A fresh foot of snow at a ski resort can get shredded to ribbons in less than an hour by rabid powder-hungry skiers and snowboarders. Imagine if you had the whole mountain to yourself. Or say, just you and your family and a few well-heeled friends. Imagine skiing all that powder at your leisure, guaranteed untracked every run.
For the right price, this scenario is not mere fantasy. Tucked in a crush of peaks in the San Juans, between Telluride and Crested Butte, is a private ski area that’s bigger than Aspen Mountain. Bowls, chutes, and gladed slopes lace the hillsides, all accessed by a plush custom snowcat. For now a yurt sits at the base, where skiers can stop in for a catered lunch, but a 10,000-square-foot day lodge is in the plans.
Cimarron Mountain Club is the brainchild of Jim Aronstein, a skier and mineral resources attorney based in Denver. In 2004, he bought the property, 2,000 acres of pristine wilderness and soaring peaks, including a thousand acres of north-facing slopes with a 1,600-foot vertical drop. He’s been snowmobile and snowcat skiing the mountain for over a decade with his family and more recently has decided to open up the club to a handful of like-minded, and similarly flush, families.
“I’ve always had in the back of my mind this idea of doing something that would combine a real wilderness experience with some of the comforts of life,” says Aronstein. “We all complain when we’re in a lift line. I thought, there must be a better way to experience the sport. I wanted to approach it in a different way.”
For Aronstein, who has three boys, the land has also been a way to connect his kids to nature and to preserve the experience for future generations. “It’s a great place to get away with the family without distraction,” says Aronstein.
In 2012, Aronstein recruited Johnnie Stevens, who over the span of 35 years went from cutting trails at Telluride to serving as the resort’s COO. Stevens has helped Aronstein build out the infrastructure and lay out trails, bringing the ski experience to fruition. “On an average day, you might get 12 skiers. But that would be a lot of volume,” says Stevens, who now finds himself hanging off 70 degree slopes with a chainsaw in hand, sculpting new runs—despite the fact that he is 68. “We mark all the trails, tromping up really steep stuff,” says Aronstein, who is 61. “We like to say no one is allowed to do [the job] unless they’re 60 plus.”
The scenario is idyllic, to be sure, but the price of admission is steep as the slopes. Club members would buy a ranch (ranging from 35 to 204 acres) for between $2.7 million to $3.85 million and build their own sanctuary on the plot. Annual dues would be around $45,000.
Colorado skiers might know Aronstein’s name from a contentious deal over the development, in the late 1990s, of a parcel of land at Vail’s backdoor known as the Gilman property. He eventually sold the land, which is now part of Battle Mountain, another potential private ski resort project near Minturn that’s been stalled out for years.
With Cimarron, the scenario is less fraught and decidedly less public. Aronstein owns the land outright and has tapped a dream team of ski area and hotel executives to make CMC a reality.
Along with Stevens, who serves as the club’s general manager, the Cimarron Board of Directors includes, among others, Eric Calderon, COO of Auberge Resorts; Andy Daly, who is Vail’s mayor, the owner of Powderhorn, and former president of Vail Resorts; and John Norton, former COO of Aspen Skiing Company and CEO of Crested Butte. Norton serves as Chairman of the Board.
Though it’s technically only 34 miles from Montrose (or an eight-minute heli commute), Cimarron Mountain Club feels remote. Once you turn off the pavement, it’s 12 miles along a winding gravel road to the property’s entry gates.
When members drive in, they’ll park their cars at the club’s barn and then be ferried roughly five miles to their homes in a Suburban or a Polaris Ranger UTV retrofitted with snowcat tracks. “We’re not building roads up here,” says Stevens. “You’re going to have to like the wilderness.” The philosophy is to create a wilderness retreat that’s low impact and keep the forests pristine. Indeed, on any given weekend, there may be more moose, elk, black bear, deer, and red-tailed hawks on the property than people.
“The Club will have a very ‘concierge’ approach,” explains Andy Michelich, a former Park City ski patroller and CMC’s mountain manager and head ski guide. There will be meals catered at the lodge—maybe elk loin chili from game harvested on the property—and homeowners can have their pantries stocked before arrival. “In winter, you can connect with the cat any time,” says Michelich.
CMC’s live-in mountain hosts, Shawna Stephens and her partner Scott Slater bring experience from guiding fly-fishing trips in Alaska and beyond. “My kids call her ‘The Most Interesting Woman in the World,’” says Aronstein, who explains Stephens met (and fell in love with) Slater while she was guiding a fishing trip in Mongolia for a Hucho taimain, prehistoric trout that grows as large as 100 pounds and is known to feed on birds and small rodents.
Stephens and Scott will not only prepare meals for guests but serve as two in a crew of mountain guides at the ready, whether you want to land a trout, fell an elk bow-hunting, climb a rock face, or hunt for edible mushrooms.
In addition to guided skiing down to adrenaline-inducing plunges, the club will also offer groomed slopes for intermediates, snowshoeing, Nordic skiing, and ice skating on a frozen pond.
In summer, mountain biking and hiking trails will connect the dozen homes sites. Guests can fly fish, canoe, kayak on the Club’s 20-acre mountain lake. Scattered about the property are 14 secluded ponds, stocked with fish.
For rock climbers, Cimarron has on its land an igneous intrusion called Washboard Rock. Similar to Devils Tower in Wyoming, Washboard is a volcanic plug of columnar basalt in the form of hexagonal spires. Eventually the plan is to install a Via feratta on the rock face
If you’ve got some millions burning a hole in your pocket, plenty of opportunity remains to buy in. For more information, visit the Cimarron Mountain Club online.