New Sheer Bliss lift, Sam’s Knob restaurant debut at Snowmass | AspenTimes.com
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New Sheer Bliss lift, Sam’s Knob restaurant debut at Snowmass

Paul Conrad Aspen Times Weekly
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SNOWMASS ” The Aspen Skiing Co. is essentially adding terrain at Snowmass Ski Area without opening any new trails for the 2008-09 season.

The magical maneuver ” making something from nothing ” is possible by the addition of another high-speed detachable quad chairlift. The old Sheer Bliss chair is being replaced this fall by a crew from Poma of North America.

Rich Burkley, the Skico’s general manager of mountain operations, said the lift replacement will draw more skiers to an underused part of the mountain. Sheer Bliss serves the east side of the Big Burn, which is immensely popular with intermediate skiers because of its rolling, well-groomed trails. It also attracts high intermediates and experts with excellent glade skiing.

Most skiers and riders prefer the Big Burn high-speed quad over the old Sheer Bliss double chair, so traffic was concentrated more on the west side of the Big Burn. Burkley believes the speed and the alignment of the new Sheer Bliss lift will draw more skiers and riders to the east.

The old Sheer Bliss lift was a creaky double chair that lasted 16 minutes and tended to lull riders asleep. The ride could be pleasant on a sun-drenched day, but torture in a howling snowstorm. Ridership was so low that the Skico only fired it up on weekends and other busy days.

The new $7 million lift will cut the ride to nine minutes, and its new alignment will add to its popularity. “That’s the key ” you can ski the whole Burn from this lift,” said Snowmass Mountain Manager Steve Sewell.

The bottom terminal will be slightly downhill and east from the old terminal, and the lift will unload slightly higher than the old chair, making it possible to ski rather than hike to the Cirque surface lift as well as the Up 4 Pizza restaurant.

The Big Burn has felt less crowded the last couple of seasons after the addition of the Elk Camp Gondola, which whisks riders from the main base in Snowmass Village to the bottom of Elk Camp, a popular pod on the far eastern edge of the mountain. Before the gondola, many customers started on the Big Burn and moved east as the day went on. The addition of the gondola altered the traffic pattern; at least half the skiers and riders started at Elk Camp and worked their way west.

With a capacity of 2,000 passengers per hour, the Sheer Bliss quad should again pull more skiers and riders to the western side of the mountain to start their day.

Expert skiers will also benefit from the new chair because double-diamond Gowdy’s and AMF will be more accessible. Skiers will be able to traverse to Gowdy’s with a little skating, Sewell said. AMF will still require a short hike.

The lift will be ready when the season starts on Thanksgiving.

The Skico’s other big investment this season is a $9 million restaurant at Sam’s Knob, on the far-western side of Snowmass. The old restaurant atop the Knob was demolished after the 2004-05 season, but a glitch in the U.S. Forest Service approval process delayed construction. The federal agency ruled that the original design didn’t blend well enough with the surrounding national forest and forced a redesign.

The new design features a toned-down exterior but still features outstanding views of Mount Daly and Garrett’s Peak from a west-facing, floor-to-ceiling glass wall. The restaurant will offer sit-down dining with waiter service, and will seat 170 with an outside deck. The entire operation, including bathrooms, fits on one floor, so guests won’t have to climb stairs in ski boots.

Contractor R.A. Nelson and its subcontractors are cranking to have the restaurant finished and opened by mid-December.

All told, the Skico is making $35 million of improvements at its four ski areas this offseason. The additions at Snowmass are the most eye-catching. Burkley said the other projects include:

– Clearing trees on 18 acres of previously closed terrain in the Deep Temerity glades at Aspen Highlands. Between 20 and 25 percent of the trees were removed to make the glades negotiable, Burkley said. The terrain for the new Canopy Cruiser trail will be rated double-black diamond, steeper than nearby Hyde Park but not as steep as most Steeplechase terrain.

– Rebuilding the Silver Queen Gondola deck at Aspen Mountain to create one level. After climbing the stairs from the gondola plaza, skiers will find the entire area east, west and north of the gondola will be on the same level, thus expanding the lift-loading area.

– Replacing the half-pipe at Buttermilk with a state-of-the art 22-foot, Olympic-sized half-pipe.

The ski season is Nov. 27 to April 12 at Aspen Mountain and Snowmass and Dec. 13 to April 5 at Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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