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Snowmass Center redevelopment discussions continue, include new voices

A few new local stakeholder voices joined the Snowmass Center redevelopment project conversation last week at the most recent Town Council meeting.

During the public hearings before Town Council up to this point, Richard Shaw and Jessica Garrow of Design Workshop have served as the spokespeople for the redevelopment project applicant, Eastwood Snowmass Investors, an affiliate of Eastwood Developments. The company owns the current Snowmass Center and much of Aspen Highlands Base Village as Eastwood Highlands Investors, many of the Eastwood employees have sat in council chambers for every Snowmass Center hearing. But on Feb. 18, Jordan Sarick, principal of the Eastwood Developments, presented to Town Council for the first time.

“We feel this proposal is appropriate for Snowmass because it contains the minimum to support the program but not the maximum we thought could get approved,” Sarick said, emphasizing Eastwood’s local ties.

“We want to keep local tenants here and providing services for locals.”

After Sarick spoke, council members thanked him for sharing his perspective and continued their discussions on parking, height and density at the proposed Snowmass Center.

Council has expressed general consensus on allowing the requested slope variance, but remained concerned with the height of buildings 5A, 5B and 6B, which they feel create a wall effect, along with the overall residential unit count and shared parking plan.

“We could go on and on, but with 5A and 5B it just doesn’t work. As you come down that street you can’t see downvalley at all,” said Mayor Markey Butler on Feb. 18.

At the Feb. 18 meeting, council said they would like to see these taller buildings reoriented so that they back up to the ridge behind the Snowmass Center instead of sit between the proposed main center building and the Woodbridge Condominiums.

Shaw and Brian McNellis, the town senior planner overseeing the center project, further explained the proposed shared parking plan for the center, which would rely on the multi-use aspect of the center to succeed, and include 15.3% less commercial and residential parking than required by town code.

But council members said they feel there needs to be more commercial parking to reflect future town growth, and wanted the applicant to find out how many employees currently work at the center as a baseline comparison.

After providing feedback on the height and parking variances, council members opened the hearing up for public comment and heard from a handful of locals, including representatives from Clark’s Market and Ajax Supply hardware store.

These center representatives mainly expressed their excitement and anticipation for the proposed redevelopment, as they feel it would improve their operations, and feel that they have outgrown the current center.

Town Council will continue its Snowmass Center discussions March 16 at its regular meeting.


Snowmass Mardi Gras set to carry on tradition

On Tuesday, thousands of Americans will sport purple, green and gold, pull out their beaded necklaces from years past, and take part in a multitude of lively festivities to celebrate Mardi Gras, otherwise known as Fat Tuesday or carnival.

An international holiday with Christian roots shooting back to the Middle Ages — with one of the biggest celebrations in New Orleans, Louisiana, where Fat Tuesday was first recognized in the U.S. — Mardi Gras is known for its excessive feasts and parties precluding Lent, or the 40 days of fasting and penance between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday, according to the Mardi Gras New Orleans website.

In Snowmass, locals and visitors will partake in the 38th year of Fat Tuesday festivities, including a bead toss, carnival activities, live music and fireworks.

“Times have changed, events have changed, but we still honor many of the Snowmass traditions,” said Julie Hardman, special events manager for Snowmass Tourism.

According to Hardman, the local legend of Mardi Gras is that a big group of skiers from Louisiana came to Snowmass over Fat Tuesday year after year in the mid-1980s, aiming to escape the holiday chaos at home but bringing their traditions and celebrations with them.

Town stakeholders capitalized on the opportunity to host a village version of Fat Tuesday, sending letters to Louisianans to inform them of Snowmass Mardi Gras and throwing a parade that was a huge hit, according to “The Story of Snowmass” book.

But although there is no longer an annual parade due to a decrease in local and visitor participation, and the celebration has shifted in recent years to a more apres-ski event, Hardman said Snowmass Tourism and town stakeholders are still committed to the town’s Fat Tuesday tradition.

This year’s Mardi Gras will feature Duke Taylor and Julie Schopper as the celebration’s king and queen, a recognition awarded to the duo as beloved members of the community and as two longtime employees of Gene Taylor’s Sports, which is celebrating 50 years of business in Snowmass this year.

“Here’s to another 50 years of Gene Taylor’s and 38 years of Mardi Gras in Snowmass,” Schopper said in a prepared statement. “I am really looking forward to getting outside of the shop and seeing friends and guests around the village. We are thrilled to represent Snowmass and Gene Taylor’s!”

With Taylor and Schopper at the helm, the 2020 Fat Tuesday festivities will include the annual king and queen bead toss; face painting, stilt walkers, balloon artists, and other carnival attractions on the Village Mall; an Aspen Skiing Co.-sponsored Bud Light Hi-Fi concert featuring The Soul Rebels, a New Orleans brass band known for its funk and soul; and the Mother of All Ascensions uphill race, one of the longest-running Snowmass Mardi Gras traditions.

Starting at 7 a.m. at the bottom of Fanny Hill, dozens of locals and visitors will climb over 2,000 feet in less than two miles to Gwyn’s High Alpine for the race, using their uphilling gear of choice.

The race aims to bring the community together for a fun, affordable pre-party climb, encouraging a healthy lifestyle and giving back to participants through its famous goody bags and prize giveaways at the finish, according to Andrew Bielecki, a part-time valley resident and longtime organizer of the ascension.

“I’ve always been a big advocate of getting people outside and active as a way to blow off steam,” Bielecki said. “It puts people in a better head space and promotes the overall health of our community.”

That’s why for the past three years Bielecki has given a portion of the race entry fee, $40 in advance and $50 on Fat Tuesday, to the Aspen Hope Center and is upping that portion from $5 to $10 this year because of the need for mental health services and support in the valley.

Bielecki emphasized that his mission is to add to the village’s Mardi Gras festivities for years to come by getting people up the mountain and making everyone feel like a winner for taking part.

“I’ve always wanted to give people more in return than what they paid for,” Bielecki said, noting he has roughly $15,000 worth of prizes to give away at the race this year.

“I feel so blessed to be a part of this community and want to give back as much as I can. … My heart is here in the valley.”

As Snowmass Mardi Gras continues to evolve, Hardman said Snowmass Tourism hopes to continue to support longstanding traditions like the Mother of All Ascensions race, and to see Fat Tuesday grow even fatter.

“We’re always open to ideas and our overall goal is to make our existing events better and better,” Hardman said.


Meet Rippin’ Hotdog: A Snowmass trivia team, friend group and lifestyle

When it comes to the name “Rippin’ Hotdog,” its origins are up for debate, but most agree the locally coined term stemmed from an evening screening of “Hot Dog…The Movie” about a year ago at the New Belgium Ranger Station in Snowmass.

“When we sort of stumbled into the Rippin’ Hotdog name we just sort of said, ‘Oh, that’s our new name for sure,’” said Matt Fersch, one of the founding members of Rippin Hotdog, the trivia team his roughly 15-person friend group competes as and lifestyle it lives by. “If Rippin’ Hotdog is about anything, it’s about being open to the community… everyone out there having fun on the mountain is a rippin’ hotdog.”

Fersch and his friend group officially became Rippin’ Hotdog about a year ago. But for over two years, the group has made it a weekly ritual to meet up for the Ranger Station’s Tuesday trivia night and has been a family, or as Fersch says a “wolf pack,” of friends for a decade.

“Honestly, it’s structured fun,” Fersch said of their weekly trivia night tradition. “As adults when we get older its harder for our schedules to line up and this and that, but we know at least once a week one of your friends is going to be there at trivia waiting to see you.”

At the Feb. 4 trivia night, this fun-focused spirit was evident. The station was packed with patrons and trivia competitors, including the Rippin’ Hotdogs, who met each question with intense focus and each break with casual conversation.

When asked how the hotdogs met, team member Lexy Mirante said most were all rookie ski instructors for Aspen Skiing Co. about 10 years ago, bonding over skiing and working together.

Some of the hotdogs are still with Skico and others have moved on to other jobs in and out of Snowmass Village, but Mirante said most have stuck together and grown to become family.

“We celebrate all of the holidays together and even when we think we’re sick of seeing each other, we’ll hang out multiple times a day, skiing or biking together then going out for dinner later,” Mirante said. “It’s really special to have that close of a friendship with that number of people.”

But even though the Tuesday trivia nights are more of an excuse to meet up than anything else, Mirante and other hotdog members said it wouldn’t be the team’s preferred hangout of choice if it weren’t for trivia host Elliott Audette.

Audette is credited for the revival of the Ranger Station trivia night after its former host moved away from the village a few years ago.

Up until winter 2018 when he stepped up to host, Audette said he had been a weekly trivia competitor, often playing on the team that rivaled Rippin’ Hotdog, though they weren’t known by that name at the time.

“I guess you could say we started out as sort of enemies or rivals, but once I started hosting I really got to know them and we’ve become great friends,” Audette said. “It means so much to me that they show up week after week.”

As the Ranger Station trivia host, Audette said he aims to create a fun, non-intimidating and welcoming atmosphere that all locals and visitors feel they can be a part of.

He hopes to keep the weekly trivia at the Ranger Station going for groups of regulars like those with Rippin’ Hotdog, and even has goals of expanding the game night to other village locations.

“I think it’s important to have community connectors like game nights, live music and open mic nights and think this is a nice little tradition once a week where people know they can meet up and have fun,” Audette said of trivia night.

“It really is more about having fun than the trivia. … It’s half-comedy, half-trivia and I don’t think anyone ever leaves disappointed.”

As for Rippin’ Hotdog, they hope to see the weekly trivia continue at the Ranger Station as well, and have dreams of turning Rippin’ Hotdog into a local, lifestyle ski brand everyone can get in on.

Adele La Roche, the hotdog member who came up with the team design and logo, runs its social media, and crafts stickers, T-shirts and other themed items out of her village home for the group, said the brand is just a dream at this point, but that the longtime friends are adamant about sharing their Rippin’ Hotdog-spirit with the rest of the village community.

“It started off as more of a joke to begin with but then it got a bit more serious,” La Roche said. “Anyone can be a hotdog with us and carry our values of having fun and protecting winter.”


Gene Taylor’s Sports in Snowmass celebrates 50 years

On a recent afternoon in a Village Mall shop, customers browsed winter merchandise and employees started up casual conversation to assist them, asking what they were looking for and making suggestions as athletes turned down a snowy mountain on the TV screens overhead.

It was just another day in Gene Taylor’s Sports, but 2020 is not just another year — the longtime Snowmass Village Mall store is celebrating 50 years of business in town, with a group of employees and local regulars who have worked in and frequented the family-run shop for decades.

“It’s great, it’s really great,” Duke Taylor, owner of Gene Taylor’s Sports in Snowmass said of celebrating 50 years.

“It’s been about the people that work here and come in here totally, people we’ve met and families we’ve known for years, their kids and now grandkids. They’re all family to us.”

Duke said he was 13 when his father, Gene, expanded his pioneering ski business with his name from Grand Junction, where he started in 1958, to Snowmass Village.

He and his two brothers worked in their dad’s stores growing up, often traveling to Snowmass from Grand Junction to ski and work, until Duke decided to come out to work at the village shop full-time for a season when he was 23. He said he’s been here ever since.

“I swore I’d never take this as a career. I just needed a job at 23,” Duke said. “But I stayed because it’s just fun and it’s just a great place to be.”

Duke isn’t the only one who’s followed in his dad’s footsteps. He said both of his brothers run similar stores with the family name in Grand Junction and Gunnison, and that it’s an interesting business Duke feels has exposed the Taylors to a great lifestyle.

In Snowmass specifically, Duke said several of his employees have worked in the store for more than 30 years, and the store prides itself on its consistency in providing laid back, high-quality, family-like service.

“A big part of our success definitely is our people,” Duke said. “We’re really serious about the skiing, everyone here is a skier or a rider and we just strive to provide good service, a fair price and to just take care of the people.”

P.J. Smith, manager at the Snowmass store, is one of Duke’s longtime employees. Smith said he started working with Gene Taylor’s when he was 18 after moving to the village from Minnesota in 1981 and has been here ever since.

“I got this job on my second day in town,” Smith said with a smile. “Everyone loves what they’re doing here and that’s what sets us apart.”

Several of the employees in Gene Taylor’s Sports expressed similar thoughts, emphasizing the family atmosphere and quality of service year-round for skiers, snowboarders and mountain bikers.

As Gene Taylor’s Sports in Snowmass moves forward from 50, Duke said he hopes to keep the quality of service locals and visitors have come to expect up to par, and to keep going in the village as long as possible.

“There are a lot of ski shops but we’re just glad to be here, to be somewhere up here,” Duke said. “Unconsciously, we’ve stuck to what we do and we just do what we do. That’s the nucleus; we keep our professional ski tuning and take care of the people. Everything kind of revolves around that.”


Town Council continues to focus on height, denisty of Snowmass Center redevelopment

In early November, Town Council began its quasi-judicial review of the proposed redevelopment plan for the Snowmass Center.

Brought forth by Design Workshop and Eastwood Snowmass Investors, the group that owns the current center, the redevelopment includes an additional 16,646 square-feet of “community serving” commercial space, 78 multi-family residential units (68 free market, 10 deed-restricted), and other significant renovations to parking, public transit and existing center businesses in the 11-building proposal.

Over the past two months and a handful of public hearings, Town Council has focused its review of the proposal on a few key areas: height, density and viewplanes. And according to Brian McNellis, the town senior planner overseeing the center project, this prolonged focus is about just what he expected.

“Large developments never go without controversy,” he said. “It takes a long time to tackle each issue and topic so we just try to chip away one piece at a time.”

McNellis also said it’s important for the public to understand that Planned Unit Development, or PUD project applications, which the center redevelopment is proposed as, are inherently complicated.

In a nutshell, the PUD process aims to allow for variations from the strict application of certain standards of the town’s zoning districts so project applicants can exercise creativity and increase community value, according to town documents.

With PUD processes come lengthy reviews by town staff, the planning commission and Town Council, as McNellis touched on, to determine whether the requested variances should be approved and if other community value-related conditions must be put in place.

At the recent Town Council review discussion Jan. 21, council members rehashed previously expressed concerns, including the redeveloped center buildings exceeding the town’s 38-foot height limit and 100% build out for the center area; the limited downvalley views and wall effect the proposed buildings could create for Woodbridge Condominiums tenants; and the need for a clarified parking plan.

On Jan. 6, council members asked the applicant to look at reconfiguring the project so that it fit within the 38-foot height limit and to bring back renderings of what a Woodbridge Condominiums tenant would see from their home when looking toward the center.

In a roughly 30-minute presentation Jan. 21, which Town Council asked be shortened moving forward, Design Workshop’s Richard Shaw and Jessica Garrow showed the Woodbridge Condominiums viewplanes and expressed that the redevelopment project would not be viable if they were to work within the 38-foot height limit set for the center area.

“There is greater than 38 feet in each of the buildings as the result or topography and the result I have to suggest to you is that 38 feet leaves the center as it is today,” Shaw explained Jan. 21.

“There isn’t a redevelopment plan that we find viable that would make it possible to create a project with a strict application and no variance to height greater than 38 feet.”

But Town Council still voiced that the requested height- and density-related variances may be too much.

“I’m not where you are in justification for 100% (build out),” Mayor Markey Butler said to the applicant on Jan. 21. “There’s not a lot of support here for the density, that needs to reduced and reduced considerably.”

More directly, Butler and the two other council members present Jan. 21 said they were more comfortable with higher height variances in the proposed buildings backing up to the ridgeline behind the current center, but uncomfortable with the density and heights of the buildings off of Lower Kearns Road and adjacent to the existing condominiums.

“Those buildings have the greatest blockage of views looking downvalley,” Councilman Bill Madsen said. “It’s important to have that real open feeling and it just feels pretty tight in there.”

A week after the Jan. 21 hearing, Shaw and Garrow said they don’t have a reponse to Town Council’s concerns and questions about the height and density of the redevelopment project yet, but emphasized that they’ve worked hard to listen and act on the town’s feedback.

The Design Workshop officials also said they feel it is important for the redevelopment project to be looked at in its entirety as a mixed-use, 100% Snowmass neighborhood versus separate buildings, and for locals to understand that PUD projects with similar variance requests are not uncommon in the village.

“Redevelopment is essential to take what is a 40-year-old building and make it much more functional,” Shaw said. “There is a place here for some disagreement between Town Council and the applicant and we hope to continue talking about these various topics within the bigger idea here.”

While Shaw, Garrow and McNellis acknowledged there may be a long road of discussion ahead once Town Council decides on what height and density it may be comfortable with for the Snowmass Center redevelopment, McNellis emphasized that the public hearings are the best place for locals to share their opinions with council and weigh in on what they hope to see with the project.

“For projects like this that have a significant impact on the town, these hearings are a really good opportunity for people to come forward and voice their support or nonsupport for the project,” McNellis said.

The next Snowmass Center redevelopment review and public hearing is scheduled for Feb. 18 at 4 p.m.


Snowmass officials prepping for X Games, increased visitors in the village

On Thursday, X Games Aspen athletes and attendees will take to Buttermilk Ski Area for the renowned four days of winter sports competitions and celebrations.

And although the bulk of the festivities will be roughly 10 miles away from Snowmass Village, town officials are preparing to help during the games and have supported the Aspen-Snowmass competitions financially for years.

“Snowmass Tourism specifically is a huge supporter of X Games,” said Rose Abello, director of Snowmass Tourism. “It’s been a super effective way to broaden the appeal of Aspen-Snowmass to a younger demographic and to people all over the world.”

According to Abello, X Games brings a “younger, less established” group of people to the Snowmass area that doesn’t usually come to the resort over the rest of the winter season, resulting in one of the highest occupancy periods of the year.

She also said Snowmass Tourism, with the approval and oversight of Town Council, has committed to contributing $187,000 to the X Games event at Buttermilk this year, and has given a similar chunk of money over the past five years.

But Snowmass doesn’t just write a check. The town’s police force and area fire officials also help staff and manage the public safety crew on scene at Buttermilk.

Brian Olson, Snowmass police chief, said this year there will be seven officers helping cover 21, 10 or more-hour shifts over the four days of X Games.

One officer will be managing the entire crew on the ground, Olson said, and another will be serving in the Roaring Fork Fire Rescue Authority incident command van on site, along with one local Roaring Fork fire official.

Outside of offering public safety support at X Games, Olson also said officers are anticipating an increase in calls for service in the village.

In looking at the calls the Snowmass Police Department received the week before X Games and the week of X Games over years past, Olson said calls for service increase roughly 60% during the winter sports event.

“It’s a big weekend in the village,” Olson said. “We do a lot of people management and there’s a lot of activity on the road. … It’s tourism at its height.”

Olson said Snowmass police specifically deal with overflow parking problems in the town’s day skier lot, as some people park there and catch a bus to the X Games event at Buttermilk, and encouraged anyone coming up from down valley to utilize the Brush Creek Park and Ride and public transportation.

Scott Thompson, Roaring Fork Fire Rescue Authority chief, echoed similar thoughts about the X Games weekend, but said the fire authority’s calls for service don’t increase that much.

“Please don’t drive, take the bus,” Thompson said. “If you go to X Games, have patience, dress warmly and don’t over indulge because that’s usually where we see problems arise.”

But although the four-day weekend is busy for Snowmass Village, town officials including Clint Kinney, town manager, feel it is a positive addition to the events the area has to offer for locals and visitors over the winter season.

“The community is proud of the resort that’s in our community, and in order to make it flourish we need a wide spectrum of people to come here,” Kinney said.

“X Games makes sure young people know about us as a place to ski and snowboard, so they continue to come back when they’re older which creates a really positive cycle for us. We see it as a long term investment and a way to keep Aspen-Snowmass in front of the younger generations.”