Base Village plan includes future of S’mass Ski Area

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Times Staff Writer

When the Base Village application was submitted to the town of Snowmass Village, it took five big notebooks full of drawings and reports to detail the project.

But there was also a sixth notebook. It contains the Snowmass Mountain Master Plan Amendment, which details the lift, trail and on-mountain program improvements the Aspen Skiing Co. hopes to make over the next several years at the Snowmass Ski Area.

“Access, distribution, modernization, nights, summers and beginners,” said Bill Kane, the Skico’s vice president of planning and development, when asked what the key themes are in the plan.

The access will come from two new lifts out of the proposed Base Village. The distribution comes from getting skiers to either side of the ski area on those two lifts.

The modernization comes from actions such as taking out old lifts such as Burlingame, Wood Run, Funnel and Naked Lady. And night use, summer use and beginners will all be accommodated at the base of Elk Camp, planners say, in a new area called “Elk Camp Meadows,” served by a new gondola from Base Village.

Kane said the two new lifts – a high-speed quad to Sam’s Knob and the gondola to Elk Camp – will address the current morning bottleneck at the Fanny Hill lift.

Almost everyone at Snowmass, including hundreds of kids in ski school, start their day at the Fanny Hill lift, which has a capacity of 2,400 skiers per hour.

But the Skico hopes to install the Sam’s Knob lift during the summer of 2004 and the gondola to Elk Camp in 2005 to ease the problem.

“Fanny Hill has been overtaxed as a major access lift in the morning,” Kane said. “And this plan is geared toward getting really high capacity out of the base area in the morning so you don’t have those significant lines in the morning.”

And Kane believes that both Sam’s Knob and Elk Camp, which are on either side of the sprawling ski area, will also prove to be strategic secondary distribution points.

From the top of the Knob, skiers will be able to go down Campground, make laps on the Knob, head down to the Big Burn lift, or make the long traverse to Alpine Springs. The lift will also have a midway unloading point near the top of the existing Burlingame lift to let people get off and head to the gentle terrain below that point.

From Elk Camp, skiers will be able to go up the Elk Camp lift, traverse over to Alpine Springs, or someday, head over to the new Burnt Mountain lift, which will serve close to 600 acres of mostly intermediate terrain similar to the Big Burn.

A new lift to Sam’s Knob will require some big changes to the area. The knob itself would be lowered by 16 feet, which will require moving 16,000 cubic yards of dirt.

The trail leading off the Knob toward the Burn will be widened from 70 feet to 150 feet, and the grade will be reduced from 22 percent to 15 percent. In addition, a new 60-foot-wide trail will be added to provide easier egress off the Knob toward Max Park.

The existing Sam’s Knob lift will be moved to adjust for the change in elevation, and a staircase will be built up to the the existing restaurant.

And the top terminal of the Campground lift will be taken off the Knob, and the lift will stop farther down the hill on the Campground trail. Skiers coming up out of the Campground area will need to unload and then ride the existing Sam’s Knob lift to reach the restaurant.

On the other side of the mountain, the Elk Camp gondola will spur the creation of the Elk Camp Meadows area. The gondola will rise out of Base Village, take a turn to the right at the bottom of Funnel and then terminate across the flat from Cafe Suzanne.

The gondola will provide access to a new beginner’s area on either side of the existing Turkey Trot trail, which brings skiers back to Cafe Suzanne from the west side of Elk Camp and the Wall area.

That trail, which today is about 70 feet wide, will be widened to 180 feet. On the skier’s right side of the trail, a medium-speed detachable lift will be installed for beginners. On the skier’s left of the trail, a 500-foot-long surface lift will be built for never-evers.

“In addition to the tree clearing, earthwork will take place in much of this area to level the terrain undulations and provide suitable slope conditions for beginners,” the plan states.

The midmountain beginner’s area will provide for better snow and will give beginners a sense of being “on the mountain” on their first day, the Skico says. In addition, it will allow for the development of the current Fanny Hill beginners’ area, where 10 luxury cabins are proposed.

The Skico is not outlining detailed improvements at this time for either Cafe Suzanne or the Sam’s Knob restaurants, although it recognizes the Knob restaurant needs restroom and sewer system improvements, as well as remodeling, and that the Cafe Suzanne restaurant may be expanded in the future.

One new edition in the Elk Camp area is a cabin to be built overlooking Rayburn’s Pond, which is a short stroll from the top of the proposed gondola.

This cabin will have three purposes: to provide lunch to kids in the new beginner park, to serve as a warming hut for nighttime activities proposed in the area, which include ice skating on the pond, and “table service dining” during daytime and evenings.

The gondola provides the Skico with the opportunity for both night use and summer use in the Elk Camp area, as it will serve as an elevator from the village.

And the Skico is proposing an extensive network of summer biking, hiking and horse trails in the upper Elk Camp area, as well as summer chair lift rides on the existing Elk Camp quad.

In fact, the Skico views the Elk Camp area as something of its own version of Vail’s Adventure Ridge, albeit with a more environmental bent.

“We are working on a bunch of ideas for Elk Camp, to put together a package of opportunities, including nature walks, snowshoe tours, overnight camping trips and classes with the Anderson Ranch [Arts Center],” said Kane.

And the plan states, “these activities are intended to expand in creative ways, and onto other areas of the mountain as trends, needs and opportunities change.”

[Brent Gardner-Smith’s e-mail address is]