Sundeck expansion, late-night use OK’d |

Sundeck expansion, late-night use OK’d

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Expanded nighttime use of the Sundeck restaurant atop Aspen Mountain won easy approval from Pitkin County commissioners on Wednesday.

The brief discussion was a far cry from the heated debate of 1998, when the Aspen Skiing Co. won approval for a three-year trial of nighttime events at the Sundeck.

Residents at the base of the mountain and those who live on its back side – people who packed the commissioners’ meeting room when night use was first proposed – were all but absent yesterday.

“You’ve been diligent and true to your word, and that’s why I’m willing to expand use,” Commissioner Mick Ireland told Skico representatives.

The Skico proposed several amendments to its Aspen Mountain Master Plan, including expansion of the Sundeck by enclosing its back, or west-side, deck and greater flexibility in hosting nighttime events at the restaurant.

The overall number of nights that the Sundeck may be used during the course of a year, however, remains the same: 50.

Commissioner Jack Hatfield voiced concern about what future, incremental expansion of the Sundeck’s nighttime use will be proposed, but offered no objections to the Skico’s latest proposal.

“This is ski industry infrastructure, and it’s reasonable to use it more than not use it,” he said.

All of the proposed changes will allow the Skico’s Little Nell hotel, which operates the Sundeck, to be more competitive in accommodating groups that want to hold events at the mountaintop restaurant, according to Bill Kane, Skico vice president of planning.

Ultimately, it makes Aspen better able to compete with other resorts, he said.

“Either we can host them or they can go to Beaver Creek or somewhere else,” Kane said.

Commissioners approved 30 nighttime events during the winter and 20 during the summer, removing the current limitation on eight events per month and two per week.

In addition, they agreed to the Skico’s request to allow up to 12 events per year to extend to 1 a.m., with guests downloaded on the gondola by that hour. The extended curfew will be reviewed a year from now. Currently, guests are supposed to be down by 11 p.m.

Outdoor music will be allowed until 9 p.m. rather than 8 p.m. during the summer.

The Skico has also asked to use the Sundeck for night events during the off-seasons by redefining winter and summer so they encompass the entire calendar year. Winter had been defined as the ski season, while summer use was restricted to June 1 to Sept. 30. Under the new plan, winter will run from Nov. 1 to April 30 for purposes of tabulating winter use; summer will be defined as May 1 to Oct. 31.

Commissioners indicated they’d agree to that request, as well, if the county wildlife biologist doesn’t feel the spring and fall use will negatively impact wildlife.

The Skico also won approval to expand the Sundeck by enclosing its back deck to increase the amount of indoor seating by about 186 seats overall.

The restaurant is often strapped for indoor seats during lunchtime during the winter, when the cold, windy back deck attracts few diners, Kane said.

The sunny patio on the south side of the building will be expanded, with additional tables and chairs, to offset the loss of the back deck.

The plan will add about 108 seats to the main cafeteria, along with additional seating in the Benedict Dining Room, where the Skico plans to try full-service public dining again, and in the private Aspen Mountain Club on the north end of the building.

The bar in the cafeteria will be moved to away from the west wall and 12-foot windows will be installed to better capture the views of Highland Bowl and other peaks to the west.

“We think the view’s going to be a lot more dramatic,” Kane said.

The work will cost more than $1 million; construction will begin Aug. 1 so it’s done by the start of the ski season in November, he said.

Commissioners also agreed to amend the master plan to deem the Ruthie’s chair a three-person lift. It was identified as a two-person chair in the master plan, but it accommodates three people and trios frequently want to ride together.

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is]

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