Construction underway for Aspen Skico’s on-mountain adventure center at Snowmass
Cranes are in motion and construction surrounding Elk Camp at Snowmass Ski Area is in full swing as Aspen Skiing Co. develops its summer adventure center, the “Lost Forest.”
Skico secured final project approval from the U.S. Forest Service on June 20 and started construction the following day, said Peter Santini, Skico director of business development.
“Right now we’ve got a lot of things going on the hill,” Santini said. “We’ve got a pretty aggressive timeline but we feel we can get most of this buttoned up by the end of the fall, definitely working into September and probably October.”
The Lost Forest will feature an alpine coaster, canopy tour, ropes course and a climbing wall as well as added and rerouted biking and hiking trails.
The 5,700-foot “Breathtaker Coaster” is the only part of the Lost Forest that Skico plans to offer in the winter as well as the summer. The other on-mountain amenities will operate solely throughout the summer season.
As Snowmass ski Area approaches its 50th-anniversary season in December, Santini said Skico hopes the coaster will be up and running by this time.
To construct the Lost Forest, Skico hired an additional 24 summer employees, most of whom have worked for the ski company in the winter, Santini said.
When the Elk Camp-based project is complete, Skico anticipates that it will need to hire 30 to 40 summer employees to operate and maintain its attractions.
Once again, Santini said Skico will likely pull from its “large pool of winter employees” to fill these positions.
“That’s really where we’re looking to hire,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity for our employees to get year-round employment from us.”
Further, it makes the most sense in terms of housing, Santini said, as most employees are already established and housed in the valley. However, if needed, Santini said Skico tends to “have some vacancies, varying year to year” at the Club Commons apartments in Snowmass Village.
As for the alpine coaster’s winter operations, Santini estimated that Skico will need an additional five to eight employees, noting, “it’s a little bit TBD.”
He added that Skico may also rotate in some members of its guest services crew to fulfill these duties.
“We’re really proud of our guest service in the winter,” Santini said, “and we’re looking to carry that over to the summer.”
For Skico and White River National Forest officials, the Lost Forest has been a “very long planning process,” Santini said.
Snowmass is the fifth ski resort in the White River National Forest to pursue a summer recreational plan since Congress passed the Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act in 2011.
But the conversation spurred at least a decade ago, said Roger Poirier, a mountain sports program manager at the White River National Forest.
Poirier recalled when Vail Resorts submitted an application for an alpine coaster at Vail Ski Area in 2006 or 2007.
“At that time, we didn’t have any direction to make a decision,” Poirier said. “The White River National Forest didn’t have direction that spoke to these types of activities.”
White River National Forest representatives spent the next few years crafting such policy and determining what would and would not be appropriate for its lands.
The key, according to Poirier, “is really just to try to find the right blend of activities for each resort that still maintain a National Forest setting.”
Vail, Breckenridge, Copper Mountain and Arapahoe Basin are the other ski areas under the White River National Forest, which hosts more visits for recreation than any other national forest in the country, to add summer attractions to their resorts.
“We went from 0 to 60 at Vail and Breckenridge, so we’ve learned a lot of things and been able to apply some of those lessons learned to Snowmass,” Poirier said. “So we’re really excited about what Snowmass is looking to do, and we’re up there a lot this summer making sure the construction is going well.”
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