Pine Creek rebuild nearly done |

Pine Creek rebuild nearly done

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The snow is flying in the upper Castle Creek Valley and so is the pace of construction at the Pine Creek Cookhouse.

Owner John Wilcox is aiming to open the new cookhouse on Dec. 20 ” less than a year after the restaurant it replaces was destroyed in a blaze last April.

“We think we’re going to make it,” he said Thursday, surveying the ongoing work in the timber structure that has risen from the ashes of the old cookhouse.

“Considering we started digging in June and we’ll be finished by December, that’s pretty good,” he said. “That’s aggressive.”

Nordic skiers and evening diners who take a sleigh ride up to the cookhouse will find a spacious new restaurant that retains the rustic feel of the old one. Naturally, the restaurant is oriented to take advantage of the commanding views of the Elk Mountain Range to the south. The south-facing windows reach nearly from the floor to the top of the vaulted ceilings.

The new cookhouse, like its predecessor, will offer outdoor seating during the warmer months, but with a roof covering a portion of the patio.

Inside, the dining area will be divided into an informal, serve-yourself area, a sit-down dining room and a third room that groups of up to 25 or so people can book for private gatherings. That room will also contain a piano and serve as the dance floor when wedding parties book the cookhouse, Wilcox said.

The old cookhouse had seating for about 65 people. The new restaurant will seat 75 in the formal dining area alone.

The informal dining room will contain a circular fireplace and the Skier’s Banquet salad/soup bar that was a staple of the old cookhouse, according to executive chef Kurt Boucher. No big changes to the menu are in the works, he said.

“We’re going to have a lot of game at night and lighter fare during the day,” he said.

But unlike the old cookhouse, where seating was limited and a reservation was often necessary, skiers and bicyclists enjoying the valley will be able to stop in for a bite to eat in the informal dining area without booking a table in advance, Wilcox said.

In the old days, diners took their chances if they popped in on a whim while they were skiing the trails of Ashcroft Ski Touring. At busy times, they weren’t likely to get a table.

“We set this up so people can come up in winter and summer without a reservation,” he said. “Now, they’ll be able to come in and get something to eat.”

For the sit-down dining experience, Boucher is already taking reservations for the planned reopening. His new kitchen, he joked, will be as big as the old cookhouse.

A propane leak was blamed for the explosion and fire that destroyed the old cookhouse shortly after the end of the ski season last spring. The restaurant is located about a mile beyond the point where Castle Creek Road is gated and left unplowed each winter to accommodate nordic skiing and the sleighs. Fire trucks couldn’t reach the blaze.

Wilcox said he had planned to replace the cookhouse next year. In fact, he had designs already prepared and county approvals in place, which facilitated the quick construction this year.

Ashcroft Ski Touring, which Wilcox also operates, is scheduled to open its 32 kilometers of groomed trails at Thanksgiving if snow conditions permit it. The cross-country ski area and cookhouse are located south of Aspen.

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is]

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