Snowmass base is top Skico priority |

Snowmass base is top Skico priority

Tim Mutrie

Making development of base village at Snowmass its No. 1 priority, the Aspen Skiing Co. formally withdrew its extensive Buttermilk Mountain master plan yesterday.

Submitted less than a year ago, the Buttermilk plan – which was still under review by Pitkin County government officials and the U.S. Forest Service – outlined the Skico’s future vision for the ski area. It called for a gondola to connect the top of Buttermilk Mountain with the base of Aspen Highlands and a base development with a 13,000-square-foot children’s center, more than 20,000 square feet of Skico office space and up to 72 employee housing units. The plan also placed a “major emphasis on tying in with light rail or a bus system,” according to Bill Kane, Skico vice president of planning and development.

But developing a base village at Snowmass is now the company’s top priority, according Pat O’Donnell, Skico president and chief executive officer. “Base village will constitute the largest single development project ever undertaken by this company and is our number one priority for capital investment,” he said in a press release.

“It has become apparent that we are pursuing too many development objectives at this time, [and] due to the realistic limitations of discretionary capital and our staff time, we regretfully must withdraw our pending [master plan] for Buttermilk,” O’Donnell added.

Nevertheless, the Skico will not cease pursuing development possibilities at Buttermilk, both Kane and O’Donnell stressed.

“We intend to come back and revisit the core issues,” Kane said, “which would be the rental and retail, and food and beverage projects, as well as the children’s center. But, we’ll try to go about this plan in a more digestible and bite-size fashion.”

Kane said he expects the Skico will submit new plans to the county and the Forest Service, outlining retail and housing development at Buttermilk, as well as the children’s center, within six months.

Any other proposals in the original master plan, including the gondola, may be brought forth again, Kane said, though he does not anticipate doing so in the near future.

O’Donnell explained yesterday that when the Skico acquired the Snowmass base village property in late December for $11 million, the company was forced to choose between development at Buttermilk or Snowmass.

“A year ago, the Snowmass base village wasn’t even on the radar,” O’Donnell said, “but when the Snowmass Land Company’s assets came up for sale, it provided us with an either/or option. Snowmass is our largest mountain and requires improvements to be competitive. There was simply not enough capital to do both things simultaneously – we had to make a choice and we’re picking Snowmass.”

The Skico intends to submit initial base village development plans to the town of Snowmass Village and Pitkin County by springtime, Kane said.

The base village project is expected to include a reorganization of several lifts near the base of Snowmass ski area, a new children’s facility, additional retail space, condominiums and/or other real estate development, a skier services area, a new maintenance facility and other public facilities. Kane declined to offer an estimate about what the project might cost.

“We’re hoping to submit a sketch plan to start the whole process this spring,” he said. “We know it will be very substantial; the land cost alone was very expensive. It’s going to be a very expensive site to develop, and of course, all those dollars must go out before we begin getting any in, so from a cash-flow standpoint, it’ll be very challenging for us.”

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