Feds demolish Ashcroft cabin
July 30, 2012
ASPEN – The rustic King Cabin, long the headquarters for Ashcroft Ski Touring south of Aspen, is no more.
What will rise in its place, giving nordic skiers a place to check in, purchase a trails pass and rent gear, remains to be seen. John Wilcox, operator of the scenic cross-country ski area at the head of the Castle Creek Valley, is exploring the possibilities.
“I don’t know. We’re looking at a bunch of different options,” he said. “We’re trying to see what we can do.”
The old King Cabin, also the check-in point for those taking a sleigh ride up to the Pine Creek Cookhouse for lunch or dinner, had escaped its fate with a bulldozer for a half-dozen years, but its most recent reprieve from the U.S. Forest Service expired June 30. The agency allowed the structure to remain in use last winter, but the cabin did not meet code requirements and posed safety concerns.
Late last month, the Forest Service had the building demolished; Wilcox paid for removal of the debris. Also demolished was the quaint, nearby outhouse.
What will take the cabin’s place this winter is uncertain. Wilcox said he’s considering a temporary structure, possibly a yurt, at the site.
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“We’re just trying to figure out whether we’d be better off working in a rectangle or a circle,” he said.
The King Cabin was adjacent to Castle Creek Road, just beyond the ghost town of Ashcroft, on Forest Service land. During the winter, the road is plowed as far as a small parking lot across the road from the former cabin site, about 11 miles up Castle Creek Road from Highway 82. Beyond that point, horse-drawn sleigh rides are offered up the road to the restaurant. Skiers heading out on the groomed cross-country trails used the cabin as a starting point.
A new headquarters for the ski area is but one change in the offing for Ashcroft, where Wilcox won approval last year from Pitkin County to provide overnight accommodations at the ski area. Five new cabins are planned, and two existing cabins that serve as employee housing are to be used as lodging.
County commissioners, however, are requiring off-site housing to replace the converted employee units. They also gave Wilcox until the end of 2013 to construct three previously required, but as yet unbuilt, employee residences.
While the guest cabins would be on private property, everything else at Ashcroft is on Forest Service land that is leased to the privately owned ski-touring and restaurant operation. That arrangement has created a hurdle for financing, according to Wilcox.
Subsidizing worker housing with a business that’s only open about half of the year is also difficult, he said. Additional employee housing was required when a new, larger restaurant was constructed after a fire destroyed the former cookhouse in 2003.
The King Cabin was poised to be replaced in 2007. The new building had been designed, Wilcox had secured Forest Service approval, and logs from Montana were ordered for its construction, but a Forest Service official wanted the building oriented in a different direction, Wilcox said. The project was delayed as a result, the Great Recession hit a year later, financing disappeared, and Wilcox said he lost a hefty deposit on the logs. The supplier went out of business.
Now, with approval for the guest cabins in place, Wilcox said he continues to have conversations with potential investors in the operation. After 26 years in the business with his wife, Juliet, he is ready to step back.
“Certainly, it has been somewhat of a labor of love,” he said.
Business at Ashcroft and the Pine Creek Cookhouse, meanwhile, is up, Wilcox said.
Last winter brought dismal snow conditions to the Aspen area that lingered into early January. Ashcroft couldn’t open for Thanksgiving, and there was little in the way of nordic skiing to be had anywhere until the second week of January.
Nonetheless, revenues are up about 16 percent, according to Wilcox.
“The winter itself, we had hordes of people … because they weren’t going (downhill) skiing,” he said.
The cookhouse, open in winter and summer, has continued to pull in strong numbers this summer, Wilcox said.
“We’re very encouraged by the year we’ve had,” he said.