Skico compromises on Sam’s Knob job |

Skico compromises on Sam’s Knob job

Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

Aspen architect Michael Ernemann and the Aspen Skiing Co. can’t help but think of what might have been at Sam’s Knob at Snowmass.The Skico’s second proposal for a restaurant at the Knob has earned conceptual approval from the White River National Forest supervisor’s office. The Skico will seek final approval from the feds, as well as a seal of approval from the town of Snowmass Village in the next two months so construction can start as soon as possible after the chairlifts close in April. If all goes well, the restaurant will open for the 2007-08 ski season.But what the Skico will get isn’t as grand as what it wanted. The Forest Service rejected the first proposal last year because the design was too contemporary and didn’t match a federal guide for architecture of facilities on national forest lands.”We had a real beauty with the first one,” said Ernemann, a respected Aspen architect. His firm’s design featured a lot of steel and glass. The two-story west wall was mostly glass to provide excellent views of Garrett’s Peak, Mount Daly, Haystack Mountain and other stunning scenery west of the ski area.

The building served as a “viewing platform or a pair of binoculars,” Ernemann said. “It was all about providing that very memorable experience for the skiing company’s customers.”Ernemann said other special features included a pastry and coffee shop at the entry, which welcomed people to have a seat and check out the view. He also was proud of oversized bathrooms that are about as rare at ski resorts as elephants in Aspen.”We really liked the first design that Michael did,” said David Perry, the Skico’s senior vice president, mountain division.The Forest Service had a different view of what the building should look like. Officials felt Ernemann’s design was too urban and contemporary, according to a spokeswoman last summer. They wanted a rustic design that used more natural materials and colors. Local Forest Service decision makers applied national standards from an agency manual called Built Environment Image Guide.Ernemann lamented the national regulations didn’t allow architecture that took advantage of such a stunning site.

Since the restaurant site is on public land under permit from the Forest Service, the agency had the final say on the design. Agency officials told the Skico to alter the design or submit a new one.The Skico and Ernemann decided to start from scratch rather than alter the original design to fit the Forest Service’s mold. The restaurant went from about 250 seats and 13,000 square feet to 150 seats and roughly 9,000 square feet, according to Ernemann and Perry.Ernemann credited Skico officials for their vision for what they wanted to build on Sam’s Knob. He lost enthusiasm for the project under the “edicts that come from Washington.” He helped with the rough design of the new proposal but has since turned the project over to a different design team.”It’s just a simple house,” he said of the current plan. “I think it will provide a less memorable experience.”

After reflecting for a second, he eased up on the critique of the latest design. It will be a “good building,” Ernemann said.The Skico is eager to get a restaurant back in operation on the Knob, a high-traffic area for skiers and riders. This is the second winter without a restaurant at the site.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is

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