Wilcox proposes ski huts at Ashcroft
ASPEN – The longtime owner of Ashcroft Ski Touring wants to add eco cabins to the facility in upper Castle Creek Valley, south of Aspen, to cement its position as a premiere cross-country ski center.
John Wilcox is seeking approval from Pitkin County to build 10 huts that would be rented by cross-country skiers during winters, and hikers and cyclists during summers. The huts would be between 600 to 1,000 square feet each. He also wants to convert the Star Peak Cabin, located at the end of Castle Creek Road, from a single-family residence to a luxury cabin available for rentals.
Wilcox, who bought Ashcroft Ski Touring from the Ryan family in 1986, said the small, rustic ski huts would add a nice touch to Ashcroft, making it similar to the Devil’s Thumb cross-country ski center near Winter Park, Colo., and other centers in California.
The application said the eco huts will allow visitors to experience the “magic” of Aspen.
“This cross-country ski hut opportunity will be the final arrow in Aspen’s quiver,” the application said. “Aspen will be able to boast places to stay and experiences as diverse as lodging adjacent to one of the town’s night clubs to experiencing the wonders of nature in a sustainable cross-country ski hut at Ashcroft with luxurious meals from the Pine Creek Cookhouse.”
The cabins Wilcox envisions would be smaller than facilities in the Tenth Mountain Division and the Fred Braun backcountry hut systems. They would also be easier accessed by cross-country skiers on shorter outings.
He has had the concept in mind for years, but started working on the application after Elk Mountain Lodge, lower in the Castle Creek Valley, was converted into a single-family home after it was purchased by William Koch. Wilcox tried over the years to acquire the lodge and integrate it with Ashcroft Ski Touring and its famed Pine Creek Cookhouse.
“It’s never going to be a lodge again,” Wilcox said.
The ski huts would be built on 20 acres of private property Wilcox owns at two sites rather than the 750 acres of national forest he operates under permit from the Forest Service. Some of the cabins would be on a 5-acre parcel close to Pine Creek Cookhouse. The remainder would be near Star Peak Cabin.
He noted the proposal wouldn’t add much in terms of density because some of the cabins would replace a 3,500-square-foot resident-occupied dwelling that is approved but not built by the cookhouse.
Ashcroft Ski Touring Center – which includes the cross-country ski operation, the federal permit and various approvals from Pitkin County – is for sale for $7.5 million. Private parcels and their improvements are being offered separately. Wilcox said he wants to turn the operation over to a younger person. It’s been a labor of love, he said, but it holds its own financially. Pine Creek Cookhouse experienced a better summer this year than in 2009, he said.
Wilcox said his motivation to add the cabins is to enhance the experience rather than make it more attractive to a buyer.
“This development is not so much to say we’re going to make more money because of it,” he said.
Realistically, he will likely have to find a partner and fund the relatively modest price of building the cabins, follow a condominiumization model where there is one primary owner who rents the cabins out most of the year, or sell fractional interests.
Wilcox is seeking approval for the fractional model. He wants to offer them on one-eighth interests. The idea, he said, would be to keep the cabins in a rental pool, so owners would have limited use. Rules would require them to rent out the cabins.
The application said the huts will be constructed from sustainably harvested logs. They will be south-facing to take advantage of solar gain and use Swedish-designed, wood burning fire places that heat water for all or part of the occupants’ needs. Solar panels on the roofs will also help heat water for showers, sinks and radiant heat.
Wilcox wants to install a micro-hydro turbine on Pine Creek at the Montezuma mill site to generate the electricity. Small wind turbines would supplement the power.
The application said the ski huts will be the “archetype for sustainable high-altitude living.”
“The unique lodging experience does not seek to put Ashcroft ‘on the map,’ but rather add to the wonders that Aspen/Snowmass has to offer to continue to draw a unique variety of tourists to our valley and continue to support our economy,” the application said.
Wilcox needs some of the property to be rezoned and he needs a master plan amendment to pursue his plan. The ski huts would also have to compete in the county’s Growth Management Quota System for tourist accommodations.
The county planning staff hasn’t started its assessment of the proposal yet. The first hearing before the Pitkin County Planning and Zoning Commission is scheduled on Feb. 1.
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