Krabloonik in the dog house | AspenTimes.com
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Krabloonik in the dog house

Brent Gardner-Smith

Krabloonik could be reaching the end of its leash.

The popular dog-sledding operation and gourmet restaurant in Snowmass Village is struggling financially and is proposing a complex land swap as a long-term solution.

And if the Snowmass Village Town Council frowns upon the proposal, the owner of Krabloonik isn’t sure the operation will keep its doors open and its dogs running.

“Krabloonik is an amenity to the area,” said owner Dan MacEachen. “The town and the neighbors in the Divide recognize that and are searching for a way to help me survive.”

A veteran of seven grueling Iditarod dog-sled races in Alaska, MacEachen has been mushing huskies up the scenic Snowmass Creek Valley since 1974. He bought the operation from the Mace family, which had been running dogs in the Aspen area since 1947. MacEachen opened the wild-game restaurant next to the kennels in 1982.

Today, Krabloonik is home to 250 dogs, employs 80 to 85 people and can claim to be the largest and best sled-dog tour operation in the United States.

Other tourism amenities in Snowmass Village, such as the Gracie’s cabin sleigh ride in Two Creeks, have been forced out by the valley’s astronomical real estate values. And Krabloonik could be next.

For years, MacEachen operated the kennels and restaurant on land leased from the Snowmass Company, one of the original developers of Snowmass Village. Then the Snowmass Land Company, which developed the Divide, Horse Ranch, Two Creeks and The Pines, became his landlord.

Two years ago, the Land Co. wanted to sell the land, which meant Krabloonik’s lease could have been canceled. So MacEachen stepped up and bought the 1.7-acre parcel for $1.4 million, even though it was a stretch for the operation.

“There was no way I could even imagine I could support the mortgage,” said MacEachen. “But I did it so I could have control over my own destiny.”

MacEachen first tried to carve a homesite out of his parcel as a way to bring down his overhead, but the Snowmass Village Town Council discouraged the idea.

“They weren’t willing to help me expedite that,” said MacEachen.

Now, he has developed a new proposal for his operation that sits just below the entrance to the tiny Divide subdivision.

Right at the entrance to the Divide is a town-owned parking lot that functions as a lot for Krabloonik and as a day-skier parking lot for the Campground lift on the western side of the Snowmass Ski Area.

“The Divide would prefer to have the parking somewhere it is not so visible,” said Dave Myler, an Aspen land-use attorney representing Krabloonik.

And the Divide Homeowners Association owns a parcel of open-space land between the existing parking lot and Krabloonik. It’s a bench of land hard to see from anywhere in the neighborhood.

Under the proposal, the Divide would swap land with the town, and the parking lot would be moved closer to Krabloonik.

Then, the Divide would swap the old parking lot site for a piece land in front of the restaurant, which Krabloonik would maintain as open space.

At this point in the deal, the town would have a parking lot, the Divide would have its open space intact, and Dan MacEachen would have almost an acre of land with incredible views to sell as a residential homesite.

The proceeds from the sale of that homesite would pay for the new parking lot and allow Krabloonik to pay down its mortgage.

“We think we have come up with something that is sensible,” said Myler, who stressed that no public money would be going to help Krabloonik.

“Dan is not asking for sympathy here,” Myler said. “He could recover his investment and then walk away from this, but he doesn’t want to.”

On Monday at 2:30 p.m., the three-way land swap will be discussed with the Snowmass Village Town Council in a formal, but non-binding meeting.

MacEachen, who has faced many long, cold nights with his dogs in Alaska, is optimistic about the proposal.

“I have faith in this,” he said.

And while MacEachen wouldn’t say if he would have to close Krabloonik if the proposal is turned down, he did say there were very few other options.

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