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Aspen Skiing Co. executives update Pitkin County commissioners on Buttermilk, Pandora's and Ruthie's

Snow falls outside Ruthie's Restaurant on Aspen Mountain
Kaya Williams
Aspen Public Radio
Ruthie’s Restaurant on Aspen Mountain hasn’t operated as a restaurant for years. One Aspen Skiing Company planner said a reactivation is an “exciting idea,” but that it also depends on other moving parts.

At a Pitkin County commissioners work session Tuesday, Aspen Skiing Company executives offered insight on several current mountain infrastructure projects — and offered some ideas on what planners might consider in the future, too.

Buttermilk boom: Base area renovations nearing finish line

After several months of renovations at the base area of Buttermilk Mountain, the space formerly known as “Bumps” was ready to serve food on opening day on Dec. 17 as the renamed “Buttermilk Mountain Lodge.”

Another component of the base area project — a brand-new, fully electric guest services building — wasn’t ready for primetime yet on opening day, but now, “we are almost there,” said Aspen Skiing Company’s Senior Vice President of Planning and Development Chris Kiley.

The new building will replace the old green building that previously housed those services. Skiers needing rentals and other services this season have been accessing those in a temporary setup instead.

But, at long last, the new guest services building seems just about ready to go, according to a status update Kiley provided to Pitkin County commissioners on Tuesday.

“This week, we're going to be taking possession and occupying the new guest services building,” he said.

The project has been decades in the making, Kiley said.

“It's incredibly exciting to see it coming to fruition, and it's been a full on sprint since closing day last April, to get this done,” he said.

Kiley said there were several factors that impacted the renovations in the spring, summer and fall of 2022.

“We had an entire mountain melting and draining into our buildings, we had tons of groundwater,” he said. “We had equipment delays, supply chain, we had labor issues, and we had just an unbelievably wet construction season. All of those things came on an already compressed schedule. However, we're doing it.”

Opening the box: Pandora’s terrain expansion updates

Skico has already begun work to open new inbounds terrain in the area called “Pandora’s” on Aspen Mountain next winter.

In the summer of 2022, crews cleared about “20 acres of dead, diseased and dying trees, and mulched them up and spread it out over the site,” Kiley told the board of county commissioners. They removed 33 truckloads of timber from the site to be used for other purposes, such as local buildings, firewood and projects like decks and fencing.

Crews have also established a new access road, with plans to complete a ski-back trail to the bottom of a new, detachable four-person lift to be installed in the summer of 2023. The new lift will service high-elevation terrain that tends to hold snow early and late into the season, Kiley said.

This season, Pandora’s is still “definitely backcountry terrain,” and is marked accordingly, Skico President and CEO Mike Kaplan told the commissioners.

“We're trying to just reinforce that message because as you see, now, as you look over, it's easier to see, ‘Oh, that looks open over there,’” Kaplan said.

Though it isn’t officially patrolled yet, Aspen ski patrollers have been spending time in Pandora’s this season to learn how to control and mitigate avalanche risks in the area.

Kiley told Pitkin County Commissioners that there are ropes as well as two access and two exit gates in place for access to Pandora’s this season.

“When those gates are open, people can go in and ski in the Pandora's area, and there's defined signage for where to get back out and reenter the ski area,” Kiley said. “When those gates are closed, we're asking people to stay out of that because patrol, again, is in there trying to learn how to do avalanche control and otherwise learn the ins and outs of the property.”

If entering Pandora’s this season, skiers and snowboarders should approach the terrain with a buddy, carry avalanche safety gear and be mindful of current avalanche conditions.

Kaplan said it is “really important that people as always obey all closures and boundaries and ‘know before you go’ if you're going to leave the ski area, and it's clearly leaving the ski area.”

Future thinking: Ruthie’s Restaurant and master planning

If you ski past the Ruthie’s Restaurant building on Aspen Mountain right now, you won’t see much going on. The restaurant has been closed for years, and functions now as a place to live for a few hardy on-mountain residents.

But Aspen Skiing Company planners haven’t ruled out the idea of a Ruthie’s revival. Kiley told commissioners on Tuesday that reactivating Ruthie’s Restaurant is “a really exciting idea.”

It’s also one that involves a lot of other moving parts due to the Lift One corridor project, which includes plans for a new chairlift to replace Lift 1A and developments like the Lift One Lodge and another hotel that was proposed as a “Gorsuch Haus,” now under new ownership.

“We're working closely with Lift One Lodge and with the new owners at Gorsuch (Haus) to try to understand their timing for the base area development and when the lift might come in,” Kiley said. “And part of that idea is to reenergize, reactivate the Ruthie’s restaurant, but we haven't started drawing anything, so we're kind of waiting to see what the schedule unfolds at the base and then respond and react accordingly to that.”

Kiley said planners are also thinking about a “holistic” master plan for the top of Aspen Mountain, especially with a terrain expansion into the area known as “Pandora’s” slated to open next winter. That thought process could consider the Sundeck restaurant, landscaping and other infrastructure like the patrol building, Kiley said.

Other master planning is also in the works, he said.

“With the Buttermilk base completed, we're going to start turning our attention towards updating our mountain master plan. That'll be a 2024 activity for us,” Kiley said. “Right now we're focused in the planning department on our Snowmass mountain master plan update, which we're going to take to the town of Snowmass Village here shortly, then we'll turn our attention towards updating the mountain and hope to bring it to you to start discussing with you and the Forest Service, probably in 2024.”

Kaya Williams is the Edlis Neeson Arts and Culture Reporter at Aspen Public Radio, covering the vibrant creative and cultural scene in Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley. She studied journalism and history at Boston University, where she also worked for WBUR, WGBH, The Boston Globe and her beloved college newspaper, The Daily Free Press. Williams joins the team after a stint at The Aspen Times, where she reported on Snowmass Village, education, mental health, food, the ski industry, arts and culture and other general assignment stories.