Snowmass Aims for "Better, Not Bigger" Resort With New Master Plan
Plan includes Burnt Mountain chair; Upgrades to Village Express, Coney chair, and others; plus “Every Terrain Pod [would] Receive New Glades and/or Trails.”
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“Aspen,” as a mental and emotional trigger, is evocative and provocative. Depending upon your point of view and your mindset, Aspen is: the Silver Queen angling 3,264 feet out of Gondola Plaza; a case study in gentrification ratcheted to its sinister extremes; a highbrow ideas exchange for the global intelligentsia; an eco-brand that won’t shut up about its methane-capture power plant; Hunter S. Thompson’s Bohemian redoubt of color and characters; a mountain-town fantasy land that pretends to be a place where normal people can afford to live for the duration of your one-week vacation.
But from a skier’s point of view – or at least the vacationing skier’s point of view – Aspen is, typically, a whole lot of Snowmass. Of the Ikon Pass “destination’s” four ski areas, the 3,342-acre, 4,406-vertical-foot Snowmass is the largest, the most varied, the most relatable. Aspen Mountain, with just 673 acres – smaller, by the way, than Monarch, Sunlight, or Eldora – and no green terrain, can hold limited appeal to out-of-towners. Ferocious Aspen Highlands is equally unapproachable and also lacks green runs. Almost no one even bothers with Buttermilk, which, despite more than 2,000 feet of vert, is pigeonholed as a beginner’s paradise. Most visiting skiers spend most of their days cruising Snowmass. It’s easy to understand why: it is larger than Aspen’s other three ski areas combined, and ribbons of blue groomers streak down from just about every lift. “Historically Snowmass accounts for about 50 percent of our total skier visits each year,” Aspen Snowmass Vice President of Communications Jeff Hanle confirmed.
Which is why Snowmass’ updated master development plan (MDP) is so consequential. The MDP – recently accepted by the U.S. Forest Service and undergoing review by the Town of Snowmass Village – includes potential massive lift upgrades and new trails and glades across the mountain, without changing the resort’s current boundaries. Highlights include:
The construction, at last, of the Burnt Mountain chairlift, a 2,733-vertical-foot monster that would open a huge swath of terrain to direct lift access.
A substantial ramp-up in out-of-base capacity by: 1) replacing the Village Express six-pack with a 10-passenger gondola, and, 2) replacing Coney Glade with a longer high-speed quad or six-pack that would load across from the Snowmass Mall, rather than at mid-mountain.
The Alpine Springs and Elk Camp high-speed quads would make way for six-packs along the existing liftlines.
The Cirque lift – currently a Poma platter – would get a capacity upgrade to a yet-to-be-determined surface lift.
New trails and/or glades on every terrain pod: Big Burn, Sam’s, Campground, Alpine Springs, High Alpine, Burnt Mountain, and Elk Camp.
Enhanced snowmaking, two new on-mountain restaurants, and upgrades to the summer experience.
“This is not the ski area getting bigger, just better,” reads Snowmass’ MDP website. Still, the resort anticipates an 18 percent increase in its Comfortable Carrying Capacity (CCC) as a result of the improvements, from the current 12,500 skiers to 14,820. Here’s an overview of the proposed updates:
And here, for context, is Snowmass’ current trailmap:
Like any ski area masterplan, this is basically a list of the possible. Any piece of it would require additional approvals and reviews to move forward. Nonetheless, these plans are fun to consider. Here’s a deeper look at the resort’s proposed upgrades, and how they would change the day-to-day ski experience at Aspen-Snowmass’ largest and most popular ski area:
Below the paid subscriber jump: the mountain-changing impact of a Burnt Mountain lift, big changes for Alpine Springs, rethinking the base area, the logic of mid-mountain beginner zones, a full inventory of all proposed lift changes, and more.