Snowmass Village braces for construction, growth
Snowmass closed the book on another season Sunday but the ski area is going to be anything but sleepy this summer.
As it heads into its 50th anniversary, Snowmass is on brink of a construction surge that could restore skier visits that peaked 20 years ago and help it join the big boys for summer business.
The lifts will barely stop spinning before the cranes will swoop into Base Village to start construction on the Limelight Hotel and other buildings.
Later this spring, the White River National Forest is expected to grant the approvals needed for Aspen Skiing Co. to add numerous amenities at Elk Camp designed to draw summer tourists.
“To see those things coming to life this summer and really realized in ’18, to me it’s really exciting and satisfying,” said Skico Chief Operating Officer David Perry.
It’s telling that the Skico ownership — the Crown family of Chicago — secured the future of its bread-and-butter ski area in the Roaring Fork Valley before going on a buying binge for other resorts.
The Crowns formed a new entity with partner KSL Capital Partners to buy Intrawest Resort Holdings and Mammoth Resorts last week in separate deals.
But before spending more than $2 billion on those blockbusters, the Crowns teamed with KSL and East-West Partners to buy Base Village in a deal that closed in December. They acquired the property from the Related Companies, which lost all momentum during the Great Recession. Snowmass Base Village was going nowhere fast. Skico bought back property it once held but had decided to sell with the assumption that the development firm would advance quicker on the village.
“I think we all lament from the start of the recession until now the stalled nature of Base Village,” Perry said. “Yeah, we sold it. If we could have seen the future would we have done it differently? Yeah, probably. But you can’t be revisionists.
“You can stand here today in ’17 and look at what’s right on our doorstep for this summer and next summer and think, ‘This is really exciting that this is actually happening.’”
An active summer is shaping up. East West Partners, which is heading the construction, will break ground on the Limelight Hotel-Snowmass this spring, according to a timeline provided to The Aspen Times. Close on the Limelight’s heels will be groundbreaking of the Discovery Center, a retail and residential building that is not yet named and a public plaza that connects the three buildings. The public plaza will have a lawn in the summer and ice rink in winter.
The partners plan to start additional construction come fall. “Work is expected to begin on the residential buildings that will house the Arrival Center and Medical Clinic,” said a statement provided by the developers. “Between the town, there will be 41 condominiums and limited commercial space.”
Meanwhile, Forest Service approval is pending for additional downhill cycling trails in a promising network centered on the Elk Camp section of the mountain and a variety of activities. The list is headed by a mountain coaster, where bobsled like cars travel on rails. There will also be a zip line in the woods, a separate zip line canopy tour, a ropes challenge course and a climbing wall.
Perry said the goal of the projects is to “inject some fresh energy into Snowmass, both in the community and in the operation and how we serve our guests.”
The greatest promise is for summer business, he said. “The activities we’re creating, they call it the family activity zone, with Elk Camp being the hub, I think is going to create a buzz.”
Skico already pursued a multi-million dollar campaign to improve the on-mountain infrastructure, with new chairlifts, expanded snowmaking, and new or remodels restaurants. Expanding the bed base could draw more people to the ski area, which peaked in skier visits with 884,066 in 1997-98. (Skico no longer releases actual visits, but Forest Service documents said the ski area averages 750,000 winter visits with “modest fluctuations.”)
Snowmass currently logs about 25,000 summer visitors, according to the Forest Service Final Impact Statement on the summer amenities.
“Under the Proposed Action, Snowmass summer visitation is expected to increase by an additional 20,000 visits by 2019 for a total summer visitation of 45,000,” the analysis said. “Five percent of these new visits are expected to represent new visitors to the region while 95 percent would be visitors who are already coming to the region.”
Rose Abello, director of Snowmass Tourism, said she realized while looking at the history of the town and ski area in preparation for golden anniversary events, there have been two constants over the years — a fabulous mountain and a dedicated community. Those are the ingredients that really make Snowmass click, she said. The completed Base Village and summer amenities will definitely round it out.
“It could bring a new energy that makes a 10-month-a-year resort and community,” Abello said.
She noted that Aspen Skiing Co.’s investment in Base Village with its partners has already revitalized the town in a subtle way. It’s reignited investment in other properties, she said. The Westin Hotel is for sale as well as part of the Snowmass Mall.
Perry said he believes the additional investments in Snowmass will start paying off after the Limelight opens in fall 2018.
“It will take a little while until it’s fully discovered,” he said. “So I can see us in three or four years really hitting our stride with those additions.”
The hope is that the Limelight in Snowmass Village will follow the lead of the Limelights in Aspen and Ketchum, the latter being added this ski season. Both are community-gathering spots even for people who aren’t staying there.
“As wonderful as Snowmass is, what it’s needed and Base Village needs it is a heartbeat.” Perry said. “We think the Limelight is going to contribute to that heartbeat of Snowmass. Hopefully it will be a gathering place for the whole community. That’s one of the things that I’m most excited about.”
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Alex Rager believes that the search for affordable housing in the Roaring Fork Valley can sometimes boil down to luck and timing. “When you least expect it and when you most need it is when things happen,” she said.