The new $12.9 million Elk Camp restaurant opens for business at the Snowmass ski area on Thanksgiving Day. Located next to the terminus of the Elk Camp gondola, the new restaurant replaces Cafe Suzanne and extends the Aspen Skiing Co.'s master plan for the east side of the Snowmass ski area.
"Completing Elk Camp is part of our 10-year, $30 million master plan for our company restaurants," said Dave Corbin, vice president of planning and development for Skico. "We started this process three years ago with the replacement of the Sam's Knob restaurant, continued it two years ago with the major remodel of the Merry Go Round restaurant at Highlands, and then proceeded last summer and this summer with the construction of Elk Camp."
The Snowmass ski area is Skico's largest mountain with more than 3,000 acres of skiing (including more than 200 new acres on Burnt Mountain this season), and it accounts for more than half of the company's annual skier days at its four mountains.
"Mountain circulation is important for us, at the base, middle and top of the mountain," explained Corbin, "and restaurants are an important component of that circulation. Restaurants are guest service places for us."
Soon, they might be thought of as entertainment centers too.
The new Elk Camp restaurant is more than just a restaurant. Since the 1990s, Skico has envisioned and planned for expansion on the east side of the mountain. The Elk Camp Gondola was the first major piece of that expansion, followed by new biking trails in the summer and the relocation of the beginner skiing facilities.
Now, a campus of buildings is being created around the terminus of the gondola. A new gondola building housing the base of operations for beginner skiing has been constructed, along with a new water treatment plant.
But the heart of the campus is the new restaurant.
Skico constructed Elk Camp Restaurant over an 11-month period covering two summer seasons. Hyder Construction was the main contractor, and the building is expected to attain a LEED gold rating for its energy efficiency.
Elk Camp is spread over 17,480 square feet. The old Cafe Suzanne sat across the ski slope from the new building, and there is no sign that it ever existed. In deconstructing Cafe Suzanne, Skico diverted 75 percent of the building's materials from the landfill.
Timbers were repurposed. They gave away the glass. The kitchen equipment went to the Veteran's Administration. Tables and chairs were transferred up to the outdoor deck of Gynn's. And all of the concrete was ground up and used as clean fill in the construction of the new restaurant.
Mark Vogele is construction manager for Skico and managed the project. Last week, he took a break in his seven-day work week to show us around the new restaurant. He began on the deck outside the front door, pointing out two large
"whales" of snow piled high by the snowmaking guns.
"This will be a beautiful lawn in summer, and with this incredible location we expect to attract weddings in the summer," Vogele said.
He then pointed out the features of the large outside deck area.
"The deck seats 100, up to 150," explained Vogele. "There will be 'servery' lines and grilled food and a fire pit. Since this deck is right next to the gondola, you can come up, eat, hang out, and shop at the retail store even if you aren't skiing."
Inside the new Elk Camp "entertainment center," you will find a bar to the right with views of High Alpine and Elk Camp. The top floor has a 250-seat dining room and the food area that the company calls the "servery" with four food stations.
Since the company wants each of its restaurants to be unique, the menu at Elk Camp is different than what you find at Sam's Knob or one of the other Snowmass mountain restaurants. There is a large salad bar in the center of the "servery" that has been copied after the one at Whole Foods. All of the food at the new restaurant is as locally sourced as possible. There are soups and baked goods with bread baked on the spot. There is a rotisserie station for grilled vegetable plates, rotisserie chicken, pulled pork and more. And there is also a
pizza oven and a panini station.
The large dining room has a 43-foot tall roof at its highest point. The wood ceiling has been constructed from planked walnut pieces, which have been "curfed" or bended to match the undulating roof line. A hidden, 12-foot, high-definition screen can be lowered above diners at one end of the room for viewing sports and special events or for a corporate presentation.
A mural by artist David Muller runs the length of one wall, incorporating a winter mountain scene with the favorite albums of Skico workers. No. 1 on the list: "Joshua Tree" by U2, followed by "Dark Side of the Moon" by Pink Floyd.
Downstairs, a 100-seat dining room for the kid's ski school has been created under an Elk Camp "tent." The Forest Service is planning a winter educational kiosk next to the kid's dining area.
On Friday nights, beginning Dec. 28, Elk Camp will be open into the evening, offering a range of outdoor activities for kids such as sledding and a large Viking ship constructed from snow and ice, in addition to dining. Elk Camp is available for special events and the food and beverage staff has already been busy booking them. First event: the annual fundraiser for the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club on Dec. 1.
Next summer, the entertainment center at Elk Camp continues with weddings, banquets and corporate events planned along with increased biking, frisbee golf and other activities.