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Not Your Father's Highlands


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Feb. 24, 2001

10 a.m. The “first annual” Highlands Inferno starts. Nearly 80 skiers and boarders hike 800 vertical feet to the Highland Bowl gates, at 12,281 feet. Then it’s chaos down Ozone’s 37-degree pitch, once a patrollers’ out-of-bounds playroom.
Noon At the new Highlands base village, Ritz Carlton opens its first Ritz-Carlton Club, a collection of 73 time-share apartments, which cost up to $250,000 for 28 days a year.
1 p.m. Chef Andreas Fischbacher serves elk ragout and gruyere-stuffed pheasant sausage to a full house at Cloud 9. This old ski-patrol shack has been transformed into a kind of on-slope bistro skiers previously needed to travel to Europe to find.
4 p.m. Racers, patrollers, locals and visitors party around a 39-foot-long bar at the Commonwealth Pub, located at the base on the site of the old A-frame, once Highland’s signature landmark.

Opening for its first full ski season this year, the new Aspen Highlands is nothing less than a complete makeover for this no-frills resort that has always been valued as an antidote to Aspen elitism. It’s the most ambitious Aspen Skiing Company development since Snowmass was built in l967.

Developer Gerald Hines commissioned Robert A.M. Stern, dean of architecture at Yale, to create a mountain village inspired by the Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone and the Ahwahnee Hotel at Yosemite, “buildings that don’t shrink in grandly scaled settings.” Enormous timbers of stripped Engleman spruce support overhanging roofs. Balconies overlook plazas paved in radiant-heated stone. An escalator transports skiers from drop-off to slopeside, Beaver Creek-style.

Statistics reveal an alpine village far removed from the austere, Alta-like atmosphere of the old Highlands:

Almost 60,000 square feet of base restaurants, shops and guest services have been built, at a cost of about $230 million.

32 townhouse units are priced from $2 million to $4 million.

Dozens of sites for mega-homes ($l million-plus for the plots) are available slopeside.

A dorm above the Commonwealth Pub is designated for resort employees in winter, Aspen music students in the summer.

Locals with modest incomes won, by lottery, the right to buy one of 117 subsidized condos, priced from $38,000 to $236,000. Half the pillows in the village are “affordable housing,” promising a community enlivened by visitors and locals. “Let Gucci and Bulgari glitter three miles away in Aspen. We’re the trailhead to a glorious outdoors,” says Georgia Hanson, retail manager for Hines Development, who hopes to fill the village with outdoor-adventure businesses.Ski-shop owner Dave Durrance, long-time local, ski coach and son of 1936 U.S. Olympic skier Dick Durrance, will take runs with customers before recommending a purchase. “The new Highlands is like a new pair of jeans,” Durrance says. “Using it will only make it better.”