Plans for Buttermilk Ski Area | AspenTimes.com
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Plans for Buttermilk Ski Area

Brent Gardner-Smith

The Aspen Skiing Co. submitted a master plan for the Buttermilk Mountain Ski Area, including new buildings and new lifts, to Pitkin County last week.However, there is little urgency coming from the Skico for the improvements to be made in the near future, outside of a new parking and transit layout next year and a new building at the base area probably the year after that.”We have to see what kind of year we have,” said Bill Kane, the Skico’s vice president of planning and development. “The parking and circulation is the first priority, and the new building is the next priority.”Buttermilk is positioned as the Skico’s “learning mountain.” Last year, it saw 141,837 skier visits, its slowest year since 1986. Its busiest year since 1974 was in 1979-’80, when it saw 250,239 skier visits. It has not seen over 200,000 skier visits since the 1980-’81 ski season.The Skico submitted, and then withdrew, a grand plan for Buttermilk last year that included a large new base area and a gondola connection from the summit to the base of Aspen Highlands. The company pulled the plan in order to focus its energy and capital on the base area at the Snowmass Ski Area.The new alignment of Owl Creek Road next to the ski area has mandated that Buttermilk’s parking and transit layout change next year. By next ski season, the entrance to the ski area will be off of Owl Creek Road and not Highway 82 as it always has been.There is also a desire to build a better children’s center at Buttermilk and move the Powder Pandas program to the main base area. Today, the children’s ski school is located off of Tiehack Road.In addition to the ski area master plan, the company has also submitted an application for a new 32,400-square-foot commercial building at the base area, which will replace the current rental and retail shops and ski area administrative offices. It would also be the new home of the kids program.The new master plan, while spelling out a series of improvements, seems to be as much of a document to satisfy the application requirements as it is an aggressive plan to rapidly upgrade the Skico’s smallest ski area.”There could be a more ambitious plan in the future,” said Kane. “There is a long-term interest and commitment to the ski area.”Outside of the Base Village plans in Snowmass, which are expected to include several new lifts, the Skico has modest spending plans, and no new lifts are currently expected to be built next season across its four mountains.”We’ve been kind of timid with capital requests,” said Kane. “We’ve been through some years where we have made significant capital investments, and there really hasn’t been great payback in terms of skier visits on those projects.”The latest version of the Buttermilk Ski Area master plan calls for a series of improvements to be made, including:-Replacing the two fixed-grip lifts on the Tiehack side of the mountain with one high-speed quad from top to bottom, cutting the travel time from 15 minutes to seven minutes;-Replacing the West Buttermilk lift with a seven-minute high-speed quad that includes a “quarterway” station to allow beginners to avoid the last steep pitch on an otherwise mild section of terrain;-Removing the fixed-grip Savio chairlift once the new West Buttermilk lift is in place, as that lift will accommodate the terrain needs of beginners;-Replacing the beginners’ lift on Panda Peak with a medium-speed quad to make it easier for new skiers and snowboarders and kids to load and unload;-Adding more chairs to the Summit Express high-speed quad to increase its capacity;-Building a new trail called “Uncle Chuck’s” connecting the top of the mountain with Jacob’s Ladder to allow intermediate and advanced skiers to avoid a section of Homestead Road;-Widening Homestead Road in some narrow sections;-Regrading the summit area so that the entire area is level with the Summit Express unloading terminal;-Building a slightly larger Cliffhouse restaurant, up to 14,400 square feet, to take better advantage of the views from the summit;-Upgrading, but not expanding, the coverage area of the snowmaking system with new compressors and pipes;-Adding a three-story, 32,400-square-foot base area building to house a children’s center, retail shop, administrative offices and employee housing;-Remodeling the bottom floor of Bumps to include a ski school desk, a waiting area and a ski-storage facility;-Expanding Café West by 1,000 square feet at the bottom of West Buttermilk;-Operating lift-served summer mountain biking and hiking on a new network of trails.The plan needs approval from Pitkin County before it can be put into place. The U.S. Forest Service has already approved the majority of on-mountain improvements with an earlier environmental review. The agency is also completing another environmental review prompted by the Skico’s 1999 master plan proposal.But beyond a new parking lot next winter, don’t expect to see significant changes at Buttermilk until at least the 2002-03 ski season, although the Skico will be going through the approval process this winter to leave open the option of putting up the new building in the summer of 2001.


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