Snowmass Discovery project inching forward

Erica Robbie
The Aspen Times


-Life-like reproductions and full-size skeletons of extinct ice age giants

-Two-story atrium to showcase the reproductions and full-size skeletons

-Displays of the most iconic real fossils from the discovery

-Two-story wall reproducing the fossils as they were discovered

-Augmented reality and holograms to bring the ice age giants to life

-Science on a Sphere to display the geology, physics and chemistry of Earth’s past, present and future in living, spinning, 6’ diameter color

-New-media studio connecting visitors to ice age scientists and sites worldwide.

-Interactive weather station and computer game technology

-School programs engaging practicing scientists, educators, and trained actors to deliver animated, curriculum-based, age- specific programming

-21st century theater with state-of the-art projection (floor, ceiling, walls)

-Guided walks to the discovery site at Ziegler Reservoir

-Base Camp for Ice Age outings on-mountain or elsewhere

-Collaborations with The Denver Museum of Nature and Science, The Children’s Museum in Indianapolis, The National Museum of Natural History and The Smithsonian

Source: Snowmass Discovery

With news this fall of the Base Village acquisition, Snowmass Discovery officials advocating for the creation of an ice age museum in the village are hopeful the project is in forward motion.

The next step of the project, which has been in the works for about five years, is for the town of Snowmass Village and Snowmass Discovery to reach an agreement on the memorandum of understanding.

Snowmass Town Manager Clint Kinney currently is working with Snowmass Discovery to draft the memorandum.

Once agreed upon and signed, the memorandum of understanding will give Snowmass Discovery the green light that it needs to start its major fundraising efforts.

“As a council, we’ve come a really long way in terms of us all reaching a consensus.”Alyssa ShenkCouncilwoman, Snowmass Village Town Council

Snowmass Discovery Chairman John Rigney said the project consultants “recommend a 36-month timeline to raise the funds required to upfit the building and potentially be ready to open.”

“There’s a lot that has to happen in that window of time,” Rigney said. “But it all starts with having a signed (memorandum of understanding) and having firm ground to stand on and effectively fundraise for a real facility in a defined location with clear and aligned support from the town.”

Snowmass Discovery, Base Village developers and the Town Council have agreed upon a space in Base Village known as Building 6, which is designated for a community purpose use.

As of Tuesday, Kinney said he does not have a set date for when the memorandum will be complete.

Kinney said he is confident that it will not be available by the next Snowmass Town Council meeting Nov. 7.


Between 2010 and 2011, the largest fossil discovery in Colorado’s history occurred at Ziegler Reservoir, just outside of town limits.

The fossil discovery was named “Snowmastodon,” a play on the words Snowmass and mastodon, which is an extinct animal species that was discovered during the dig.

Historically, Snowmastodon was the highest elevation ice age discovery to ever take place.

The excavation also uncovered the most mastodons (36) ever found in the world.

A team of paleontologists from the Denver Museum of Nature and Science led the fossil discovery in the fall of 2010 and again during the warmer weeks of 2011.

Ian Miller, a paleontologist from the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and one of the leaders of the excavation, said on Monday, “It is one of the most amazing fossil sites on the planet.”

“From a personal perspective, it was the gift of a lifetime, a crowning point of a career to be able to work on that project and bring that to life,” Miller said. “If you ever dreamed of finding or digging fossils, this was your moment.”

Altogether, the excavation recovered approximately 6,000 large bones from seven extinct ice age mammal species — the American mastodon, Columbian mammoth, giant ice age bison, ice age camel, horse, deer and Jefferson’s ground sloth.

The fossils of bighorn sheep and black bear also were uncovered throughout the excavation.

Along with these major findings, paleontologists on site discovered another 26,000 small bones that represented 41 small vertebrate species including otter, beaver, birds, fish and salamanders.

Furthermore, plant fossils revealed complete ecosystems from 130,000 to 55,000 years ago.


In 2011, Snowmass Discovery opened the Ice Age Discovery Center on the Snowmass Mall, the organization’s executive director, Tom Cardamone, said, as a way to keep the story alive for locals and visitors.

“You’d be surprised how many people come through those doors,” Rigney said.

According to Cardamone, 30,000 people walk through the doors of the center annually.

“Nothing else in Snowmass, aside from skiing, attracts that many people,” he noted.

Since 2013, the Discovery Center has featured an on-site paleontologist to educate and engage visitors, Cardamone said.

The center, which Snowmass Tourism operates, is traditionally open during business hours throughout the winter and summer.

Like the majority of businesses in the Snowmass Mall, the ice age center closes during the offseason.

This year, Cardamone said they are talking about possibly extending the center’s hours one day a week to offer an apres ski ice age cafe.

The Ice Age Discovery Center will open for the 2016-17 ski season on Nov. 24.


Toward the end of 2013, Snowmass Discovery contracted a consulting to firm out of Boston to assess the economic feasibility of the project, Cardamone said.

Amaze Design of Boston assembled a team of museum consultants, who, by September 2014, produced a concept plan and feasibility study for the project.

In order to make its vision for the museum a reality, Snowmass Discovery must raise approximately $6 million, Rigney said.

He said $4 million of this amount will go toward the facility and $2 million will be set aside from its endowment.

“Obviously, $6 million is a lot of money,” he said. “But with support from the town and shortly thereafter ramping up our organizational capacity, our consultants feel this is an achievable goal.”


Over the years, some town council members have expressed their concerns as to whether the nonprofit will be able to raise the amount of money that is needed.

On Monday, Snowmass Town Councilman Bob Sirkus said, “There is still concern among some council members, myself included, as to whether Snowmass Discovery has the ability to go out and raise the money that this project is going to require.”

Nonetheless, Sirkus said he “reluctantly supports” the project.

“I have some concerns that the Snowmass Discovery museum is not going to be a particularly strong driver of economics for Base Village. I don’t know how many times people will go there, how many times people will go back, how much time people will spend there,” he said.

“But I think the concept of this discovery here in Snowmass is worth trying to get something out of. It’s worth trying to create a story about, tell the world about.”


Snowmass Town Councilwoman Alyssa Shenk has taken a more supportive position on the project since she joined the council in 2014.

“I think some of us have more faith in the Discovery Center than others,” she said on Monday.

But Shenk said what’s most important is understanding that, “As a council, we’ve come a really long way in terms of us all reaching a consensus.”

“The council is supportive,” she said. “The point is we’re all trying to push (the project) forward to try to see where it can go.”


Since 2012, Snowmass Discovery has raised more than $400,000, Rigney said.

The project donors include four entities — the town of Snowmass Village, Aspen Skiing Co., Related and an anonymous foundation — that have contributed more than $40,000 each, along with funding from at least 75 individuals, Cardamone said.

“The point is, we’ve had some good support,” Cardamone said. “But in order to really move forward with serious funding, the (memorandum of understanding) is critical.”

With a project timeline that the memorandum will outline, “the clock will start ticking when the (memorandum of understanding) gets signed,” he said.

“So, it’s in everybody’s best interest to get the (memorandum) in place.”


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