An Even Brighter Future for Snowmass
The 2022 Snowmass Master Development Plan proposes improvements to an already-great ski area.
Snowmass Master Development Plan
Snowmass has long been one of the world’s premier ski areas. It boasts the most lift-served vertical drop of any resort in the U.S., a something-for-everyone terrain mix across more than 3,300 skiable acres, seven on-mountain restaurants ranging from grass-fed burgers to alta cucina, and a truly best-in-the-business ski school.
How could we possibly improve on that? Well, we have some ideas. In fact, we have a plan: the 2022 Snowmass Master Development Plan (MDP).
Aspen Snowmass develops an MDP for each of our four ski areas every ten years or so. The plans summarize potential improvements to the resort that could occur over the coming decade. They’re a commitment to the future, to enhancing the mountain experience on a year-round basis, and to connecting visitors and locals to the mountain, nature, and community in an authentic way.
Everything proposed in the 2022 Snowmass MDP sits within the existing ski area boundary. One of the plan’s primary goals is to spread people out by better utilizing the terrain and services that are already there. As with all of the work Aspen Snowmass does, we use sustainability as a primary lens, always striving to set new standards on forest health, carbon reduction, and water impacts.
Not all of the Snowmass MDP’s proposals will come to fruition, but in working with our partners at the U.S. Forest Service and Town of Snowmass Village to formalize what’s possible, our goal is simple: Keep Snowmass where it belongs, atop the list of the best ski areas in the world.
Less Waiting, More Skiing
Chairlifts are good things for a ski area. Lift lines and base-area congestion are not. To ensure that Snowmass moves skiers and snowboarders up the mountain as efficiently as possible, the 2022 Snowmass MDP envisions two new lifts out of the base area: 1) a new gondola to replace the Village Express lift and 2) a new high-speed quad originating across from the Snowmass Mall and ending at the top of Coney Glade that will replace the existing Coney Glade chair. This new quad will be named Coney Express.
By increasing Snowmass’ out-of-base capacity, these projects will help to alleviate the morning crush that can occur on our busiest days. The base terminal of the new high-speed quad will be located across from the Snowmass Mall, easily accessible from both the TOSV transit and RFTA bus stops, as well as from the future Snowmass Mall Transit Center, which will eventually replace the TOSV and RFTA stops. We’re confident this lift will have a big impact—it adds an entirely new way to depart the bottom of the mountain—so it’ll be the first piece of the MDP we bring to life. The lift project has received approvals from the U.S. Forest Service and the Town of Snowmass Village. It will be installed in the summer of 2024, and it’ll be up and running for the 2024-2025 ski season. Once added, the Village Express Gondola, in addition to its increased capacity, will allow summer and evening access to Sam’s for events and dinners.
Further up the mountain, in order to accommodate the modest year-over-year increase in skier volume the MDP anticipates, the plan proposes adding capacity to the Alpine Springs, Elk Camp, and Cirque lifts, as well as construction of the Burnt Mountain chair. The Burnt Mountain lift was approved by the Forest Service in 1994 and remains in the 2022 MDP, but it will require additional environmental review prior to construction.
Same Boundary, More Trails & Glades
What's better than a lift system that scoots skiers up the mountain quicker? Having more terrain to ski once you’re up there. The MDP proposes that every terrain pod on Snowmass—Big Burn, Sam’s, Campground, Alpine Springs, High Alpine, Burnt Mountain, Elk Camp—receive enhancements in the form of new glades and/or trails. That dense stand of trees between Wildcat and Slot? It’s now going to ski like Reidar’s Glades. Sneaky’s Trees will be gladed further down the hill, making that already-exceptional experience twice as long. A new run is proposed to connect Longshot back to Elk Camp. And there’s a lot more.
Important to note: Any new trails and glading will sit within the established and existing ski area boundary. This is not the ski area getting bigger, just better. We are confident that the amount of new lines to discover will be a revelation for even the most seasoned Snowmass skiers.
Let's Eat! (And Have a Place to Sit)
Here’s a buzzkill when you pop into a restaurant after working up an appetite like only skiers and snowboarders can: Not finding a place to sit. Snowmass’ on-mountain restaurants accommodate too few people on the busiest days, never mind accounting for modest growth in skier volume in the future.
The 2022 MDP’s approach to adding restaurant seating capacity is first to remodel and expand existing footprints at Sam’s, Lynn Britt, and Ullrhof. Beyond that, the plan identifies locations for two new restaurants: one on Gunner’s View ski run and another near the base of the Alpine Springs lift. If we do construct new buildings, we will use the opportunity to model best practices in green development and sustainability.
We have a track record there: both Sam’s and Elk Camp restaurants are LEED Silver-certified. When designed, the new buildings will be sized to meet demand and provide appropriate guest services and will incorporate building materials and systems that represent best environmental practices for long-term sustainability.
Make It Snow
Due to climate change, snowmaking is becoming increasingly necessary prior to the Christmas holiday week. Peering farther into the future, we need to plan for years when there’s insufficient snow to ski top to bottom—even in late December. To that end, the MDP proposes snowmaking in higher-elevation terrain zones that connect with lifts for downloading skiers and snowboarders. (In the meantime, through Aspen Snowmass’ work on climate and energy policy at the regional, state, and national levels, we’re doing everything possible to avoid that future scenario.)
Thankfully, snowmaking has become vastly more energy efficient over the past twenty years. Whereas old snow guns drew 96 kW of electricity, new ones that make the same amount of snow draw just 4 kW. By building out water storage as part of the plan, we will further minimize the impact of snowmaking on Snowmass Creek, while also ensuring the ability to make snow quickly and at large scale during cold snaps, another efficiency that water storage helps achieve.
With every aspect of our water use, we will continue to follow the lead of the Snowmass Water and Sanitation District, which has a stellar track record for stewardship of the water supply and making sure stream-health, fire, and domestic-water service needs are met before releasing water for snowmaking.
Summer Continues to Bloom
Snowmass has come into its own in the summertime over the past several years. Its bike parks and biking culture receive national attention, and the Lost Forest’s Alpine coaster, climbing wall, zip lines, and challenge courses have proven even more popular than we expected.
But we’ve also heard from Snowmass guests and residents that the mix could be even better, particularly around hiking and more diverse activities for kids. The MDP’s proposed trail system will give the hikers what they want—and then some. New trails will be of multiple lengths and difficulties, and take advantage of the same terrain and elevation mix that makes Snowmass such an incredible ski area. There are loops that will have you looking up Garrett’s Peak, toward Mount Daly, and up the Snowmass Creek Valley. Some hikes will bring you to stream crossings. The MDP also proposes a “platform walk” on the existing Rabbit Run, which will make that hike out of Elk Camp more accessible for younger kids or adults with physical limitations.
As for the kids, we’ve been told that 5- to 12-year-olds could use more fun stuff (sometimes by the kids themselves!). The MDP proposes adding a kids’ rope course, zip-line experience, and interactive nature walk to the existing Breathtaker Alpine Coaster, climbing wall, and mountain biking that the little rippers already love. We’re proposing a few more mountain bike trails, too. All told, it’ll elevate and diversify an already excellent mix of summertime fun.
The 2022 Snowmass Master Development Plan was submitted to the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) for review in late May 2022. It was revised by Aspen Snowmass based on USFS comments and accepted by the USFS in January 2023. The next step is for the MDP to be submitted to the Town of Snowmass Village (TOSV) for review and approval, which is expected to take place over the course of 2023. Before construction of any piece of the MDP begins, all individual components, whether new chairlifts or new buildings, go through additional project-specific environmental and TOSV review processes, which include opportunities for public comment.