Aspen Skiing Co. CEO Kaplan revisits decision to sell Base Village land |

Aspen Skiing Co. CEO Kaplan revisits decision to sell Base Village land

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Aspen Skiing Co. President and CEO Mike Kaplan was the headliner at a community meeting Thursday to give Snowmass Village residents and visitors a glimpse into big issues such as Base Village development.
Scott Condon/The Aspen Times |

If Aspen Skiing Co. would have tried to develop lucrative property at the base of Snowmass Ski Area itself, then more of Base Village would likely be completed now, according to Skico President and CEO Mike Kaplan.

But the base-area work would have forced the company to phase in on-mountain improvements over a longer time, Kaplan told a crowd of more than 200 Snowmass Village residents, workers and interested parties at a community briefing Thursday.

Officials from Skico and the Snowmass Tourism office hosted the first ever briefing, dubbed “Upload for the Download,” at Elk Camp Restaurant. After about 90 minutes of presentations, Kaplan and other Skico officials mingled with attendees for drinks and appetizers on the deck.

Kaplan wasted no time diving into the issue that’s dominated Snowmass politics and economics since 1999. He recounted that Skico purchased about 500 acres at the base in 1999, then took a hard look at how to proceed in 2000. Skico decided the following year to team with Intrawest Corp. rather than try to develop itself, largely because it didn’t possess the expertise at the time, Kaplan said.

Intrawest soon landed in financial difficulties for reasons unrelated to Base Village, according to Kaplan. Pat Smith of Related WestPac was persistent about taking over as developer, he said. Skico felt the move was safe since there was a master plan and land-use approvals in place.

Kaplan said his senior staff will attest to the fact that he always second guesses if Skico made the right call on how to proceed. Related ran into problems during the recession and the project remains largely unbuilt and mired in uncertainty.

“Woulda, shoulda, coulda” is a tough call, he acknowledged.

He said Skico “checked all the boxes” on what was needed for on-mountain improvements, but Base Village fell short.

The multimillion dollar ski-related improvements include the Treehouse, a children’s facility that remains the industry standard, Kaplan said. The Elk Camp Gondola was built and other chairlifts were upgraded. Elk Camp Restaurant was constructed and, as a final step, Gwyn’s High Alpine Restaurant is being remodeled this summer.

“We will have totally transformed the on-mountain experience here,” Kaplan said.

Now Skico is focused on summer amenities, such as mountain-bike trails and an alpine coaster, that constitute a “burgeoning world-class experience.”

Kaplan assured the crowd that Skico remains intent on building a Limelight Hotel at the base of the gondola. “We are doing everything we can” to bring the hotel out of the ground starting in spring 2017, he said.

The company has been unwilling to purchase the property, known as Lot 2, until several outstanding issues are resolved, including the plans for surrounding development, Kaplan said.

“Completion of Base Village is as important, maybe more important, than it was in 2000,” Kaplan said.