Ashcroft Ski Touring preps for its 49th season |

Ashcroft Ski Touring preps for its 49th season

Unique cross-country ski area provides great option in pandemic winter

The pandemic might have brought a bit of silver lining for Ashcroft Ski Touring last season.

Just as people flocked to the closed ski areas to skin up and ski down the slopes, recreation-starved hordes also headed 12 miles up Castle Creek Road to visit the cross-country ski area. The Wilcox family, operators of Ashcroft Ski Touring and owners of Pine Creek Cookhouse, kept grooming a handful of slopes throughout the spring even though they weren’t charging a fee anymore and weren’t officially open.

Gracious skiers responded big time.

Ashcroft is tailor made for social distancing in the great outdoors. Classic and skate skiers can cruise along Castle Creek or in the naked aspen groves on the west side of the valley. Wherever they ski, they can soak in the sights of soaring peaks that surround the upper valley.

Johnny Wilcox, who is in the third winter of overseeing the operation after taking over for his dad, John, said last spring’s desire to get outdoors probably boosted Ashcroft Ski Touring’s exposure. The opportunity attracted some people who had not visited there before and rekindled the interest of others who had not visited in a while.

He expects that exposure to lead to more visits this winter — the 49th anniversary of Ashcroft Ski Touring, which opened in 1971.

Aspen and Snowmass offer outstanding cross-country trails at their golf courses and on numerous other pockets of land scattered throughout the upper valley. Ashcroft is unique because of its rolling topography and the surrounding terrain. Skiers can stop, take a breath and look up to prominent peaks in every direction.

Plus, Wilcox noted, there are no crowds. The skiers who are present are easily dispersed on the trail network. He suspects some skiers avoiding the lift-served slopes might check out Ashcroft as an alternative.

“There are no lift lines here,” he said.

The 35-kilometers of cross-country ski trails are open every day until early April. There are trails for skiers of every level.

“We groom pretty much every trail almost every day,” Wilcox said.

Visitors park at the old ghost town of Ashcroft and walk a short distance to the recently rebuilt King Cabin to buy a ticket and, if necessary, rent gear. Private lessons are offered. Special snowshoe routes are offered for non-skiers, but they must stay off groomed trails.

A full-day pass is $25. A half-day pass is sold after 12:30 p.m. for $15. A five-day punch pass is $100 and a season pass for unlimited access is $300.

The popular cookhouse had to cut its season short last spring and faces the same capacity limits on indoor seating as other restaurants. Outdoor dining will be offered when practical, Wilcox said.

“It’s unfortunate but we’re making the best of it,” he said of the capacity limits. “I think people will enjoy getting back to the old-school cookhouse.”

A new chef, David Intonato, will carry on the cookhouse’s reputation for culinary excellence, Wilcox said.

Pine Creek Cookhouse will open for lunch and dinner Thursday and it will be open seven days a week until Jan. 3. After that, it will be open Wednesday through Sunday. Reservations are required at 970-925-1044.

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