Crown family’s $8 million land buy guarantees Skico’s Aspen Mountain access
Nearly 163 acres of prime backcountry skiing terrain on Aspen Mountain’s backside has been reserved for customers of Aspen Skiing Co. thanks to a more than $8 million real estate deal inked in early March.
Not only will skiers and snowboarders who sign up for Skico’s Powder Tours be able to access in perpetuity a large portion of the backside and Richmond Ridge in winter, they could one day come back in summer for guided hiking, mountain biking and camping on the property, according to Pitkin County documents and sources.
In addition, the purchase by the Crown family — Skico’s owners — and at least one partner also comes with the right to develop a second cabin on Richmond Ridge near a 250-square-foot “Lunch Cabin” already on the property, according to documents filed in the Pitkin County Clerk’s Office.
“The Crown family, together with others … made the purchase to help ensure that the back side of Aspen remains used generally in a manner consistent with historic use, which includes ASC’s use,” said Rana Dershowitz, Skico’s chief legal officer and senior vice president of real estate, in an email to The Aspen Times earlier this month.
“I can also confirm that ASC’s goal has been to protect its Powder Tours operations for the long term,” she said.
A longtime Aspen resident said one of the Crowns’ partners in the deal is Sam Walton, an heir to the family who started Walmart and who owns a home in Aspen. The resident, who asked for anonymity, is acquainted with Walton and said Walton confirmed his involvement.
Efforts to reach Walton were not successful. Walton and another family member recently received permission to build 4.5 miles of publicly accessible trails on 221 acres they own in Coal Basin northwest of Redstone.
Dershowitz — listed as the “authorized signatory” of the company that bought the property from John Miller and Castle Creek Investors — did not respond to a question about whom else purchased the property with the Crowns.
Jim Crown, Skico’s managing partner, also declined to comment on the purchase Wednesday. Miller said he did not know who purchased the property, though he said he heard the Crowns were involved.
The company formed by the Crowns and Walton — called AM Summit 105 — paid $8.15 million March 5 for three groupings of mining claims that encompass a total of 162.79 acres on Aspen Mountain’s back side and along Richmond Hill Road, according to documents filed in the county Clerk’s Office.
Of that total acreage, 109.4 acres are sterilized from development and deed restricted as conservation sites, according to a Castle Creek Investors brochure listing the properties for sale. In other words, the development rights granted by Pitkin County’s Rural and Remote backcountry zoning rules that were associated with those mining claims have been transferred off, the brochure states.
The property — located between Midnight Mine Road and Richmond Ridge Road with Little Annie Road running through the middle — is “critical to any skiing operation or use,” CCI’s brochure says.
The remaining 53.39 acres — known as the “Summit Parcel” — is located about 1.5 miles south of the top of Aspen Mountain along Richmond Ridge Road. It contains the 250-square-foot Lunch Cabin where Skico’s Aspen Powder Tours stop in winter to provide a hot meal for clients, according to the county documents. The entire nearly 163 acres was originally listed for sale in the CCI brochure for $10 million.
Pitkin County commissioners previously granted permission to the owners of the Summit Parcel to build a new residential cabin on one of the included mining claims, according to documents filed at the Clerk’s Office and the brochure. That cabin cannot be larger than 730 square feet unless the Lunch Cabin is removed.
If the Lunch Cabin is removed, the new residential cabin can be 1,000 square feet, the maximum footprint allowed under Rural and Remote. Commissioners also could grant permission for a larger residential cabin footprint without removing the Lunch Cabin under the county’s special review process, according to the documents.
The day after AM Summit bought the property, it granted an easement to Skico that allows use of the property for the winter and summer recreational activities spelled out in the easement.
In winter, Skico’s customers can ski, snowboard and engage “in other snow-sliding activities … including a guided skiing service and a Nordic skiing trail system,” according to the easement. Skico snowmobiles and snowcats will have unlimited access to the terrain.
Dershowitz said the easement allows the ski company “to continue operations of Powder Tours on the property in a manner consistent with past practice.”
Summer activities on the property can include guided mountain biking, guided hiking, “nature walks” and camping, according to the easement.
“The easement we received also allows for certain limited summer activities such as … guided mountain biking, however, ASC does not have any current plans to start summer activities on these lands,” Dershowitz said in the email. “Beyond (protecting the Powder Tours), there is no intent by the owners to undertake changes at this time.”
None of the land purchased by the Crowns and Walton in March is part of Skico’s proposed master plan for Aspen Mountain, which is currently under consideration by Pitkin County commissioners.
Some in Aspen have voiced concerns that the purchase is an effort to corral snowmobiles and keep them off certain areas of Aspen Mountain’s backside. While the principals involved in the purchase declined to comment, Miller made no bones about his opinion of snowmobile activity back there.
A portion of those who snowmobile on Aspen Mountain’s backside don’t respect private property and destroy backcountry powder fields for skiing, he said.
“Some of the snowmobilers have been very rude,” Miller said. “They go chop up the snow … (and) it cuts it up for powder skiing and ruins it.”