Skico wants night use of Cloud Nine at Highlands
The second request this month for night use of a local on-mountain restaurant has been made to Pitkin County.
The Aspen Skiing Co. would like to serve dinner for five nights this season at the Cloud Nine Bistro, three-quarters of the way up the Aspen Highlands Ski Area.
“All we’re asking for here is a temporary special-use permit to do it on a trial basis,” said Peter King, who oversees restaurant operations for the Skico. “If it did work, we might go back and talk about how we could do it on a permanent basis.”
The small and rustic Cloud Nine restaurant offers stunning views of Pyramid Peak and the Maroon Bells, and the Skico hopes to offer dinner overlooking the mountains on full-moon nights. The dinners could either be booked by a private group or on a reservation basis by the general public.
The U.S. Forest Service has already approved the night-use trial at Highlands. Pitkin County will consider the request at a Feb. 14 meeting.
Earlier this month, Gwyn Knowlton, owner of Gwyn’s on Aspen Mountain, asked the county commissioners for permission to serve dinner at her restaurant at the top of Lift 1A for a total of nine nights this winter.
In both situations, snowcats would be used to bring passengers to and from the on-mountain restaurants.
The proposal for the Cloud Nine Bistro involves using the same snowcat currently used to ferry people between Loge Meadow and the Main Gate of Highland Bowl. It can accommodate about 15 people on benches in an exposed area behind the driver’s cab. The snowcat would leave the base area at 5:30 p.m., arrive 35 to 45 minutes later at Cloud Nine for the one and only seating, and then return no later than 11 p.m.
For her dinners, Knowlton has proposed using three enclosed 12-passenger snowcats – the ones used on the Powder Tours on the back side of Aspen Mountain – to bring passengers to Gwyn’s. Last week, the county commissioners granted her permission for a one-night special event, but asked that she return for additional review of the remaining eight nights she proposed.
At Snowmass Ski Area, visitors ride up in an open trailer pulled behind a snowcat to the Lynn Britt Cabin for dinners and live bluegrass music.
King said the Cloud Nine dinners at Highlands would be popular with visitors.
“It’s such a beautiful spot and such a unique experience, that we would like to offer it to our guests,” he said. “And it seems relatively innocuous.”
The Skico points out that “snowcats currently operate all night long grooming the slopes. Two shifts of six snowcats generate nearly 100 vehicle hours per night on the mountain. This proposal will generate an additional one-and-one-half hours per evening on the nights this service is offered.”
But County Commissioner Mick Ireland said the requests for night use through temporary permits may not be the right way to put dinner on the table.
“I believe night use should be processed through the master plan,” he said. “It’s not necessarily a bad idea, but the public is entitled to a full review.”
The county requires the Skico to submit ski area master plans that outline all the uses that are allowed on Aspen Mountain, Highlands and Buttermilk. Snowmass is inside the town of Snowmass Village and outside the county’s jurisdiction.
The current Aspen Mountain master plan provides for a three-year trial period of limited evening use of the Silver Queen Gondola and the Sundeck restaurant, for private and public dinners and special events. This winter marks the second year of the program, and the Skico intends to seek an expanded evening program for the winter of 2002-03.
The Aspen Highlands master plan is silent on the issue of night use at either Cloud Nine or the Merry-Go-Round restaurant at mid-mountain.
Commissioner Shellie Roy, who was not at the meeting when Knowlton’s application for night use was discussed, is bullish on high-altitude dinners.
“I think we have become very stodgy as a resort and night use of existing facilities might be a way to add some sex appeal,” she said. “My friends had dinner at the Sundeck during a full moon and said it was one of the most fabulous things they had ever done.”
The request for dinners at Cloud Nine stems, in part, from the fact that there is a new village at the bottom of the ski area.
King said that one request for on-mountain dinner service has come from members of the new Ritz-Carlton Club, set to open next month in Aspen Highlands Village.
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