Aspen Skiing Co. revives dream of making Snowmass Ski Area a powerhouse | AspenTimes.com

Aspen Skiing Co. revives dream of making Snowmass Ski Area a powerhouse

Snowmass Base Village at the bottom of Fanny Hill is only about one-third completed. Aspen Skiing Co. is part of a joint venture that anticipates buying the property on Thursday. Skico says that will jumpstart development.

Aspen Skiing Co.'s vision of building Snowmass Ski Area into a bigger powerhouse in the ski industry is expected to get back on track Thursday.

Skico and two partners anticipate they will complete a multimillion dollar deal to purchase the undeveloped property at Snowmass Base Village as well as the commercial space and Viceroy Hotel.

Skico formed a joint venture with East West Partners and an affiliate of KSL Capital Partners LLC in September to pursue the acquisition. Andy Gunion, a representative of East West Partners, said Monday night the deal is expected to close Thursday.

If successful, construction will resume at the dormant project in the spring. East West Partners will oversee the day-to-day operations.

First up on the to-do list is construction of Skico's Limelight Hotel, according to an announcement the joint venture made this fall. The town of Snowmass Village has already granted approvals for 102 rooms and 15 residences.

Keeping up with the Joneses

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Skico had a vision as far back as 1999 of building up the bed base at Snowmass to boost the skier visits. The vision was waylaid by the decision to sell the property to the Related Cos. in 2007 and the Great Recession. Only about one third of the development approved at Base Village has been constructed.

The joint venture that Skico is part of is buying the property back from a subsidiary of Related Cos.

Jim Crown, the Skico managing partner for the Chicago family that wholly owns Aspen Skiing Co., told The Aspen Times in a 2004 interview that Skico was on "a trajectory to be a less competitive ski company" if it didn't make changes.

The ski industry is still growing, he said at the time, but competitors of Snowmass were absorbing the growth.

"It's not coming here. It's going to Beaver Creek. It's going to Whistler Blackcomb," Crown said in 2004. "It's going to the places that are more accommodating to families. It's going to places with more fully developed base villages that can handle the non-skiing spouse, the shopping, the ease of getting out of your car and staying on foot for several days. It's going to the places that are new and user-friendly."

The competition is now greater than ever with Vail Resorts' acquisition of a majority stake in Whistler Blackcomb this fall. Skico officials declined Tuesday to talk about the impending sale. Crown couldn't be reached for comment Monday or Tuesday after messages were left at his Chicago office.

Skico stuck at 1.4 Million visits

Skico consistently racks up about 1.4 million skier visits per season at its four ski areas — Snowmass, Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk.

Snowmass accounts for between 700,000 and 800,000 per season, in recent winters. Its strongest season in the past two decades was 19 years ago, with 884,066 skier visits in 1997-98.

Skico started plowing funds into on-mountain improvements at Snowmass before the recession hit and it kept it up through the downturn. It's invested about $100 million in on-mountain improvements in a dozen or so years. It spent $6 million this year on the remodel of Gwyn's High Alpine Restaurant.

It's also awaiting approvals from the U.S. Forest Service to vastly increase its summer amenities at Snowmass.

Now Skico is hoping to capitalize on its investment by working with partners to complete Base Village.

scondon@aspentimes.com

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