The Next Best Thing
Even with a recent $1 billion makeover, Snowmass will never be as glamorous as Aspen. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
In 2001, however, Snowmass took steps to rectify its decades-old misstep. The town hired Canadian firm Intrawest—the group behind Copper Mountain and Winter Park resorts—to re-envision the village. After completing only a portion of the work, Intrawest sold out to Related WestPac in 2007. Related WestPac took on the project and put its own spin on the plans by focusing on eco-friendly standards and inviting the ultra-luxurious Viceroy Hotel to set up residence instead of the previously planned Westin. SkiCo helped by accelerating plans for $70 million in on-mountain improvements. "Snowmass was clearly outdated, and it was time to freshen things up," says Jeff Hanle, SkiCo's director of public relations. "We've got four mountains and two towns. Why not take advantage of it all?"
And so, last season, the first new accommodations on the mountain in 20 years, the Capitol Peak Lodge, began taking reservations. During the previous season, SkiCo's massive, 25,000-square-foot Treehouse Kids' Adventure Center opened, along with an American bistro called Sneaky's Tavern. Across the plaza, the Sweet Life recently began churning 250 varieties of ice cream, candy-themed drinks, and hearty food. Next door, the minds behind the Playboy Club and Ghostbar in Las Vegas added an adult flavor to the mix with après-ski spots Junk and Liquid Sky. All of the new construction had a simple goal: Make Snowmass a destination on its own that complemented—not competed with—Aspen.
By Friday the clouds have moved on, and we settle in at an outdoor table at Sweet Life that offers the perfect vantage of Fanny Hill. This weekend, Snowmass' slopes are being transformed into a mountain bike course, and I want to watch the racers skidding down the mountain on warm-up runs while we eat. We order Sloppy Joe sliders and settle in for the show.
As the show of mud and fat tires unfolds on the mountain, I let my mind wander to what this place, with its new eateries and just-opened hotels, will look like in the winter months. I wonder if the highly stylized Viceroy and comfortable Capitol Peak Lodge will be enough to convince visitors to not only hang out for après-ski but also stay for the night.
Regardless, visitors this winter will find a mountain in transition. Because of the economy, Snowmass' much-anticipated revitalization has hit some serious bumps of late. Related WestPac has temporarily shuttered plans for a second Viceroy building. Construction on the Residences at the Little Nell, a second outpost of the Aspen hotspot, stalled this summer because of financing problems. In the base village, the owners of Liquid Sky and Junk say they hope to reopen for the winter, although the owners face several lawsuits with contractors on the Snowmass properties. And plans to develop the West Village—the old mall—may still be years away.
But reinventions take time and patience, and although Snowmass has certainly waited long enough to make this final push, it may take a concerted effort to finish what it has started. As we sit in the sun, I look around the square. The new Snowmass may be more beautiful, but it still feels like the girl next door. And that's not a bad thing.
Natasha Gardner is 5280's assistant editor. E-mail her at email@example.com.