Ashcroft Ski Touring, Pine Creek Cookhouse open for the winter | AspenTimes.com

Ashcroft Ski Touring, Pine Creek Cookhouse open for the winter

Last winter left little doubt that Ashcroft Ski Touring and the Pine Creek Cookhouse had bounced back from the recession.

"We had our best winter ever," said John Wilcox, who has operated the cross-country ski-touring area and restaurant for 29 years. "This year is looking even better.

"We have seen, like everybody in town, a recovery," Wilcox said.

Early bookings are strong for around Christmas and New Year, he said, and the corporate bookings are strong throughout the season.

The cross-country trails and cookhouse opened for the winter Friday. The ski area has 35 kilometers of trails spread over 600 acres surrounding the ghost town of Ashcroft. About half of the skiable terrain is open, Wilcox estimated. The ski-touring center is 12 miles southwest of Aspen at an elevation of 9,500 feet at the head of Castle Creek Valley, so the snow is consistently good. The views from the trails are spectacular.

Wilcox made a move last year to make sure the facilities match the world-class setting. Ashcroft opened an arrival center made of handcrafted logs. The style complements the cookhouse, built in 2003.

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Ashcroft Ski Touring had relied on the King Cabin as its welcome and rental center since Stuart and Isabel Mace started the operation in 1971. It had no running water or electricity and relied on propane heat and an outhouse. Wilcox purchased the operation in 1986.

The new arrival center has all the amenities and is more welcoming, both for skiers coming to get set up and for dinner guests waiting for a horse-drawn sleigh to take them to the cookhouse.

People who visited Ashcroft for the first time last winter were impressed and regular customers' "jaws dropped," Wilcox said. He believes the new center was among the factors for increased business last winter.

"After all these years, it was great to get it accomplished," Wilcox said. It adds to Ashcroft's unique experience and its history of having people ski, snowshoe or take the sleigh to dinner.

Wilcox said another important ingredient for his operation is the number of employees who return each winter. Among them are the horses that pull the sleigh.

"They are getting in shape," Wilcox said. "They come up about a week ahead of time and practice with empty sleighs." The horses spend the summer in Old Snowmass.

The cookhouse offers dinner Wednesdays through Sundays at 6:30 p.m. Reservations are required. The cookhouse is open every day of the week for lunch. Reservations are recommended for lunch.

The ski area charges $25 for a full-day trail pass and $15 for a half-day pass after 12:30 p.m. A five-day punch pass is $75 and a season pass is $350. There are rates for seniors, children and families as well as lessons and equipment rental. Aspen Center for Environmental Studies offers snowshoe tours.

Information on the cookhouse and ski touring is available at http://pinecreekcookhouse.com.

scondon@aspentimes.com

SUNLIGHT OPENS FOR PREVIEW

Sunlight Mountain Resort outside of Glenwood Springs opened early for a preview this weekend.

Sunlight planned to open Dec. 11, but decided to open early after more than two feet of natural snow fell in November. The ski area will be open through this weekend, then it will be closed Dec. 7-10. It will reopen for the season Dec. 11.

Lift tickets are $50 this weekend with skiing on nearly 300 acres of terrain. Sunlight is celebrating its 49th anniversary.

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