Upgrades at Snowmass up in the air
Snowmass Ski Area is like an old truck – it’s familiar, comfortable and trustworthy, but it can use some upgrades.
In 1973, when that vehicle was still shiny and new, Doug Mackenzie joined the Snowmass ski school, and he’s been around for the ride ever since.
For the past 12 years, as Snowmass mountain manager, Mackenzie has stood by his aging resort. He’s seen proposals to build a base village come and go – four in total, beginning in the early 1980s – all the while watching from afar as competitors such as Copper Mountain, Keystone, Whistler/Blackcomb, Squaw Valley and Mammoth revamped their base areas and others, such as Vail, planned major redevelopment.
But more than anything, Mackenzie has been sitting in limbo, waiting for his resort to be completed. A base village has been a part of the town’s master plan from the beginning. “If you look back, there’s always been a plan to do something here,” Mackenzie said.
The community, which is largely divided over the proposed size of Base Village, a joint venture of Intrawest and the Aspen Skiing Co., has also been waiting. Even those who feel the currently proposed dimensions are too big agree that something is needed, and Snowmass has to be finished. But just how big the village needs to be continues to be debated.
While many resorts have undergone facelifts, some projects, such as the new village at Copper Mountain, also an Intrawest venture, have been criticized for being imposing and empty, and labeled as failures. But size arguments aside, Mackenzie says now is the time to move forward.
“This is a pivotal time for us, for the ski area and the community,” he said. “The longer we put this off, the further behind our competition we get.”
Snowmass Mountain, he added, has all of the natural features needed to be one of the top destination resorts in the country, but it’s lagging in several key areas and soon may struggle to attract visitors. “We have parking lots that are dirt and muddy in the spring time; we have Port-o-Potties in the rodeo lot; and the base of our ski area, where we park our snowcats and snowmobiles, it’s what we call a bone yard,” Mackenzie said.
“It’s not quite a junk yard, but it’s not exactly your idea of a breathtaking entrance or what a ski area should look like,” he said. “It’s not really world class.”
Base Village, he added, would eliminate those problems through a series of upgrades and on-mountain improvements.
Despite the mountain’s size, Mackenzie said there are significant skier traffic problems at the base area, and 20- to 30-minute lines in the morning are not uncommon. An eight-passenger gondola and a six-passenger lift, both of which would depart from the new Base Village area, would alleviate that congestion, he said.
Other improvements include another new six-pack lift that would run high enough to provide access to both sides of the Burn, a people mover running from Base Village to the mall, a series of adjustments to increase efficiency and numerous on-mountain restaurant upgrades.
When all is said and done in three to four years, nine old lifts will be removed and replaced, or upgraded.
And the gondola would offer multiple uses. “A gondola has certain extra advantages to skiing,” Mackenzie said. “There’s the summer and night use, and it gives us the flexibility to hold concerts, functions and activities at the top of the gondola.
“It’s a great plan as far as lifts and configuration. We all sit down and discuss how to address these shortcomings, so we’ve all had input into all of these on-mountian improvements,” he continued. “[But] what I see right now is we need to get some resolution of where we’re going with Base Village, because if we can’t do that, we can’t install any new lifts.
“The public is just trying to get up on the mountain.”
Advocates of Base Village as currently proposed argue that the mountain will not receive these improvements if the project undergoes further downsizing, and if that happens, Snowmass will become nothing more than a bedroom community.
While Mackenzie doesn’t feel that the resort will simply fall apart without Base Village, he did agree that if the project is rejected, realizing those improvements will become increasingly difficult.
“If Base Village doesn’t pass, we won’t die,” he said, adding that it would be a shame to have to raise lift ticket prices in order to generate revenue for basic improvements if the project doesn’t win approval.
“We have a lot of people that go out there everyday to work hard and be the best, and I’d hate for them to be second best because some people in this community can’t resolve their problems and come up with a workable solution,” Mackenzie said. “I didn’t come here to live among skyscrapers, but if one story or less is going to mean the difference between success, then add the extra story.
“I don’t want to live in a run-down, declining resort.”
Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of four articles about the state of Snowmass Village and Snowmass Ski Area as they relate to the proposed Base Village project. Different perspectives will be presented in each. On Tuesday, Snowmass Village voters will be asked to decide on an ordinance limiting the Town Council’s ability to approve large projects such as Base Village.