Skico contemplates alpine coaster in Snowmass summer plan | AspenTimes.com

Skico contemplates alpine coaster in Snowmass summer plan

Aspen Skiing Co. wants to add an alpine coaster, zip lines and challenge courses with nets and ropes at Snowmass Ski Area to add to an extensive mountain-biking network and broaden its appeal, company executives announced Monday.

"We want to be the No. 1 destination resort," Skico President and CEO Mike Kaplan told the Snowmass Village Town Council in an annual meeting to discuss the outlook for winter and longer-range development plans.

The company is preparing a summer master plan for Snowmass that will be submitted to the U.S. Forest Service and town government for review. The alpine coaster is a ride that features open cars on a track. Skico is assessing a 4,400-foot-long loop track that has 410 feet of vertical gain and loss and provides a three- to four-minute ride through the aspen and evergreen trees, according to David Corbin, Skico vice president of planning and development.

Conservationists in Colorado have derided alpine coasters as ski resorts have expanded their business plans and added more summer activities. Opponents claim the rides shouldn't be allowed at ski areas that lease public lands because they offer little connection to the outdoors.

“We want to do something that we think is far more sensitive, integrates well with the natural setting and in some way fits into it in a way that we feel is more aesthetically preferable and not quite at that almost industrial scale.”
Skico’s David Corbin contrasting the Snowmass summer proposal to Vail’s approved plan

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U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colorado, got a bill passed called the 2011 Ski Area Recreation Opportunities Enhancement Act that provides general guidance on what activities are allowable at ski areas using public lands. The bill says activities must be "nature-based," among other things.

The White River National Forest Supervisor's Office started crafting its rules to match the bill this fall. It approved Vail Mountain's summer plan, which includes a coaster. However, the agency said such proposals would be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

Corbin contended that the amenities being contemplated at Snowmass would enhance the natural experience. Skico would "integrate them well into the stands of trees in the Elk Camp area."

Snowmass Village Town Councilman Chris Jacobson asked how similar Skico's summer program would be to Vail's.

"They certainly went very big," Corbin said, "and many of the components we're contemplating are similar components. We would differ in how we might want to implement them. In many ways they went very large, in terms of scale, and very obvious.

"We want to do something that we think is far more sensitive, integrates well with the natural setting and in some way fits into it in a way that we feel is more aesthetically preferable and not quite at that almost industrial scale. It suits them and the volumes that they have. We're doing something that we feel is more suitable for Snowmass with appearance, capacities, sensitivity and so forth."

New Snowmass Village Mayor Markey Butler immediately voiced her approval.

"I think we would all applaud that decision, direction," she said.

Other highlights of the hour-long briefing included the following:

Snowmass Mountain Manager Steve Sewell said 18 inches of snow fell on the top of Snowmass in the latest storm cycle, "just in a nick of time, I might add." There are now 30 inches at top and 20 inches midway, with snowmaking progressing at a good pace. With snow forecast at the end of this week, Snowmass is looking at a "great opening," he said. Skico officials earlier said they haven't yet assessed a possible early opening at Aspen Mountain. Aspen Mountain and Snowmass are scheduled to open Thanksgiving Day.

Skico is exploring the possibility of upgrading High Alpine Restaurant, much as it did Merry-Go-Round at Aspen Highlands, according to Corbin. The "bones" of the building would be preserved, but it would receive a massive remodel inside and out. No decisions have been made. He also reminded the council that Skico is in the Forest Service review process for a High Alpine chairlift replacement. If the Forest Service rules on the project in 2015, it would likely be built in summer 2016, he said. The new lift would reduce the ride to six minutes from the current 12 without adding to uphill capacity, Corbin said.

A new tubing area will open in Elk Camp Meadows this winter, boasting a 100-foot vertical drop. Sewell said that drop doesn't sound like much to skiers, but it's a lot for someone on a tube. A 500-foot magic carpet will haul riders back to the top of the course. Skico also widened the exit off the Burnt Mountain gladed terrain onto Long Shot.

Skico Chief Operating Officer David Perry said advance reservations look strong at this point compared with the same time last year. The first two weeks of March are an area that needs to be filled in, he said.

Kaplan said Skico has recommitted to developing a Limelight Hotel at Base Village despite the troubles the major project faced during the recession and the controversy surrounding it now. He said Skico heard from a lot of people that the Limelight, patterned after Skico's successful hotel in Aspen, was "the right thing" for Base Village. He urged the council to take advantage of the opportunities to get Base Village back on track with the renewed review.

Skico wants to add 6 miles of trails to its mountain-biking and hiking network at Elk Camp in 2016. The Forest Service is reviewing four trails. Another eight are in the planning stage.

scondon@aspentimes.com