Skico plans some major projects that will likely get minor notice
May 16, 2002
The Aspen Skiing Co. plans to spend more than $5.5 million this summer on improvements that the average customer may never notice.Spending millions on ski-area infrastructure such as snowmaking systems and vehicle shops is part of the cost of running four ski areas, Skico officials say. And it’s also the cost of clearing the way for the proposed Base Village at the bottom of the Snowmass Ski Area.That project, while it includes a million square feet of development and a myriad of shops, restaurants and skier-service areas, has no room for the more industrial side of the ski area, such as snowcat storage and maintenance.The ski area’s 15 grooming snowcats that are now repaired and parked behind the Skico’s administration building at the base of the Fanny Hill trail will move to a new vehicle-maintenance facility to be built near the top of the Funnel and Two Creek lifts at Elk Camp.”It should go somewhere out of sight, out of mind,” Skico planner Victor Gerdin recently told the Snowmass Village Planning Commission. “Our guests want groomed slopes but they don’t want to see snowcats at the bottom of the mountain, and neither do we.”Also moving are the six restaurant snowcats and the fleet of ski patrol snowmobiles that also work out of the area behind the administration building. They are to move to a new facility in the ski-in, ski-out Divide neighborhood on the Campground side of Snowmass.The two facilities will cost the company $4 million. The plan is to build both of them this summer in anticipation of Base Village getting approved this fall by the Snowmass Village Town Council, with initial construction starting in spring 2003.”A lot of this is contingent,” said Gerdin, explaining that if the Base Village application becomes seriously delayed, the two vehicle shops could be postponed. “But if we do deem the risk is warranted, then we will start July 1 on both buildings.”The town’s planning commission is expected to finish its review of Brush Creek Village in two weeks and forward the proposal to the Town Council for its initial round of review. The Skico and its partner Intrawest hope the Base Village project will win “sketch plan” approval by November and “preliminary” approval by spring, allowing construction to begin while the details of “final” approval are worked out.The town’s planning commission is also currently reviewing the Skico’s plan for Elk Camp Meadows, which includes the 12,000-square-foot vehicle-maintenance facility and two new beginners’ lifts on a widened Turkey Trot trail. The Skico, as part of the Base Village plan, hopes to bring an eight-passenger gondola into the Elk Camp Meadows area. The Skico also has approval under the Snowmass ski area master plan for a new restaurant facility to replace the existing Caf Suzanne building.To make room for the new maintenance facility, the Skico expects to cut down 200 trees in an area to the skier’s right of the short skiway that connects the top of the Two Creeks lift to the bottom of the Elk Camp lift. “We become loggers,” Gerdin told the planning board. “It’s good timber,” added Snowmass Ski Area Mountain Manager Doug Mackenzie. Enough space is to be cleared in the trees to make room for half of the building and a driveway big enough to park eight snowcats. Also, the Skico plans to install six 120,000-gallon underground fuel tanks there. Fuel will be brought up Wood Road and the Elk Camp work road in 60 truckloads each summer. The proposed maintenance facility is similar in size and operations to the one built several years ago at Aspen Highlands below the base of the Loge lift.The U.S. Forest Service has approved the Elk Camp facility after an environmental assessment. And while the maintenance facility is on federal land, it is within the boundaries of the town of Snowmass Village, which is why the facility is now being reviewed by the planning commission.The new facility in the Divide is on private land in front of Krabloonik and has already been approved by the town. The Skico is now reviewing construction bids on the 14,000-square-foot building, which includes six employee-housing units.Another big project at Snowmass this summer that is not likely to be seen by skiers and snowboarders is a 3 million-gallon water-storage pond. Located near the bottom of the Sheer Bliss lift, the pond will store water for the ski area’s snowmaking system and is designed to reduce the impact of drawing down water from Snowmass Creek, the primary source for the ski area’s snowmaking system. The pond will hold three times as much water as the 1 million-gallon pond near Dawdler and will allow the Skico to make more snow in the fall on nights when conditions are ideal for turning water and air into snow.The new pond will be built in an existing draw on the skier’s right side of the Cabin trail, just above the trail’s junction with Lower Green Cabin. It’s just below and to the right of the ridge where ski photographers often greet skiers after they come down the catwalk after passing the bottom terminal of the Sheer Bliss lift. The $250,000 pond will be 25 feet deep and will require 10-foot-tall embankments to store the water, which, for most of the year, will augment the town’s potable supply of water.As part of the Brush Creek Village project, the Skico plans to expand the amount of terrain covered by its snowmaking system by 220 acres, mostly in the Elk Camp and Alpine Springs areas. The expanded coverage area was included in the ski area’s 1994 master plan and does not go beyond the approved levels of water use from Snowmass Creek, Skico officials said.The snowmaking system on Aspen Mountain is also going to get some attention this summer. The Skico plans on replacing the 30-year-old water pipe between the primary pump house on Little Nell and the pump and compressor building off of Strawpile.”If that pipe goes, you can’t make snow anywhere on the mountain,” Gerdin said.The lower portion of Summer Road will be closed during the repairs, limiting access up the mountain. The Skico hopes the work will be completed as quickly as possible during June.Other work on Ajax this summer includes replacing the $45,000 cable, or haul rope, on the Ajax Express lift and doing some additional “fine-tuning” on the Sundeck restaurant.At Aspen Highlands this summer, the ski patrol plans to do some “glading” at the bottom of No Name Bowl to make it easier to ski out of the area onto the Olympic Bowl catwalk, but that’s about it for this summer, outside of other smaller maintenance projects. At Buttermilk, the company hopes to cut a new trail between Teaser and Jacob’s Ladder. The trail has been approved by the Forest Service but requires a rezoning approval from Pitkin County, which may or not come in time for the trail work to be done this summer, Gerdin said.Also at Buttermilk, the Skico plans to install music speakers near the halfpipe location, spend $100,000 to replace old snowmaking pipes, and go through a punch list of relatively minor items such as installing new carpeting in the Cliffhouse restaurant.In all, the company will likely spend $5.5 million this summer on a variety of improvements, few of which are likely to be touted in the company’s winter press kit.