Skico eyes new biking ‘flow’ trails, other summer amenities at Aspen Mountain

Chris Bieke soars in the air on the Valhalla downhill mountain bike trail following Jay Morin in Snowmass on September 10, 2017. Aspen Skiing Co. wants to add trails at Snowmass and Aspen Mountain.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times |

The bulk of an updated master development plan for Aspen Mountain contemplates upgraded chairlifts and new terrain for skiers, but there also are several amenities to capture the growing summer market.

Aspen Skiing Co. envisions adding new mountain bike and hiking trails, a challenge course, bouldering and climbing walls, and an expanded venue for music and special events. If approved, they will be built over the next 10 years, according to the plan.

“We’re not looking to do anything like we’re doing at Snowmass,” said Jeff Hanle, Skico vice president of communications.

Skico is making the Elk Camp portion of Snowmass a showcase of summer on-mountain amenities. New amenities include an alpine coaster — an amusement park-like ride through a forested area of Elk Camp. Skico also is adding a zip line canopy tour in an island of trees, a ropes challenge course and another 10 trails to a downhill biking park.

The existing amenities at the summit of Aspen Mountain are relatively modest, given the trend in ski resort development.

Skico submitted an updated master plan for Aspen Mountain to the U.S. Forest Service late last year. It was accepted by the agency last week. The plan is a blueprint for development that features items on Skico’s wish list. Each project must go through review under the National Environmental Policy Act.

The Aspen Mountain plan contemplates for four new “flow” trails that would start at the top of the Silver Queen Gondola and provide more manageable alternatives to one existing single-track trail for cyclists.

“Given the steep topography and large vertical relief on Aspen Mountain, these trails will be very long — 8 to 12 miles — in order to achieve the desired 7 to 10 percent average grade,” the master plan says. “Given this length, trails will be for intermediate and advanced riders only.”

More hiking trail loops would be added at the summit, starting and ending at the Sundeck. A 4- to 6-mile loop into the proposed Pandora’s terrain would provide views toward Independence Pass.

With the other amenities, Skico cited a need to cater to parents and their children. Skico said in the master plan it must “cater to a slightly different demographic than in the winter.”

Climbing walls are planned near trail edges at the summit of Aspen Mountain. “Possible locations are the edges of the One & Two Leaf trails,” the master plan says. “Concepts could include walls of up to 25 feet that would be served with auto belays and shorter bouldering walls that would not require fall protection.

“These features will provide a challenging experience for those new to the sport of climbing and can be designed for a wide variety of users that would suit the full age range of a family,” it continued.

A challenge course is contemplated between One & Two Leaf and the Copper trails. Individuals and teams would have to negotiate various obstacles.

“The course elements would be constructed within, and supported by, trees and other natural materials wherever possible,” the master plan says.

Skico also wants to expand a music platform that exists in a meadow south of the Silver Queen Gondola’s upper terminal to 475 square feet from 144.

“The larger platform will also have a canopy roof to provide weather protection for musicians,” the master play says. “The meadow is planned to be terraced to provide formal seating and also have a canopy for weather protection.”

One element of the plan is completely new to the Aspen-Snowmass ski areas. Skico is proposing “one or more small rustic cabins and/or huts” near Ruthie’s restaurant. They would be for summer and winter use. They would be designed to cater to people who don’t have the nerve, stamina or equipment to hike or ski to backcountry huts.

“The huts are planned to be modestly scaled structures capable of sleeping eight to 20 people each with bedding and various supplies provided,” the plan says.

Skico’s highest priority is to pursue approval of snowmaking and opening 153 acres and adding a chairlift in the Pandora section of the mountain, to the skier’s right of the Walsh’s run. Skico will submit an application to the U.S. Forest Service for those projects this winter, Hanle said.

There is no specific timetable for the summer amenities.