Nordic ski center in Snowmass will not reopen this winter, Ute Mountaineer says

Snowmass Cross Country Center instructor Patty Lecht glides along the track during a lesson on the golf course in Snowmass on Friday, January 3, 2020. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

The Snowmass Cross Country Center will not reopen its doors this winter for Nordic ski rentals or lessons, Ute Mountaineer staff confirmed Thursday.

The decision to close the center, which the Ute has operated out of the Snowmass Club’s golf pro shop in the Black Saddle Bar and Grille building for roughly 18 years, is a result of the Snowmass center’s continued struggle with staffing and low profitability, and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, according to Paul Perley, general manager of Ute Mountaineer in Aspen.

“We started talking about not reopening the center this summer but hadn’t finalized anything until recently. We’ve been hesitant to do it,” Perley said, emphasizing that the decision wasn’t an easy one.

“The center has not been profitable for years. It’s definitely been a labor of love for Bob Wade and his family. … We’ve always had a hard time getting staff out there and after seeing what it takes to run the Ute this summer with the ongoing pandemic, we just felt the need to focus our resources on the Aspen Cross Country Center.”

Perley went on to explain that Wade, who owns the Ute Mountaineer, and his family are avid Nordic skiers and supporters, and have been for decades.

He said the Wade family went back and forth on their decision to close the Snowmass center and tried to work through different ways it could remain open, but that with the continued business struggles at the Snowmass Cross Country Center — which was only able to operate six and sometimes five days a week last winter due to staffing — Perley said they ultimately decided it was the right move.

“We just don’t feel like we have the resources to make it work in Snowmass this year,” Perley said.

Instead, Perley said the staffing and equipment resources usually put toward the Snowmass center will become a part of the Aspen Cross Country Center, which will expand beyond the Aspen Golf Course pro shop this year and use the shop’s whole building to ensure a safe indoor environment for Nordic skiers looking to rent equipment and take lessons.

But although the Snowmass Cross Country Center will not reopen this winter, locals and visitors will still have access to the normally groomed and maintained Nordic trails in Snowmass.

John Wilkinson, president of the Aspen/Snowmass Nordic Council, said the more than 60 miles of groomed, multi-use and Nordic-only trails in the upper valley free to use will remain, as they are funded through the ongoing Pitkin County Open Space tax. This includes the trails on the Snowmass Golf Course and the Owl Creek Trail.

However, Wilkinson said he’s concerned that Snowmass won’t have any Nordic hub for lessons or rentals this winter, creating a gap in what winter activities locals and visitors can do this season amid the pandemic.

“This winter is going to be a challenging winter regardless and I think a lot of people are going to be looking for alternatives to riding the lifts and skiing on the mountain,” Wilkinson said, naming Nordic skiing as one of those safe, socially distanced alternatives. “So being without a Nordic center for our guests that are going to be coming here and people that live here is going to be a real blow for our community as far as I’m concerned.”

Rick Sussman, general manager and chief operating officer of the Snowmass Club, said he and his staff were also disappointed to hear of the Snowmass Cross Country Center closure but understood the decision.

He said the club had nothing to do with the closure and would welcome the Ute back to the golf pro shop space during future winters, or any other rental/lesson operation that would be interested in offering Nordic services there. Sussman also said the Black Saddle restrooms and parking area will remain open to Nordic skiers looking to access the golf course area trails this winter.

Perley recognized the Snowmass Club’s great support over the years, and said the Ute would reassess reopening the center for the 2021-22 winter season but that there are no guarantees.

He went on to say that Ute staff are anticipating more Nordic skiing this winter due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, and Snowmass locals and visitors are more than welcome to rent gear from the Aspen Cross Country Center or the Ute store in Aspen to use on the Snowmass area trails.

“We think Nordic skiing will be popular this year, and if it is busier, it’s like, why close the (Snowmass) center?” Perley said. “But bottom line is we just don’t have the resources to make both centers work properly… this was a very difficult decision because we love Nordic skiing and the Nordic community in Snowmass, but we will have staff and skis available here (at the Aspen store) and a deeper selection at the Aspen Cross Country Center to satisfy the community’s needs.”