seating for 250 in the main dining room, 150 on an outdoor deck, 25 at the bar and 90 tucked away in a special place for kids in ski school.Cafe Suzanne was leased out. Skico will operate the new Elk Camp Restaurant itself, continuing a trend that started roughly 15 years ago. Skico wants more direct control of the operations and also wants to capture more of the visitors' vacation spending. In the distant past, under the command of DRC Brown, Skico considered itself strictly in the skiing business. It concentrated on getting its customers uphill and providing them with safe routes down. Now, like virtually all other ski-area operators, Skico is vertically integrating - immersing itself in lodging, ski-equipment rentals and food. The direction isn't just fiscally driven, Burkley said. Skico aims to boost the guest experience in every way possible."We try to hit on every metric," he said.Only two mountain restaurants remain independently operated - High Alpine at Snowmass and Bonnie's Restaurant at Aspen Mountain. "They stay independent as long as they want to do it," Burkley said.On-mountain restaurants have become increasingly important for ski-area operators. Just as ski areas completed replacing old chairlifts with high-speed models over the past 25 years, they are now replacing lots of old, worn-out restaurants with grand, new structures. And with the hefty investments comes a more important role for restaurants. "They've moved beyond 'nice to have' to 'absolutely critical,'" Burkley said.The dining experience has changed, as well. Instead of every place relying on burgers, dogs and fries, there's a variety of food. The Elk Camp Restaurant's fare "alludes to northern Italian cuisine," Skico marketing materials state. The menu is meant to convey "fresh, healthy authenticity."The new restaurant, with a modern design rather than the national-park look frequently favored by the U.S. Forest Service, will be a focal point for Snowmass' operations, particularly in summers. Skico has switched all its summer activities to the Elk Camp section of the mountain. The restaurant will be designed to host lunch and evening special events.The structure is located immediately adjacent to the Elk Camp Gondola and a short distance from the base station of the Elk Camp lift. The view is oriented easterly, toward Burnt Mountain.Cafe Suzanne was flattened after the ski season, and much of the material was reused or recycled, Burkley said. The new restaurant was designed to achieve a LEED Gold certification, signifying the highest environmental firstname.lastname@example.org
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