Aspen Skiing Co. unveils vision for Snowmass ski area |

Aspen Skiing Co. unveils vision for Snowmass ski area

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Aspen Skiing Co.’s updated Snowmass Master Development Plan was accepted this week by the White River National Forest. All proposed projects will be reviewed by the U.S. Forest Service
Courtesy image |

Aspen Skiing Co. wants to tweak winter operations at Snowmass to broaden its appeal to skiers and snowboarders and it aims to add significant facilities to lure summer business.

Skico outlined its vision for the future in an updated Snowmass Master Development Plan. The White River National Forest formally accepted the plan this week. However, new projects that weren’t previously approved by the agency must still go through review via the National Environmental Policy Act. Projects that were approved in 1994 but haven’t been implemented in the past 21 years will “likely” go through additional environmental review, according to Aspen-Sopris District Ranger Karen Schroyer.

The town of Snowmass Village and Pitkin County also will review portions of the project.

A cornerstone of the winter improvements includes building a previously approved chairlift on Burnt Mountain and adding more terrain on the eastern flank of the ski area, which currently has a backcountry feel.

One new proposal in the plan for winter is building on-mountain huts that would have a similar feel to the popular Tenth Mountain and Braun system backcountry huts, according to the master plan.

In the summer, Skico will seek approval for an alpine coaster — a gravity-fed system that whisks riders through the forest. It also wants approval for a zip line/canopy tour, climbing wall, challenge course and more mountain-bike trails, the plan said.

Winter plan

Skico’s Snowmass Master Development Plan said it wants to enhance visitor opportunities without making the ski area crowded or taking away from the natural environment.

“This (plan) seeks to proactively address future trends in winter recreation at Snowmass over the next 10 to 15 years,” the plan said. “Understanding that guest’s preferences are constantly changing, this (plan) will address those trends in proactive and creative ways.”

Skico aims to “enhance the upper-mountain terrain access and user flow” by adding to and modifying the existing lifts and trails, according to the plan.

One new use is the proposed construction of three on-mountain huts. They would be “simple structures” that sleep 10 to 20 people.

“These huts are intended to offer guests during winter and summer months, who may not have the proper equipment or sufficient stamina to use the backcountry hut systems, a similar on-mountain, overnight experience,” the plan said.

Potential locations for the three huts are the Dikes, a forested area between the Slider and Turkey Trot trails, and the Elk Camp Saddle between Sandy Park and Hanging Valley Wall, the plan proposed. The concept of the huts as well as specific locations will be subject to review.

Other new proposals for winter operations include:

Updates to the Big Burn and Coney Glade chairlifts, which were first-generation detachable quad lifts. They would remain in existing alignments.

Expansion of restaurants and other facilities. Skico proposes expanding Sam’s Smokehouse by 3,000 to 5,000 square feet and potentially adding reservations for table service.

Skico wants to remodel and refurbish the High Alpine Restaurant, and redo the Lynn Britt Cabin and Spider Sabich Picnic area and race arena, which are on private land.

Burnt Mountain lift retained

The master plan retains lift and terrain projects on Burnt Mountain that were approved in 1994. Skico wants to eventually add chairlift service to the top of Burnt Mountain from the slopes of Two Creeks, the plan said. Skiers and snowboarders must currently hike to the terrain.

Skico is contemplating a chairlift with a 2,733-foot elevation gain with the capability to haul 1,800 skiers per hour, the plan said. No date was proposed for installation.

About 30 acres of new terrain would be added off the lift, between the existing Long Shot trail and the upper Elk Camp area. Another 100 acres of terrain would be gladed.

“The hike to developed trail Long Shot would become a lift-served intermediate trail,” the plan said. “The gladed areas of Split Tree, A-Line and Rio would become lift-served but would remain glades.”

Skico’s expansion onto Burnt Mountain has faced fierce opposition in the past. Backcountry skiers have feared Skico would ruin the feel of the area by installing a chairlift.

Skico is proposing an intermediate step before adding the Burnt Mountain chairlift. It proposed the Naked Man surface lift would go from the top of the Elk Camp lift to the top of Burnt Mountain, following a route similar to what is currently hiked. The lift, which was previously approved, would be removed once the Burnt Mountain chair is installed.

Summer plan

Skico said in the master plan that it wants to add facilities to capitalize on surging summer growth in business.

“Summer recreation is fast becoming an opportunity for tourism growth in mountain resort communities across the country,” Skico’s plan said. “Snowmass and the Aspen/Snowmass area are experiencing more demand as a major summer destination for guests than in the past.

“Since the introduction of on-mountain summer activities in the Elk Camp area five years ago, Snowmass is rapidly experiencing increased use by summer guests,” the plan said.

Leading Skico’s summer wish list is an alpine coaster on the Elk Camp side of the mountain, between Elk Camp Meadows beginners’ area and Sandy Park.

“The gravity-driven coaster will use bobsled-like cars on tubular rail tracks,” the plan said. It will include an uphill track that will allow towing the rider to the top. It could be used both summer and winter.

The first-ever alpine coaster was approved in the White River National Forest at Vail Mountain. It is under construction. The Forest Service said it would consider the appropriateness of the rides on a case-by-case basis.

Other components of the summer plan are:

A zip line/canopy tour where users would be clipped into a harness and zip pulleys on heavy-duty steel cables. They would glide from one elevated platform to another, usually beneath the tree canopy.

A climbing wall is contemplated adjacent to Elk Camp Restaurant, which is the current hub of summer activity at Snowmass.

A challenge course with obstacles that requires team-building to maneuver.

Twenty miles of additional mountain biking trails in the Elk Camp and Alpine Springs areas.