ASPEN - A new yurt is in place to serve as headquarters for Ashcroft Ski Touring this winter. Now, all the private cross-country ski area needs is snow, just like the rest of the nordic trails in and around Aspen and Snowmass Village.
The Aspen Cross-Country Center, incidentally, is open for business with limited staff at the Aspen Golf Club. The cross-country center at the Snowmass Club golf course was to open this weekend, but the opening will be delayed a week because there is not yet nordic skiing at either golf course - or anywhere else.
For the second straight season, lack of early-season snow has stymied cross-country enthusiasts.
At Ashcroft, the yurt replaces the old King Cabin, which had been the check-in point for skiers and those taking sleigh rides up to the Pine Creek Cookhouse for lunch or dinner.
"We're trying to figure out where to put the ski racks. It's a yurt - it's round," said Ashcroft Ski Touring owner John Wilcox.
Given the early date of Thanksgiving this year, the cookhouse did not open for that holiday. Its opening is scheduled for Dec. 14, depending on snow conditions, Wilcox said.
The yurt, considered a temporary structure at Ashcroft, boasts new ramps that make it accessible to the handicapped, and the horse-drawn sleigh rides to the cookhouse will be easier for patrons to access, according to Wilcox.
The King Cabin was torn down last summer; the Forest Service required its removal because the building did not meet code requirements and posed safety concerns. It's among a number of small cabins that have been demolished or removed at Ashcroft. The ski-touring business operates largely on public land.
The Sunnegga cabin, meanwhile, will see use again this winter as a warming hut for Ashcroft cross-country skiers. It also sits on Forest Service land, and Pitkin County previously had been ordered to remove it after the land it sits on was traded to the federal agency.
Wilcox said he hoped to acquire the cabin, which was originally a gift shop at nearby Toklat, a one-time dog-sledding operation and lodge run by Stuart and Isabel Mace.
The Sunnegga will be put in proper repair for use this winter as a warming hut, though its future is unclear.
"We thought that it would become Ashcroft's," Wilcox said. "We're discouraged that we weren't able to acquire it, but we're excited we're going to be able to use it."
He said the cabin is in the Forest Service's possession.
Meanwhile, Wilcox said he continues to seek a buyer for Ashcroft Ski Touring and the cookhouse after winning approval from the county last year to provide overnight accommodations at the ski area. Five new cabins are planned, and two existing cabins that serve as employee housing are to be used as lodging.
County commissioners, however, are requiring off-site housing to replace the converted employee units. They also gave Wilcox until the end of 2013 to construct three previously required, but as yet unbuilt, employee residences.
Wilcox said he continues to talk with entities interested in the property and, in an update to county commissioners, indicated he has sought financing for his development plans. Loans are difficult to secure for an operation that exists in part through a permit with the Forest Service, he said.
The development approval, however, has made the property "a little more attractive" to prospective buyers, Wilcox said.
"It needs a very special person to take it over. I'm going to stick around until I find that person," he said.