Snowmass is more than just a base
March 5, 2002
While the Aspen Skiing Co. and Intrawest are announcing glamorous and, in some respects, grandiose plans for Base Village, the Snowmass ski experience appears to be getting the short end of the deal. We all know that Snowmass has an antiquated lift system. Even Bill Kane has admitted to this in an open meeting.
So, what is the Skico proposing to rectify the situation? The installation of a gondola from Base Village to the base of Elk Camp, a new high speed quad lift from the mall to Sam’s Knob (the Burlingame Express), and an open air cabriolet lift from Base Village to the Mall.
The existing Burlingame, Woodrun and Funnel lifts will be removed for sure. The Campground lift will remain an attached two-person lift, but will be shortened so as not to interfere with the unloading of the new quad.
Now comes the best of all. The Skico is planning to remove the Coney Glade lift. They say they are evaluating it, but you must believe that they are planning on it because it will save them $200,000 a year in operating costs.
In the Skico plan there is only vague mention of other future upgrades to the lift system and no mention of modernization of the low-quality restaurants they are now running. (Sam’s Knob’s food and service, for example, has significantly deteriorated in quality since Dudley’s lease was not renewed, and the bathroom situation there is in a word, deplorable.)
So what is there in this for us, the skiers? Very little!
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The gondola, which, other than its marketing value for Base Village, could just as well be a long overdue new high-speed quad replacement for the Funnel lift, will alleviate, to some degree, the occasional early morning line-up at Fanny Hill. However, once we are on the mountain, everything becomes worse than now.
Here are the reasons, in no particular order:
1. If Base Village is successful the mountain will become increasingly more crowded. This additional crowding will likely occur in the already high-traffic areas, i.e., the Big Burn, Elk Camp and Alpine Springs, terrain which is serviced by high-speed quads. Nothing the Skico is proposing spreads skiers out over lower traffic areas.
2. The removal of the Coney Glade lift, which the Skico considers redundant to the new Burlingame Express, would be disastrous. The Coney Glade lift is essential in relieving pressure from the base of the mountain.
This lift services a significant amount of intermediate terrain, the traffic on which would throughout the day be forced down into an already congested Fanny Hill area. This lift also services Sheer Bliss, Garrett Gulch, West Face, Free Fall, Glissade, and Camp 3, which would otherwise be serviced by the antiquated two-person, 16-minute lift which currently operates only on weekends.
Other runs that feed into Coney Glade and would be adversely impacted by its removal are from Alpine Springs-Green Cabin, Granite, and Coffee Pot; from behind Big Burn-Monkshood and Lower Banzai; and from Coney Glade itself – Cabin, Coney Glade, Blue Grouse and the Spider Sabich Racing Area.
Also, if you remove the Coney Glade lift, you may as well close the entire mountain on very windy days. Without going as high as the top of the knob, the base of Elk Camp or the top of Alpine Springs, there will be no access to the mountain. If Skico personnel were, themselves, to ski Snowmass more frequently they would surely see the folly of this absurd plan.
3. If lift access to Burnt Mountain were part of the initial plan, the gondola would service a sufficient amount of terrain to justify its expense.
However, under the current proposal, we skiers would be better served by a significantly less expensive high-speed quad Funnel lift and an upgrade to other slow attached lifts such as High Alpine, Sheer Bliss and Campground. It is very common for skiers to avoid the runs serviced by these lifts (particularly Campground) because of the long lift rides.
4. The proposed Burlingame Express, like the proposed gondola, does much for Base Village while little for we skiers. The present transfer from the Fanny Hill lift to Coney Glade, where the line is rarely more than two or three minutes, does not present a large inconvenience.
What might actually be preferable to relieve traffic at the bottom of Fanny Hill would be to extend the present Fanny Hill lift to Base Village and replace the old Burlingame lift with a new two-place, high-speed lift which would commence at the mall and terminate at a point from which the skier could access the Coney Glade, Sam’s Knob and Big Burn lifts.
5. We currently have no lift access into the hundreds of acres in Burnt Mountain and Hanging Valley. These are needed improvements no matter what else the Skico does.
We realize that there are some that oppose opening these areas to lift access. However, if you take a day or two to visit Vail, for example, you will experience an area where vast amounts of new terrain have been opened to new high-speed lift access in recent years.
Vail has also installed poma lifts to access areas similar to Upper Green Cabin while we at Snowmass continue to walk to these types of areas. The only area where the Skico has installed a surface lift is to the Cirque, which is rarely open.
If the Skico feels that it cannot currently afford new high-speed lifts to Hanging Valley and Burnt Mountain, why not install surface lifts into these areas from the top of High Alpine and Elk Camp? We should all have the opportunity to enjoy these areas without the walk.
Finally, Vail has modernized old and built wonderful new restaurants while our restaurant facilities continue to deteriorate in all respects.
6. The Skico maintains that the shortening of the old Campground Lift will cause little or no inconvenience because total lift time will not increase, even though you will have to ride two lifts to get back to the top of the knob.
Of course this doesn’t take into consideration time spent traversing to and standing in line at the knob lift. Obviously, the change would be far more palatable if the new, shortened Campground lift were a two-place, high-speed detachable.
The bottom line is that a successful Base Village should not be a goal in itself. We urge that the Town Council, within the approval process, makes sure that the development of Base Village does not result in a diminished, rather than enhanced, ski experience.
Enhancement of the lift system requires much more than moving people out of Base Village at 10 o’clock in the morning. During the past several years, Snowmass has remained stagnant and in some ways gone backwards while other areas continue to upgrade.
The modifications to the lift system proposed by the Skico would clearly enhance Base Village, which is essentially a real estate deal. While we are not inclined to be against developing Base Village, we are if it diminishes our ski experience.
Obviously, we believe that the Skico needs to rethink its plan. Whether you agree or disagree with some or all of the positions set forth in this letter, it is important that as many skiers as possible let the Skico know how they feel about their proposals for the mountain.
In fact, we would encourage the Skico to survey season pass-holders who regularly ski Snowmass in order to help formulate a better plan. For those of us who live here and ski regularly throughout the season, the effect on our ski experience of the proposed mountain plan is as important as other ramifications of the Base Village plan.