New pipe lift, maybe lights at Buttermilk? |

New pipe lift, maybe lights at Buttermilk?

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
Janet Urquhart The Aspen Times

ASPEN – A lift to serve the superpipe and lower jumps at Buttermilk and perhaps lighting to allow use of the features into the early evening are elements of Aspen Skiing Co.’s vision for the ski area’s future.

The company this week submitted a long-anticipated Buttermilk master plan amendment to the Pitkin County Community Development Office, initiating a review of proposals that also include the installation of nordic jumps on the Tiehack side of the mountain and a surface lift to serve them, a new Children’s Center at the base of the ski area, a new day lodge and the remodeling of Bumps Restaurant.

The goal, according to the application, is not to increase skier capacity on the mountain but to improve the skier experience by replacing worn-out and deficient facilities and developing a more efficient pedestrian experience for visitors. The parking, arrival area and outdoor guest areas all could use a makeover, the application reads.

Buttermilk is the smallest of Skico’s four mountains but has a high profile: It has been home to ESPN’s Winter X Games for 11 straight years.

The current master plan for Buttermilk was adopted in 1986. Minor amendments have been approved since then, but a major update, submitted in 1999, was tabled and subsequently withdrawn. It envisioned a more intensive redevelopment of the base area, with residential, commercial and lodging uses, along with transportation improvements, that are not part of the latest application.

The more modest improvements now proposed keep within the ski company’s property at the base – an area that doesn’t include the overflow parking lot nearest to Owl Creek Road, for example, or the Inn at Aspen.

“I think people tend to perceive of the whole front of Buttermilk as being associated with us. We actually have a fairly narrow sliver of property,” said David Corbin, Skico vice president of planning and development.

While many of the proposals focus on the base area, on-mountain improvements that have already received U.S. Forest Service approval are also part of the application.

An expanded snowmaking system to cover more of the upper reaches of the mountain is proposed along with on-mountain storage ponds. The system won’t change the rate at which water is drawn from Maroon Creek but will expand the coverage area from 119 acres to nearly 222 acres, according to the application.

On the Tiehack side, a nordic-jump venue would be accommodated on the lower slopes of the Racer’s Edge and Javelin trails. Three permanent jump structures – 65 meters, 38 meters and 15 meters – are outlined, along with two seasonal, beginner jumps of 5 and 10 meters, to be constructed entirely of snow. A 540-foot “platter pull” surface lift would serve the ski jumps.

The Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club initiated consideration of the jumping venue several years ago, and Skico included it in the plan merely as a placeholder. It’s up to the club to build a nordic jumping program and finance construction of the jumps, Corbin said.

“We left it in the plan to keep the option open if the county approves it,” he said.

On Main Buttermilk, the proposed Park and Pipe Lift would provide about a three-minute ride to serve the expert runs of Lower Government, Spruce and Spruce Face, as well as the superpipe. It will reduce the conflicts between advanced skiers and riders and the beginners who flock to the easier sections of the terrain park, located higher on the mountain, according to Skico. Currently, all of the terrain park is accessed only via the Summit Express ride from the base to the top.

The type of lift that would be installed there hasn’t been decided, according to Corbin. It could be a surface lift or chairlift, he said.

“There’s obviously such a huge interest in those park and pipe features at the bottom of the hill. This would allow people to lap those features,” Corbin said.

The capacity of the new lift will be 600 people per hour, according to the application. Both the lift and the terrain it serves could be used into the early evening with the addition of lights, which are proposed in the application, though Skico has no specific lighting plan in mind, according to Corbin.

“We included the idea because I think it’s something kids could do in the afternoon in the depths of the winter,” he said.

In the past, the superpipe has only been lighted during Winter X Games.

Other on-mountain operational facilities are also envisioned, but the previously contemplated replacement of the existing mountaintop restaurant, the Cliffhouse, is not proposed.

At the base, the temporary Powder Pandas structure would be replaced with a permanent, 7,377-square-foot Children’s Center that will incorporate lunch-room facilities currently rented at the nearby Inn at Aspen.

The “green building” currently located between Bumps and Powder Pandas will be replaced with an 8,690-square-foot skier-services building that is about 2,000 square feet larger than the existing green structure. Operations currently in the Bumps building – the ticket office, lockers, public restrooms and retail space – will move to the new building. The Skico human-resources staff offices that are now in the green building will relocate to the company’s headquarters the Aspen Business Center.

The new buildings will be single-story structures, less than 28 feet in height, except for a “gateway tower” element, the application indicates.

Bumps will be remodeled to improve the efficiency of the kitchen and dining operations and expanded by 2,282 square feet, according to the application.

The application also outlines future plans to expand summer use of Buttermilk, from about June 20 through Sept. 30. It opens the door to lift-served hiking and mountain biking, activities at the Cliffhouse, children’s day-care and summer-camp activities, horseback trail rides, special events, concerts and competitions.

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