Future is now for Ashcroft Ski Touring
Ashcroft Ski Touring has offered one of the more unique skiing experiences in the country throughout its 43 years of existence. Now the rustic cross-country ski area in upper Castle Creek Valley is ready to mature and branch out.
Ashcroft added an arrival center worthy of its world-class setting, and it’s ready to offer a wider array of summer experiences in 2015, including mountain biking on most of its 35-kilometer trail network, according to owner John Wilcox.
The next stage in Ashcroft’s maturation will be adding seven overnight guest cabins on five acres near the renowned Pine Creek Cookhouse. There is no specific timetable for adding the cabins, but Wilcox is excited about the prospect.
“You ski to the cabins, you don’t drive to them,” said Wilcox, who has owned Ashcroft Ski Touring for 28 years. “It’s a totally unique experience.”
Ashcroft Ski Touring will open for the season Saturday. A full-day ski or snowshoe pass is $25. A half-day pass after 12:30 p.m. is $15. Ski lessons also can be arranged.
The 1,800-square-foot arrival center, named the Ashcroft Adventure Lodge, will let the ski area boost its game without altering the character.
“It’s going to be a whole new visitor experience,” Wilcox said.
The new center was erected in the same spot where the King Cabin was located. The cabin, built in the 1950s, had an outhouse and no electricity. The building was used when the television show “Sergeant Preston of the Yukon” was filmed at Ashcroft when Stuart and Isabel Mace had a dog-sled operation there. The cabin was used as the headquarters for the Canadian Mounties during the airing of the show from 1955 through 1958, according to Wilcox. The cabin was used as center of operations once the cross-country touring center opened in 1971.
The new center is a log structure that was handcrafted in Montrose and serves as a complement to the Pine Creek Cookhouse. They were both built by Frontier Log Homes.
The cookhouse, renowned for its dining experience, was built after an older structure caught fire after a gas explosion in April 2003. The new cookhouse was erected and opened for business just eight months later. Frontier Log Homes custom-built both structures at its yard in Montrose, then numbered and disassembled the logs, hauled them to Ashcroft, 11.5 miles southwest of Aspen, and assembled them.
Cross-country skiers and snowshoers will check in at the center to buy a pass to the 35-kilometer trail network and rent equipment. The horse-drawn sleigh rides for lunch and dinner at the cookhouse also will launch from the center. Visitors will be able to buy a hot drink and warm themselves beside a fire.
In the summer, the building will be a hub for the expanded activities. Ashcroft worked with Aspen Center for Environmental Studies to offer guided nature hikes in years past and it dabbled with angling guides. Ashcroft will take over the fish guiding service itself on 5 miles of Castle Creek and adjacent ponds. The nature hikes by ACES will be heavily promoted. The parking lot for the arrival center also is the obvious welcome area for travelers headed to the Ashcroft ghost town, a popular tourist destination across Castle Creek Road from the touring center.
“For the summer for the first time, this will operate as a guide center,” Wilcox said. “We see it as a multi-purpose building.”
Ashcroft also will offer something new in summer 2015.
“We’ll definitely do mountain bikes,” he said. “Basically the Forest (Service) says we can use any of our winter trails except River Run. It’s wet down there.”
Wilcox owns his buildings but almost all the land in the operation is leased from the U.S. Forest Service. Ashcroft’s setting in the White River National Forest, surrounded by some of the highest mountains in the Elk Range, makes it unique. Skiers and other users are winding through aspen forests one minute and popping into alpine meadows the next.
“People say, ‘Who owns this?’ I say, ‘You do,’” Wilcox said. He considers himself the caretaker on the federal lands he leases.
The new activities and facilities will help Ashcroft build off its recent successes. Overall revenue was up 20 percent November 2013 through October 2014.
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