Base Village and S’mass: What the future holds
Base Village promises to radically change the Snowmass experience for visitors, locals and the workers who will have to keep the place humming.From skiing to dining to nightlife, to parking and day-to-day living, Snowmass will undergo the most significant change in its look and feel since its inception 37 seasons ago – if the electorate approves Base Village on Feb. 3.The Aspen Times talked to people who live, work or play in Snowmass now – as well as those familiar with the Base Village plan – to attempt to give a snapshot of today’s experience compared to what it may be like in Snowmass’ future.Today we’ll take a look at the experience of the destination visitor and the Aspen local. Tomorrow we’ll look at how Base Village would affect Snowmass locals and downvalley commuters.The destination visitorCurrently the Snowmass Village mall is the focal point of most destination visitors’ experience. A visiting family from, say, Chicago, takes a shuttle from the airport to a West Village hotel or condo, or parks a rental car in one of the numbered lots, and has ski-in, ski-out access to Fanny Hill. Those staying at the Snowmass Club or Timbers take private shuttles to the mall, while guests at Wood Road properties can ski down to Fanny Hill or Assay Hill. The mall is the place to rent equipment, drop kids off at ski school and pick up lift tickets.In the future, Base Village would be the new hub for guests staying in its 600-plus hotel rooms and condominiums. Guests who drive in will park in the underground garage, and most will have just a short walk – anywhere from 50 to 400 feet – to one of two lifts coming out of the base: a six-person Snowmass Express chair to the top of Sam’s Knob or an eight-person gondola to the base of Elk Camp.The current three-chair, half hour lift ride to the top of the Big Burn would be cut almost in half. With the new lift system, skiers can expect a 17-minute trip on the new Snowmass Express and Big Burn chairs, according to Bill Kane, Aspen Skiing Co. vice president of planning. In comparison, it’s about a 15-minute ride up Aspen’s gondola.Base Village would change little for guests on the mall during the ski day. But at the end of the day, they’ll have access to 11 more restaurants and bars, creating more après-ski and nightlife opportunities. A total of 30 new retail spaces are planned for the base.”Destination guests will have more choices and they really like that, and returning guests will have new experiences to try,” said Skico Senior Vice President David Perry.Perry, who has been involved with new Intrawest villages in Whistler, British Columbia, and Mount Tremblant, Quebec, among others, added that new ski villages have brought “a sense of renewal and a more positive feeling in general around the place. It freshens it up, and people feel it.”Some worry, however, that Base Village will disrupt the peaceful family experience many Snowmass visitors seek.”People are very happy with the ski experience here,” said Mary Harris, who manages the slopeside Snowmass Mountain Chalet. “What guests really like about Snowmass is the peace and quiet, and that will change, for good or bad. There will be a lot more activity and a lot more people on the mountain. “There definitely is a group that wants more,” she continued, “but then there’s the families and extended families that like the quiet. That’s what some guests are concerned about: that we will we lose our quaintness.”And with a shiny new village below Fanny Hill, some are worried that the critical first impression of Snowmass will change for the worse. “It’s going to change the way the place feels. Snowmass is unique among ski resorts in that you have this fabulous view as you drive up the access road,” said Jeff Tippett of Citizens for Responsible Growth, the main group opposing Base Village. A random survey of Snowmass tourists throughout January, conducted by the Snowmass Sun, found that about half would like to see more restaurants and shops in a concentrated area. Roughly half said they like Snowmass just the way it is, and many mentioned a gondola would add to the experience.The Aspen skierFor most Aspenites, good skiing and ease of transportation is all that really matters. Many Aspenites won’t even go to Snowmass because of the perceived time it takes to maneuver around the mountain or the parking hassle.Even those who take the free skier shuttle and know the mountain well admit the experience could be better.”The two low things are having to walk through the mall and the congestion of getting up the hill,” said Aspen resident Mari Peyton, an avid skier who heads to Snowmass on powder days. “If you get there between 10 and 10:30 you’re going up the same lift with everyone in ski school and it’s all clogged up.”Some avid powder skiers lament the loss of slow lifts, which tourists, who want to move quickly around the mountain, rarely use. But even Base Village opponents admit the lift plan will generally improve the ski experience.Bus passengers from Aspen would have the choice of getting off at the mall or the below-grade Base Village transit center. If they choose the latter, they’ll ascend 30 feet of escalators (similar to the ones at Aspen Highlands), then walk 650 feet to the Snowmass Express chair or 450 feet to the gondola. The distance between the two ends of the mall is about 900 feet.Day skiers who drive in now have the choice of parking free in the Rodeo lot and taking the shuttle to the mall, or paying $10 to park in Lot A.In the future, they’ll pay about $20 to park in one of 200 spaces designated for day skiers in the underground parking garage. The Rodeo lot will continue to be an option, although the free Village Shuttle buses will make a stop at the Base Village transit center.Another marked difference, Kane said, is that the transit center will have locker rooms, restrooms and food carts to get a quick bagel or coffee – things that are currently lacking, or at least hard to find, on the mall.For the Aspenite, “Right now it’s a pure mountain experience; you go in and ski and then fight for the exits at the end of the day,” said Kane.Some Aspen locals are hesitant about what a more attractive ski experience will mean for them.Now, “Snowmass is more of a pleasure, more of a leisure experience” than Aspen Mountain, said Peyton, who added that she’ll have to change her whole powder day strategy if the new base goes in.
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