Skico wants Elk Camp as ski area focus |

Skico wants Elk Camp as ski area focus

An Aspen Skiing Co. plan to transform the somewhat sleepy, out-of-the-way Elk Camp section of Snowmass Ski Area into a bustling part of the mountain is under review by the U.S. Forest Service.The federal agency is seeking comments on the Skico plan to build a gondola from what will be its new primary base area to the bottom of the Elk Camp chairlift. The Skico also applied to create a massive new “beginner park” at Elk Camp, create new summer trails and expand snowmaking on the east side of the mountain.The eye-grabbing part of the plan is the Elk Camp gondola, the one and only proposed at Snowmass. It would take skiers and riders from the bottom of Fanny Hill to the base of the existing Elk Camp quad chairlift in 8 1/2 minutes. Its capacity would be 2,800 passengers per hour, according to Forest Service documents.The gondola would travel to a new 15,000-square-foot restaurant and storage area.The gondola was approved in the 1994 Snowmass Final Environmental Impact Statement but the Forest Service wants to renew the review to make sure the gondola complies with a forest plan that was updated in 2002.The Skico wants the gondola to encourage customers to spread out on the mountain and to get more beginners higher up on the slopes to make them feel like real skiers.Trees would be removed from a 8.5-acre area on lower Turkey Trot trail to provide suitable terrain for beginning skiers and riders. Rather than creating a clear cut, clumps of trees would remain. The existing Turkey Trot trail averages 70 feet in width. It would be widened to an average of 300 feet, according to the Forest Service.”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,” said a Forest Service document on the project.The beginner park would have its own high-speed quad chairlift. If approved, the changes wouldn’t be implemented until 2006 at the earliest.Snowmaking would be added on about 49 acres in the Elk Camp base area.The Skico wants its investment in a gondola to be utilized also in the summer. The focus of on-mountain activities would shift to Elk Camp if the plan is approved by the Forest Service.”The Elk Camp gondola would provide the primary summertime mountain access, and therefore much of the on-mountain summer activity would shift from its current location on the Sam’s Knob area of the mountain,” says the Forest Service memo on the proposal.The Skico wants to build two mountain bike trails, two hiking trails and an equestrian trail. Separate trails are proposed to avoid conflicts.The Forest Service’s 1994 approvals include expansion of the trail network with one key condition. Upper Burnt Mountain, to the east of Elk Camp, is supposed to remain closed to summer activities. The Skico has been directed to employ mountain rangers to keep people off Burnt Mountain.Burnt Mountain is an important elk migration and calving area. Environmentalists and the Colorado Division of Wildlife have expressed concerns in the past about the potential harm of summer activities at Elk Camp on the elk herd.Comments from environmentalists, the wildlife division and public at-large on the Skico’s plan are due on May 22. They should be submitted to Bill Westbrook, Aspen Ranger District, 806 West Hallam St., Aspen, CO 81611. They can be faxed to 925-5277 or e-mailed to Condon’s e-mail address is

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