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Skico studies new lift for Highlands

Steve Benson
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Highland Bowl may get even bigger ” at least in terms of acreage available for skiing.

As part of the Aspen Skiing Co.’s capital improvements for the 2004-05 season, which were announced Monday, a new study is being launched to consider lift expansion into Deep Temerity (to the skier’s left of the Bowl) at Aspen Highlands, which could add an additional 1,050 vertical feet to Highland Bowl.

Additional improvements include replacing the old FIS chair (lift 6) on Aspen Mountain, replacing Buttermilk Mountain’s West Buttermilk lift with a high-speed quad and extensive renovations of Aspen Highlands’ Merry-Go-Round restaurant.

The improvements will cost $10 million.

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“We couldn’t be more excited that these projects have been approved,” said Skico CEO Pat O’Donnell.

The announcement, which followed a week of meetings with Skico owner Jim Crown, arrived on the eve of an important vote regarding the future of Snowmass Village. Today, Snowmass Village residents will vote on an initiative ordinance spurred by the proposed size of Base Village. If the initiative passes, it will change the land use code and force voters to approve future developments that exceed certain size limitations in the town’s land use code.

“The elections are a coincidence as far as I’m concerned,” O’Donnell said. “These meetings have been scheduled with Jim Crown for three months, and the election is supposed to be about government process.”

While the lift upgrades at Ajax and Buttermilk and the restaurant renovations at Highlands are a done deal ” construction will start this spring and summer ” the expansion at Highlands is dependent on the results of the coming study. The study will be conducted with the aid of the U.S. Forest Service and take at least a full season, O’Donnell said.

But as currently planned, the new lift in Deep Temerity would virtually double the vertical feet available from the top of Steeplechase to the Grand Traverse (850 additional vertical), and add a total of 270 acres to Temerity, Steeplechase and Highland Bowl. The exact placement of the lift also depends on the study, O’Donnell said.

“The reason you see so much concentration going on [at Highlands] right now is that it’s showing the greatest increase in skier days,” he said. “The customers are speaking with their wallets by where they’re visiting, [and] that’s where we’re investing our money.”

Skier visits at Highlands have increased by nearly 25 percent in the last two years, O’Donnell said.

The renovations at the Merry-Go-Round restaurant, which will total close to $1.5 million, will include a big open air serving area, new furniture and carpeting, and a complete bar with outdoor access, O’Donnell said.

“We’re trying to retain that retro feel and the history, but making it really functional,” he added.

The new lifts at Buttermilk and Ajax will replace lifts that O’Donnell said have “seen their time.”

And while the new FIS lift won’t represent much of a change, the new high speed quad at Buttermilk will be more user friendly when loading and unloading, including a midway loading station. It will also be twice as fast ” cutting travel time from roughly 13 minutes to six.

With the increase in family business at Buttermilk, O’Donnell said the new lift will be a perfect fit.

“This will be such a tremendous improvement for beginner skiers,” he said.

For O’Donnell, the improvements display a high level of commitment from the Crown family.

“It’s a tremendous show of good faith that they believe in the future of our business in Aspen/Snowmass,” he said.


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