Plan for Ashcroft ski huts advances |

Plan for Ashcroft ski huts advances

Janet UrquhartThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado
Janet Urquhart The Aspen Times

ASPEN – A scaled-back plan to add huts where guests can spend the night at Ashcroft Ski Touring, south of Aspen, took a step forward Tuesday.The Pitkin County Planning and Zoning Commission gave the project a passing score under the county’s growth-management criteria after John Wilcox, president of Ashcroft Ski Touring, agreed to reduce the number of huts from 10 to seven, eliminating three huts in an area where access was potentially threatened by avalanches. He also agreed to boost the amount of money the operation will pay into the county’s worker housing fund.Ashcroft is located in the upper Castle Creek Valley.The P&Z’s review of the development proposal was continued to June 21, giving Wilcox time to provide an updated assessment of avalanche risk and several years’ worth of data on the number of people served by the nordic skiing area and associated restaurant, the Pine Creek Cookhouse. The visitor information will help the P&Z judge potential traffic and parking impacts associated with the addition of the overnight accommodations, said John Howard, P&Z chairman.Wilcox has proposed converting his 5,500-square-foot, single-family log house, the Star Peak Cabin, located near the end of Castle Creek Road, into lodging available for rental, but dropped his plan to build three huts hear the residence.The proposal still calls for the construction of five huts, of 500 to 800 square feet, near the Pine Creek Cookhouse, and the conversion of two existing, 620-square-foot employee housing units near the restaurant to guest huts. The huts would replace an approved but unbuilt, 3,500-square-foot residence near the restaurant.Open for summer and winter recreation, the rustic “eco cross-country huts” would contain no kitchens. Guests would be directed to the cookhouse for meals, Wilcox said.The application indicates the huts will be constructed from sustainably harvested logs. They will be south-facing to take advantage of solar gain and use Swedish-designed, wood-burning fireplaces that heat water for all or part of the occupants’ needs. Solar panels on the roofs will also help heat water for showers, sinks and radiant heat.Wilcox wants to install a micro-hydro turbine on Pine Creek to generate electricity. Small wind turbines would supplement the power, according to the application.”The history of the valley and the uppervalley is overnight accommodations,” Wilcox told the P&Z, noting the Braun system of backcountry ski huts in the mountains around Ashcroft and the accommodations that once existed at Elk Mountain Lodge to the north of the ski area; the latter is now a private residence.Wilcox said he envisions a three-night minimum stay at the huts, holding down on traffic and a constant changeover of guests.They would be an “ancillary use” to Ashcroft’s existing operations, he said. In the summer, the huts could be used in conjunction with the Ashcrofter Summer Camp, which existed for kids in the 1960s and which Wilcox has suggested reinstituting.”Our core business is still going to be the skiing and the restaurant and the sleigh rides,” Wilcox said. He termed the huts a “limited expansion that will help Ashcroft Ski Touring remain viable.”The ski touring business operates under a permit from the U.S. Forest Service that covers 736 acres, according to the county. The huts would be constructed on private property that Wilcox owns. Though the original application envisioned the sale of the huts in fractional interests, Wilcox said Tuesday that is not currently part of the plans. “We’re not proposing it,” he said.And, while Ashcroft Ski Touring, including the cross-country ski operation, the federal permit and various approvals from Pitkin County, was for sale for $7.5 million, the property is being pulled off the market, according to Wilcox. So are the private parcels and their improvements, which were being offered separately.”We’re going to wait and see what happens with this process,” he said.Already approved by the county is replacement of the quaint King Cabin that serves as headquarters for both the ski operation and sleigh rides between the cabin and the restaurant. Two one-bedroom employee units near King Cabin and a three-bedroom employee/caretaker unit behind the cookhouse have also been approved and are required to be constructed by the end of this year, according to Suzanne Wolff, senior planner for the county.The application calls for providing off-site worker housing to replace the two units that would be converted to huts, or payment to the county’s housing fund. A payment would also be made to fulfill the housing required by construction of the new huts, Wilcox

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