Summertime at a ski area: lifts swaying ever so slightly in the breeze, wild- flowers popping up where moguls once lay, a few people hiking up the service road, powder days a distant memory. But as Colorado resorts increasingly ramp up warm-weather attractions, that traditional characterization is changing (well, except for the powder days).
One of the best examples sits in our own backyard. Over the past several years, the Snowmass Bike Park has brought summer guests to the ski area’s west side with a growing network of lift-served trails that range from gently descending beginner to full-on, jump-filled expert. Now comes a softer adventure component with the debut of Lost Forest, which includes a mountain coaster, a zipline canopy tour, a ropes challenge course, and a climbing wall.
“It will give Snowmass a little more vitality,” says David Corbin, senior VP of planning and development for the Aspen Skiing Company.
The goal, adds SkiCo Director of Business Development Peter Santini, who oversees the project, is to “get our guests into nature in a way that’s accessible, with the hope that they’ll graduate on to different levels of activity.”
Key to the existence of both the Bike Park and Lost Forest is former Colorado Senator Mark Udall’s Ski Area Recreation Opportunity Enhancement Act, passed in 2011, which opened the door for greater summer infrastructure, and accompanying increased revenue, at resorts. Now the Forest Service can more easily consider and permit activities like mountain biking, alpine slides, and ziplines on the land that ski areas lease. Sure, some resorts had previously pieced together some on-mountain hiking and biking options, but the 1986 National Ski Area Permit Act technically allowed only winter activities like skiing. “It wasn’t legislatively clear,” notes Corbin. “Some of those summer activities were evolving, but there wasn’t a legal context by which to evaluate or approve
With the bill’s passage, resorts can now embrace a new assortment of on-mountain activities at a time when “we need to increase our summer business in light of climate change,” says Corbin.
Most of Lost Forest opens on June 22. The Breathtaker Mountain Coaster already debuted in December and quickly soared in popularity—especially with last winter’s sparse snow—for its fast, twisty, fun descent at a potential speed of almost 30 miles per hour. Like the coaster, the other activities are in close proximity to Elk Camp’s midmountain retaurant and the top of the gondola.
Most impressive is the canopy tour, a two-and- a-half to three-hour guided experience that spans three sky bridges and eight ziplines, with several rappels in between. Conceived by Grand Junction–based Bonzai Designs, the tour mostly runs between the Naked Lady and Adams Avenue ski runs.
“It’s in a stretch of woods that guests and locals are not super familiar with, as the terrain we like for skiing isn’t so great for summer activities,” notes Santini. Starting at 9,800 feet in elevation, the tour zig-zags down the mountain in progressively longer zips for about 1,000 vertical feet. It ends with a 1,400-linear-foot, exposed side-by-side zip across the Slider run, offering an uninterrupted view of the Roaring Fork Valley. Afterward, guests will gather at the new Slider cabin, designed by Basalt’s CCY Architects, before getting a shuttle ride back up to Elk Camp.
Other than man-made structures for the final two zips, the rest of the lines are strung between tree-based platforms, adding a natural element that doesn’t exist elsewhere in Colorado, says Santini. “We weren’t even expecting that we’d be able to use trees, but it fits right into that nature-based experience we want to deliver,” he adds.
The self-guided challenge course blends into the woods near the Elk Camp Meadows ski run. Five different paths vary in difficulty, with balance-based activities like swinging bridges and a suspended line of tree stumps. The final piece, a 40-foot- high climbing wall, should open by early August.Though detractors may see a project like Lost Forest as steering Snowmass too close to, say, Vail’s busy Adventure Ridge, Corbin differentiates it. “We distinguish ourselves from others in the industry by trying to integrate our activities literally into the forest, getting guests as close to that natural environment in as sensitive a way as we could.”
Other than building more trails in the Bike Park and, eventually, a few backcountry huts, SkiCo does not have any more-extensive on-mountain plans at Snowmass. Meanwhile, at Aspen Mountain, says Corbin, “We’d like to continue enhancing the landscape up top and providing more children’s activities, but first and foremost, it’s all about the gondola ride and the view.” And for those who still value the traditional quiet of a ski area in summer, no future operating plans have been proposed for Buttermilk (“it’s kind of like a public park already,” notes Corbin) or Aspen Highlands. That zipline ride down the gut of High- land Bowl? Just a pipe dream for now.
A three-activity package that includes the mountain coaster, the challenge course, and the climbing wall runs $84 per person. The canopy tour, which includes access to the other activities, requires advance reservation and costs $184 per person. Bike-haul tickets must be purchased separately. A preview week for winter passholders, June 22–28, offers $50 canopy tours, free access to the coaster and the challenge course, and one free day in the Bike Park.