Aspen Skiing Co. expects big Burnt Mountain payoff

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado

ASPEN – Aspen Skiing Co. officials estimated before ski season started that opening 230 acres of “sidecountry” skiing on Burnt Mountain could yield $1.32 million in revenue, according to a document filed with the U.S. Forest Service.

David Perry, senior vice president of Skico’s mountain division, testified in a declaration as part of litigation over Burnt Mountain that the backcountry feel and relatively easy access to the new terrain would hold special allure to some skiers and snowboarders.

“Aspen Skiing (Co.) conservatively estimates that 100 incremental guests per day will specifically visit Snowmass to ski the new Burnt Mountain terrain during the 2012-13 ski season,” Perry said in the declaration given in September. “That translates to 12,000 recreation visits over the 120-day period that Aspen Skiing anticipates that the Burnt Mountain terrain will be open for skiing.”

Skico figured it would make about $110 in revenue per skier visit – the cost of a lift ticket and other spending by those customers. At that rate, opening the Burnt Mountain terrain was worth $1.32 million to the company, he testified.

A nonprofit environmental organization called the Ark Initiative attempted in August to get a federal judge to sign an injunction preventing Skico from removing trees on Burnt Mountain. Skico planned “spot” glading in preparation for adding the 230 acres on Burnt Mountain to the skiable terrain at Snowmass ski area.

Skico was aligned with the Forest Service in that court battle. Perry’s declaration in the legal action was meant to show how Skico would lose revenue if it wasn’t allowed to move ahead on the Burnt Mountain plan. Skico and the Forest Service prevailed. The terrain opened this season.

Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle said Thursday that there are no solid numbers at this point showing how many customers skied Snowmass specifically because of the Burnt Mountain Glades.

“From all accounts, it’s been hugely successful,” Hanle said. “It’s a unique experience for a lot of people.”

The comments from customers have been “overwhelmingly positive” about the additional terrain, he said.

Skiers and snowboarders must undertake a short, uphill hike from the Elk Camp section of Snowmass to access the Burnt Mountain terrain. Once they go through a gate, they are treated to skiing that snakes through aspen and conifer trees on gently rolling terrain spotted with numerous short, steeper pitches. Several open, natural parks can be connected by skiing through trees that are typically spaced pretty far apart until the egress trail back to the ski area. That is a narrow route through tight trees.

Backcountry skiers loved Burnt Mountain because few people ventured onto it before Skico marked the boundaries and designated the egress back to the regular slopes. Skico wanted to add the terrain, which is within the Snowmass permit boundary, to offer a different type of terrain for its customers.

“For some people it’s equivalent to getting up into Highland Bowl,” Hanle said. Highland Bowl is steep terrain that appeals to expert skiers and snowboarders. Burnt Mountain is significantly tamer terrain, but it still offers that sense of getting out of the groomed and regular inbounds trails of a ski area, Hanle said. It’s more of a backcountry experience that intermediate skiers can handle.

Hanle said no marketing material specifically targeted the Burnt Mountain Glades, but the terrain was featured in information about what was new this season. It also was showcased in early-season press tours.

“We had several stories on it in publications,” Hanle said.

The latest skirmish regarding Burnt Mountain is over Skico’s plan to remove trees to widen the egress route from the glades to Long Shot, a trail that leads to the base chairlift at Two Creeks. The Forest Service is reviewing Skico’s proposal. Public comment was taken until Monday. The Ark Initiative filed comments in opposition to the egress route. As part of its extensive comments, it filed Perry’s declaration where he discussed the potential revenue of opening the Burnt Mountain Glades.

Hanle said part of the appeal of the Burnt Mountain Glades is the isolated feel. Many Snowmass customers don’t want to venture into the sidecountry, he said.

“Even if there’s an egress trail, it’s going to have limited appeal,” Hanle said.

Backcountry skiers are concerned that opening the terrain would lead to too much use that would ruin the experience.