Skico continues big-bucks upgrade binge |

Skico continues big-bucks upgrade binge

Scott CondonAspen, CO Colorado
Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

ASPEN The Aspen Skiing Co.’s multimillion-dollar binge on ski area improvements will continue this summer, but the projects that didn’t make the cut are as notable as what did.The Skico won’t replace the old fixed-grip Sheer Bliss double chairlift on the Big Burn section of Snowmass as it once contemplated, President and Chief Executive Officer Mike Kaplan said recently.The Skico needs to reassess the planned replacement of Sheer Bliss, Kaplan said. The addition this winter of the Elk Camp Gondola from the Snowmass base to the east side of the mountain altered skier traffic patterns. Many skiers and riders are riding the gondola, then lingering at Elk Camp. That relieved pressure from the Alpine Springs chairlift and, to some extent, also the Big Burn chairlift, Kaplan said.The high-speed Big Burn chair handles most of the passengers in that area, and Sheer Bliss gets significantly fewer riders. At one time, the Skico envisioned replacing both chairlifts with a high-speed, six-passenger chairlift. It amended the plan to rebuild the Big Burn chair and replace Sheer Bliss in summer 2006.

Kaplan said the timetable for lift improvements on the Burn is uncertain.But that doesn’t mean the Skico will stand pat. Snowmass will remain the center of attention, with the Skico in the process of a $50 million on-mountain improvement plan. One major project is already under way there, another is planned for the summer, and Skico officials hope to undertake a third.Those projects are: The Children’s Center at Base Village: Construction is under way on a 25,000-square-foot facility at the base of Fanny Hill. Parents will drop off kids on one side of the facility from where the children can walk onto the ski slope at the bottom of the Village Express chairlift on the other side.Skico officials say the center will greatly reduce the “hassle factor.” It will be complete by next season.

The Elk Camp beginners area: The new gondola provides a way to get novice skiers up the mountain without taking them on terrain they can’t tackle. The gondola unloads at the base of the Elk Camp area, providing easy access to a new beginners park.U.S. Forest Service approvals allow the Skico to remove trees on an 8.5-acre area on the lower Turkey Trot trail for the beginners area. A quad chairlift will serve the area.”The upper mountain location not only provides superior snow conditions all season long, but also creates a sense of being ‘on the mountain’ for beginner-level guests on their first day,” the Forest Service review noted. A restaurant at Sam’s Knob: The Forest Service issued conceptual approval last fall for the design of a new restaurant at the top of Sam’s Knob. The project requires final approval from the feds and a review by the town of Snowmass Village. The Skico hopes to receive those approvals in time to allow construction this summer.

Sam’s Knob is a high-traffic area for skiers and riders on the west side of Snowmass. An old restaurant there was torn down two years ago. However, the Skico’s plan to replace the restaurant for this season crumbled when the Forest Service rejected the first design.The reworked plan is for a restaurant with 150 seats and roughly 9,000 square feet, as well as views of the high peaks west of the ski area.The cost of those three projects wasn’t immediately available.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is