Growing Pains

Has Snowmass Base Village's Moment Finally Arrived?

On the heels of its 50th anniversary season, it's perfect timing for the resurrection of long-stalled plans.

By Catherine Lutz November 18, 2017 Published in the Holiday 2017 issue of Aspen Sojourner

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The Snowmass Mall in 1968.

Only now, in 2017, has work begun in earnest to complete what for many ski areas is the first step: a base village.

For Avon-based East West Partners—which is managing the Base Village project as one-third of a joint venture that includes the Aspen Skiing Company and private equity firm KSL Capital Partners—the lack of a completed base was a selling point. “Very few ski resorts have in place the amenities and infrastructure and reputation that Snowmass has,” says East West CFO Andy Gunion. “It’s pretty amazing that a mountain of this caliber 50 years after opening is still waiting for its base village to be built.”

It hasn’t been for lack of effort. A decade after original developer Bill Janss’s exit from Snowmass, developers Jim Chaffin and Jim Light bought the undeveloped private land and produced a master plan that included a base village at the bottom of Fanny Hill. But after a series of setbacks, most notably the early 1980s recession, the FDIC took possession of the holdings and sold it to another developer. Throughout the late 1980s and 1990s, Snowmass Land Company focused on demand for luxury slopeside homes, developing neighborhoods such as the Divide, at the base of Sam’s Knob, and the Pines and Two Creeks, which helped finance a second base area on Snowmass’s east side.

SkiCo bought the Base Village site in 1999, reviving hopes for a comprehensive development when it later partnered with resort giant Intrawest to lead the efforts. But the developers soon faced a new set of woes.

A wetlands issue delayed construction by several months, and in 2007, well into building the first phase, Base Village changed hands again. Local developer Pat Smith brought in New York mega-developer Related to partner on a $2 billion, tri-nodal plan to redevelop the Snowmass Mall and Snowmass Center along with the base. But by the time the Great Recession halted construction in 2009, just one-third of Base Village was completed. When Related eventually bought back the project out of foreclosure, clearly the wind had gone out of its sails as it started divesting Snowmass assets.

When the East West, KSL, and SkiCo partnership closed on the purchase at the end of 2016, the deal included all approved, undeveloped property in Base Village, its commercial spaces, and the Viceroy hotel operations and unsold condos.

Results should soon be evident. In fall 2018, a central plaza that will be an ice rink in winter and an events lawn in summer is slated to debut, along with three new buildings: a 99-room Limelight hotel, modeled after sister properties in Aspen and Ketchum, Idaho; a small residential condo building with a Four Mountain Sports store; and the Discovery Center, a public building with yet-to-be-determined programming. Buildout of the $600 million project is expected within the decade.

Don’t expect the resort to become overwhelmed, though. “What differentiates Snowmass is it’s an incredible mountain experience that doesn’t have the crowds Vail and Breckenridge and others have with the Epic Pass,” says Gunion. “There’s capacity for Snowmass to grow, but it’s a long way from the crowded experience.”

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The Popcorn Wagon and the notorious Timbermill bar in 1978.

Snowmass Base Village Through the Years

1966: Original Snowmass master plan calls for multiple clusters of development, several with commercial components.

1979: Developers Jim Chaffin and Jim Light produce the newly incorporated town’s first master plan, including a base village. 

2001: Aspen Skiing Company announces a partnership with Intrawest to develop Base Village.

2005: Snowmass Village voters narrowly approve the Base Village plan passed by Town Council, which includes more than 600 residential units, a new commercial center, and mountain improvements such as a gondola, six-pack chairlift, and pulse gondola connecting the base with the Snowmass Mall.

2007: Related and WestPac joint venture buys Base Village for $169 million.

2008: A portion of Base Village, including the Treehouse children’s center and Viceroy hotel, officially opens.

2015: Town Council approves an amended plan for completion of Base Village, still owned by a subsidiary of Related, which had bought its own project out of foreclosure in 2012.

2017 : Construction restarts on Base Village under its new owners: a partnership of Aspen Skiing Co., East West, and KSL.

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Gene Taylor's Sports in 1978.

Businesses There from the Beginning

Built in one nine-month construction season in 1967, Snowmass demanded a leap of faith from its first commercial tenants, who joined in the race against time to ready the resort for opening day. But something must’ve gone right, as today, four of the original five lodges—Pokolodi, Snowmass Inn, Mountain Chalet, and Wildwood—still welcome guests, while at least three of the earliest shops continue to do business.

Snowmass Sports
The ski shop signed the first commercial lease at Snowmass. Opened by the same partnership that started Aspen Sports, it went out of business for about a year in the mid-1980s until Tom Wenzel (who worked at Gene Taylor’s at the time) registered the name and started his own store in a new location. He expanded from a ski-tuning room on the third floor of the Silvertree Eldorado Lodge to a retail and rental shop on the mall level of the hotel (now the Westin Snowmass), where it’s been for nearly 30 years and is now run by Wenzel’s son Cameron.

Gene Taylors Sports
Gene Taylor opened his first store as a hunting and fishing shop in Grand Junction in 1958. In the late ’60s, with just a fledgling knowledge of the ski business, he heard of an opportunity at the soon-to-be-opened Snowmass-at-Aspen. Over 50 years, the full-service ski shop has evolved with the outdoor recreation industry, such as adding mountain bike rentals as summer business grew. But in many ways, the Snowmass store has stayed the same: the name and location haven’t changed, and Duke Taylor, Gene’s son, counts many staffers and clients who have stayed loyal for decades.   

Daly Bottle Shop
It began as Cap and Cork Liquors in the inaugural ski season, run by Jim Hooker, a longtime local who later became mayor of Snowmass Village. Dick Kelly, who came to Snowmass for a funeral in 1972, decided to stay and bought the business with his wife, Jane. They were the shop’s longest-running owners, somewhere along the line changing the name to Village Liquors. Current owner Reed Lewis, who had worked for the Kellys, took over in 2001, changed the name again—to Daly Bottle Shop—and added the adjacent specialty food shop, Grain Fine Food.

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