About 100 people rode the Elk Camp gondola up to Snowmass’s Lost Forest Friday afternoon for an event called Upload for the Download. Hosted by the Aspen Skiing Co. and the town of Snowmass Village, the event featured presentations highlighting what’s gone right in Snowmass over the last year and revealed a few changes the town and ski area can look forward to moving ahead.
Those on hand for the presentations represented an interesting mix of Snowmass Village business owners, community leaders, curious mountain bikers and those just wondering what’s going on in the village 10 miles from Aspen.
First up was SkiCo CEO Mike Kaplan, who recapped the successes of the 2018-2019 winter season while lauding the response crews in Snowmass displayed when faced with so much more snow than the year before.
“It was kind of a whiplash effect from one year to the next,” said Kaplan. “When all that snow happened, it was tough to be ready, but the Snowmass team stepped up. We had serious snowfall, but the ski patrol was there. They got us open every day and kept us safe. And that great effort extended to everybody in the community. The infrastructure never skipped a beat.”
One slightly down note that Kaplan touched on was the fact that while all the Aspen ski areas are ranked in the top six nationally in the Net Promoter Score, Snowmass was the lowest ranked of the four.
“How do we improve that?” Kaplan asked. “It’s about going the extra mile to look after our guests.”
Lastly, Kaplan touched on the crowds Snowmass saw during the snowy storm cycles last winter. Many locals, accustomed to virtually no crowds, blamed the IKON Pass for drawing skiers from the Front Range and creating longer lines at the lifts than anyone had seen before. That animosity led to some hard feelings on the part of locals and caused a bit of a backlash against the Ikon Pass and those who own one.
“That isn’t who we are, and this isn’t what we’re all about,” said Kaplan. “We’re about sharing the hill and welcoming families and the next generation of skiers.”
Kaplan acknowledged that he’s heard complaints that Ikon pass holders don’t spend very much money when they come to town, but he predicted that would change as those Ikoners age and keep coming back. In the meantime, he exhorted those listening to make them feel more welcome when they come here.
“Let’s not be powder pigs,” he said, while adding that the SkiCo has been studying the crowds and looking into what changes be made to ensure that “we’re as committed as ever to the quality of the experience.”
One of those changes, according to Snowmass General Manager Susan Cross, who spoke second, will be to add 29 chairs to the High Alpine Lift, one of the ones most impacted by the crowds. The additions will increase the lift’s uphill capacity to 1,800 people per hour, which should help to ease congestion on busy days.
Other on-mountain changes that skiers can look forward to this winter include new snowmaking lines that should help the resort produce more snow in more places more efficiently, scheduled repairs to a number of lifts and improved Nastar starting huts and courses in advance of the Nastar National Championships, which will be coming to Snowmass in March 2020.
Another big change for Snowmass will be the new restaurant at the top of Sam’s Knob. Gone will be Sam’s Smokehouse, which occupied the space for the last decade-plus, and in its place will be Sam’s, a sit-down restaurant serving “Mediterranean/Italian cuisine with mountain soul” that is slated to be open by Thanksgiving.
Next up at the podium was Andy Gunion, a managing partner with Base Village developer East West Partners. Gunion updated the crowd on Base Village’s building 6, which houses The Collective Snowmass but which has been shuttered for a remodel for the last few months.
The first components of the building should be coming online later this fall, including Mix6, a fast-casual restaurant from award-winning Aspen chef Martin Oswald. The space will also include a bar, flex space, a small performance space and a game room for kids that is currently in the process of being painted with murals.
Other changes coming to Base Village include a medical facility that will go into the east building of One Snowmass, which should be completed by around January and will also house an outlet of Aspen’s popular King Yoga. The west building of One Snowmass is just about ready to open and will include an art gallery and JUS, a popular coffee/breakfast/smoothie shop with a store in Aspen.
Snowmass Mayor Markey Butler was up next and touted Snowmass’s sales tax revenues, which are up 17 percent year-to-date over last year, as well as the Snowmass community survey, which returned more than 600 responses and showed Snowmass scores “significantly higher” than most towns in service, public works, police, parks and recreation and the town’s plowing service.
Despite that, Butler admitted that the town’s transit issues could use some improvement, and she unveiled plans for a transit center that will combine the current RFTA stop at the Snowmass Mall with the Village Shuttle bus stop.
“It’ll be a huge change for our town,” said Butler.
Last to speak was Virginia McNellis, marketing director for Snowmass Tourism. She started off by noting that Snowmass’ occupancy numbers have broken records every month of 2019 so far except in June. Part of the reason for that, she said, is that Snowmass Tourism has worked very hard to make sure there is plenty of midweek evening programming to counter what Kaplan referred to as “leakage to Aspen.”
“It’s been a really exciting summer, and our events have really helped to drive that occupancy,” said McNellis.
She also noted that the summer isn’t over yet. The Lost Forest and the Snowmass Bike Park will run through Oct. 6, and then, after a couple of months to catch its breath, Snowmass will dive right into the winter with a season kickoff party on Dec. 14.