Skico outlines changes at Snowmass

Madeleine Osberger
Snowmass Village correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

SNOWMASS ” High flyers and pipe riders at Snowmass will no longer have to be on the lookout for recreational skiers crossing their paths.

On a gentle but scenic trail high above the chaos that can reign on Fanny Hill, novices will have a protected place to call their own this winter. And a newly rediscovered section of the mountain should now have plenty of cover, even when the snow gods are feeling a wee bit stingy.

In advance of the 2007/08 ski and snowboard season, the Aspen Skiing Co. is implementing some changes at Snowmass that may not seem all that significant, but could go the distance in providing better on-mountain circulation for different users.

They include the installation of approximately 2 miles of pipeline to provide reliable snow cover on Funnel trail; the dedication of an entire run for the Super pipe and park and the addition of the Elk Camp Meadows site as a learning center for novices (which will accompany but not supplant Fanny Hill as a beginning area).

Mountain Manager Steve Sewell this week offered an up-close look at the changes that are currently in progress. The installation of a snowmaking line from Little Max Park to the bottom of Alpine Springs, at a cost of around $2 million, is being prompted by additional usage of the Funnel trail because of the Elk Camp Gondola.

“We’ve seen a lot more use on Funnel than we ever have before,” he said. That could also someday lead to an earlier opening of the Elk Camp side of the mountain though at this juncture, no promises are being made. “Come November, we’ll play the hand Mother Nature deals us,” Sewell said.

This week, piles of cut trees were testament to the glading required to make this new novice area a reality. Located on the old lower Turkey Trot trail just uphill from the gondola terminus, Elk Camp Meadows will include two 150-foot long “magic carpet” surface lifts and one low-speed quad chair. Ideally, beginners will hop off the gondola and be able to put on their skis and ride up a short slope onto a gradual slope (Sewell said it’s about a 4 percent grade) which leads to a second carpet lift. The “Meadows” chair, currently being built by Leitner-Poma, would be the next lift in the progression. It services naturally rolling terrain that meanders through glades and an open area.

More advanced skiers coming off the Wall or Sandy Park will have an expanded outside trail option (formerly called Pat’s Plunge) that will separate them from the new Meadows terrain. The new trail sidles past Rayburn’s Pond.

Cost of the Elk Camp Meadows complex is approximately $2.9 million, according to Skico.

Over on the Sam’s Knob side of the mountain, work is under way to relocate the superpipe and park from the Coney Glade trail to Banzai and Cabin. Park and pipe users will have to enter through a gate and the entire attraction will be cordoned off in an effort to greatly improve safety on the slopes. An added bonus is the ability to utilize the Spider Sabich picnic palace for parties and the like.

“There were many places (in the past) where there were traffic issues,” Sewell said, adding, “I’m so excited about this because it’s now going to be self-contained.”

When earthmoving is factored in, the cost of this attraction upgrade figures to be about $500,000, according to Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle.

In order to facilitate this move, the NASTAR race course will be moved to roughly the former site of the Super pipe, beneath the Village Express chair.

This week, the Snowmass Village Town Council heard details about the replacement restaurant for Sam’s Knob. Skico would like to begin construction on the permanent structure on April 21 of next year, with a target of getting it open by December 20, 2008. Skico also requested that the project not be remanded back to the Planning Commission, a request that was fulfilled.

For this season a temporary yurt that is set to open by Thanksgiving will serve hungry mountain users.

The proposed 7,155-foot permanent eatery would feature 150 indoor seats, 50 outdoor seats, 25 picnic seats and would have large bathrooms. It would also offer a 75-seat expansion potential. A barbecue smokehouse theme would prevail, but there would also be salads and vegetarian offerings as well as a full coffee bar. The intent is to make Sam’s Knob a destination restaurant and one that is affordable to all guests.

What will also attract guests are the stunning views of Garrett’s Peak, Mt. Daly and Capitol Peak. In fact, Skico maintains that everything about the new eatery is based on views and solar orientation.

Both Mayor “Merc” Mercatoris and Councilman John Wilkinson asked that Skico try and provide some employee housing on site.

Mountain Manager Sewell replied that, “From a ski area operator’s point of view, it’s a problematic place for an employee unit.”

Still, Wilkinson maintained that Skico should house its worker(s) someplace else: “I understand the difficulties up there, but I would like to see you put it somewhere else then,” he said.

Further discussion of the project, which has been delayed by two years due to design and construction considerations, will be undertaken at the August 20 Town Council meeting. Council also offered an amendment to delete any fines proposed to be rendered to Skico due to the lateness and to agree to accept the December 20, 2008 opening date.