Forest Service gives blessing for Ashcroft ski area changes |

Forest Service gives blessing for Ashcroft ski area changes

Brent Gardner-Smith

The Ashcroft cross-country ski area and its Pine Creek Cookhouse restaurant are poised to enter a new era.

After conducting an environmental assessment, the U.S. Forest Service issued a decision on Monday that allows a new cookhouse building, a new maintenance facility, two new caretaker units and a new ski rental cabin at the gateway to the cross-country trail network.

All of the existing buildings on the site are to be removed and replaced with the newly approved structures. The 18.5-mile trail network is to stay the same, save for the addition of a more permanent bridge.

“Ashcroft is an important recreation area to the White River National Forest, and the improvements will only enhance recreation in the area,” said Forest Supervisor Martha Ketelle.

The public has 45 days to appeal the decision, beginning Friday.

The 600-acre ski area and the rustic restaurant are located just beyond the historic ghost town of Ashcroft 12 miles from Aspen.

The Ashcroft ski area master plan was approved in 1998 by Pitkin County pending the Forest Service’s decision. The county will review the federal decision on Jan. 10.

“I have looked forward to this day for a long time,” said John Wilcox, who has owned the Ashcroft ski area and the Pine Creek Cookhouse since 1986. “It’s been a long process.”

The Forest Service did not approve proposed employee housing on its land because of a federal policy against it. Wilcox plans to build a dorm that will sleep eight employees on a five-acre parcel of private land that he owns next to the cookhouse.

With approvals now mostly in hand, Wilcox is planning on taking down the old and putting up the new in the summer of 2001.

The current cookhouse, a one-story wooden building, is 1,452 square feet and seats 60 for lunch or dinner. The new 4,500-square-foot restaurant building will have room for 75 seats, 15 to 20 of which will be in a private dining room. The building can also have a full basement.

A new 1,500-square-foot caretaker’s house will replace what is now called the Old School House, and the small A-frame buildings on the hill above the restaurant may also be taken down.

Also coming down is the existing maintenance barn. That is to be replaced by a new 2,000-square-foot facility located near the Toklat gallery and parking area. It’s expected to be built mostly into the hillside. Two caretaker units were approved for the top of the building. One of the caretaker units will be for an employee of the Ashcroft Historical Townsite.

The existing King Cabin, where skiers get equipment before heading out on the cross-country trails, can now expand from a 1,280-square-foot building to 1,500 square feet and will have flush toilets.

All the new buildings will comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Given all the changes coming to Ashcroft, Wilcox is well aware that people view the cookhouse as a community amenity.

“All my friends tell me `Don’t screw it up,'” said Wilcox. “My mandate is that it has to be fun and cozy and atmospheric, the way it has been.”

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