Forest Service grants approval of Skico projects at Snowmass |

Forest Service grants approval of Skico projects at Snowmass

Wildlife center can be replaced or remodeled, Elk Camp restaurant deck can be expanded

Skiers gather outside the Wapiti Wildlife Center and warming hut Tuesday afternoon near the top of the Elk Camp chairlift at Snowmass Resort. The Aspen Skiing Co. recently got approval to replace or remodel the structure, which also includes a ski patrol office. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

The U.S. Forest Service granted Aspen Skiing Co. approval Monday to eventually replace or remodel the wildlife center and ski patrol headquarters at the top of Snowmass Ski Resort’s Elk Camp chairlift.

White River National Forest supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams also granted Skico approval to add a significantly larger deck to the Elk Camp Restaurant, which is located at the top of the gondola.

The projects were given what the Forest Service calls a “categorical exclusion,” which means they are routine activities that don’t require the agency to perform an environmental assessment or more detailed environmental impact statement.

The timing of construction is up in the air. Skico is still working out details of the wildlife center and patrol HQ and won’t pursue the project this summer, according to Jeff Hanle, vice president of communications.

It hasn’t been determined if the structure will be demolished and replaced or remodeled, he said Tuesday, so no cost estimate was available. The separate Elk Camp Restaurant deck requires approval from the town of Snowmass Village, which potentially could be sought to pursue the project this year, Hanle said.

The Forest Service decision memo gives Skico discretion to demolish and replace the existing building or remodel it. The wildlife center and patrol hut are under the same roof.

A skier walks into the Wapiti Wildlife Center and warming hut Tuesday near the top of the Elk Camp chair at Snowmass Resort. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

The project is needed to “provide a better and more efficient working area for patrol personnel, a more enjoyable guest experience, improve the building’s energy efficiency and enhance the overall aesthetic appearance of these structures,” the decision said.

The new or remodeled structure can increase in size by up to 10%, the Forest Service ruled. The building can also have an enlarged deck of up to 2,000 square feet.

The Wapiti Wildlife Center is open to the public every day during the ski season. It features displays that have information on the animals living in the mountains around Aspen and Snowmass.

Naturalist educational information hangs on the wall in the Wapiti Wildlife Center and warming hut off the Elk Camp Chair on Snowmass Resort. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Visitors can also confer with a naturalist from Aspen Center for Environmental Studies at the site. The center is also the base for ski tours led by naturalists from ACES. The tours are a partnership between ACES, Skico and the Forest Service.

At the Elk Camp Restaurant, the Forest Service will allow the addition of up to 2,500 square feet on the deck to accommodate up to 100 more diners. It will be added to the southern and southeastern side of Elk Camp, offering views up the hill.

“There is a need for the deck expansion improvement at the Elk Camp Restaurant because a seating deficiency has been identified in the approved 2015 Master Development Plan at this location,” the decision memo said.

Skico will have its hands full this year. The company aims to undertake a $23 million makeover of the base of Buttermilk. It has applied for a permit to construct a new, 9,300-square-foot skier services building that would include a ticket office, rentals, bathrooms, ski school and a large lobby. The Bumps Restaurant building would also be remodeled.

Skico will also work on the first phase of the Pandora’s expansion on Aspen Mountain. Trails will be cleared for future ski trails and a lift line this summer.

Birds eat out of the feeder Tuesday on the porch of the Wapiti Wildlife Center and warming hut near the top of the Elk Camp lift at Snowmass. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

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