Sundeck’s exclusive club allowed on private land |

Sundeck’s exclusive club allowed on private land

Critics of the Aspen Skiing Co.’s plan to build a private club on Aspen Mountain claim the facility shouldn’t be allowed on public lands, but their argument has one flaw – the land isn’t publicly owned.

Unlike many ski areas in Colorado, Aspen Mountain is made up of mostly private property. Many ski areas operate on public lands administered by the U.S. Forest Service.

But in the case of the new Sundeck restaurant planned atop Aspen Mountain, the Forest Service is powerless to regulate the inclusion of a private club, according to Aspen District Ranger Rob Iwamoto.

He said his office has received numerous inquiries about the issue, including telephone calls from the staffs of U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis and U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell.

“Obviously it’s controversial,” he said.

Iwamoto and his staff explain to everyone who asks that the Forest Service doesn’t regulate development on private property, even at a ski area that includes some public land. If the Sundeck site was on public land, the Forest Service’s interests and concerns would be different.

“We have responsibilities to taxpayers to make sure uses of public lands aren’t exclusionary,” Iwamoto said, “nor would we allow a private club on public lands.”

The Skico’s records show that about 87 percent of Aspen Mountain is privately owned with 13 percent public, according to company planner Lisa McManigal. The Forest Service’s records indicate 81 percent is private and 19 percent, public, according to Iwamoto.

But they agree that the mountaintop site where the Sundeck is located is private property.

Aspen Mountain is predominantly private property because of its mining history. Claims were staked all over the mountain when silver was discovered in the 1870s.

The Skico plans to demolish the old Sundeck this spring and construct a new, 22,000-square-foot facility at the same location. The plan was reviewed and approved by the Pitkin County commissioners.

The new Sundeck will include a public cafeteria, a public sit-down restaurant and the private Aspen Mountain Club. Club memberships, which include two lifetime, four-mountain season ski passes, are initially going at a price of $50,000.

While the private club has garnered the most attention, Skico officials are touting the public facilities as a vast improvement over the existing restaurant.

About 14,000 square feet of the new Sundeck will be on the main level of the new building. Of that square footage, about 35 percent will be affiliated with the private club and 65 percent will be devoted to a public cafeteria and public sit-down dining room.

The new cafeteria will seat 230 patrons with a deck for 125 and snow-melted patio for 100.

In addition to the cafeteria, there will be sit-down table service in a public restaurant that seats 70 diners with a deck for 40.

The Aspen Mountain Club’s private facilities will include a restaurant that seats 75 and a deck that seats 40.

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