Caretakers help Skico feel little bit more secure |

Caretakers help Skico feel little bit more secure

The Aspen Skiing Co. wants to make sure its new multimillion dollar Sundeck doesn’t suffer the same fate as the Two Elks luxury lodge and restaurant at Vail Mountain.

The new Sundeck, which will be built this summer on Aspen Mountain, will include two studio apartments for caretakers and workers at the restaurant, according to final plans unveiled this week. Skico employees will live on the site year-round.

The decision to include the apartments wasn’t driven by the arson incident on Vail Mountain this fall, according to Bill Kane, Skico vice president of building and design. But that act of environmental terrorism reinforced the idea that mountain facilities need a watchful eye, he said.

Arsonists torched five buildings and four chairlifts on Vail Mountain on Oct. 18. The majority of the estimated $12 million in damage was suffered by the destruction of the 550-seat Two Elks Lodge on the upper mountain.

A group called the Earth Liberation Front claimed responsibility

for the attack. A “communiqu” issued by the group said the arson was in protest to Vail’s planned expansion into possible lynx habitat. Vail, the largest ski resort in North America, has earned approvals to expand by 885 acres.

Like Two Elks Lodge, the Sundeck is located on the secluded upper reaches of a ski area, away from the activity of town. The Skico is going to replace the existing 12,000-square-foot facility with a 21,600-square-foot lodge. It will include a 210-seat cafeteria, an 85-seat public dining room, and a 100-seat private restaurant.

Two studio apartments will be included in the basement for caretakers who can react to problems with the mechanical guts of the building and keep their eyes out for problems at the secluded site, said Skico Senior Vice President John Norton.

“Part of it is security, part of it is just providing housing wherever we can,” said Norton. “I don’t think any of us consider it security from environmental terrorism.”

Instead, Norton said, there are much more realistic threats – such as lightning strikes, vandalism and theft. It isn’t unusual for people to be at the top of the mountain after the gondola stops operating, particularly during the summer.

The Skico is more concerned about someone breaking in and stealing a meat slicer or something else than they are about eco-terrorism, said Norton.

He noted that an electrical fire broke out at about 6:30 a.m. one day earlier this season at the Sundeck. Fortunately it was during the 24 Hours of Aspen endurance race while there was a lot of activity so the fire was immediately discovered and extinguished.

If it had occurred during a quieter time, Norton figured the on-site caretaker would have discovered it.

Caretakers have lived at the Sundeck and other Skico mountain facilities for years – long before the Vail Mountain arson. Places like Ruthie’s at Aspen Mountain and the Ullrhof at Snowmass Ski Area have also housed caretakers for years.

However, some Skico officials have indicated a special effort will be made now to make sure those units are always occupied, even when caretakers go on vacations during off-seasons.

Kane noted that the planning for the Sundeck, and its apartments, started two years ago. The on-site apartments are a good idea, regardless of the Vail incident, he said.

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