Aspen Skiing Co. officials explored moving the alignment of the proposed Pandora’s chairlift to try to earn the Pitkin County commissioners’ approval of the ski area expansion but ultimately decided the relocation would not work, according to materials submitted to the county for the next round of review Wednesday.
Pitkin County commissioner Steve Child asked Skico during the first round of review in 2019 if they could pursue the addition of Pandora’s terrain to Aspen Mountain ski area without placing the chairlift in land zoned Rural and Remote. Child repeated on Aug. 25 that he is reluctant to rezone land from Rural and Remote to accommodate Skico’s request and asked if the lift could be moved.
Child suggested Skico pull the upper terminal of the chairlift further north than proposed. The upper terminal of Pandora’s is currently proposed south of the upper terminal of the Silver Queen Gondola. Child suggested it be relocated to where the upper terminal of Gent’s Ridge chairlift, also known as the Couch, is located.
Skico addressed that issue and numerous other questions in materials submitted to Pitkin County last week. The answer, while complicated, was “no.”
First, there are process problems. Even if the lift could be moved out of lands zoned Rural and Remote, the county code doesn’t appear to allow skiing in that zone, according to Skico’s response. Therefore, Skico would sink significant money into the chairlift for a nominal addition of terrain.
In addition, the county planning staff said relocating the chairlift would require a new application and restarting at square one of the review process, according to Skico.
“Regardless of the process requirements, ASC believes this physical alternative is not an attractive one given the grades, ski circulation and existing configuration of lifts and structures at the top of the mountain,” said a letter to the county from David Corbin, Skico senior vice president of planning and development. “Nor would such an alignment conform to the plan reviewed, considered and approved by the Forest Service.”
County commissioner Greg Poschman, who indicated his support for the Pandora’s expansion in 2019, asked Skico officials if speeding up the Couch chairlift was a viable alternative to adding a new lift.
“We’ve explored that option with (lift manufacturer) Poma in the past and speeding up ‘the Couch’ is not an option mechanically,” Corbin wrote. “It would require replacing the lift with a new high-speed detachable, a need Pandora’s lift is intended to improve upon, alleviate and ultimately replace. Moreover, simply replacing the Couch would fail to serve Pandora’s terrain below Lud’s Lane, a major advantage of the Pandora’s chair.”
Skico’s proposal would add 153 acres of skiing in the Pandora’s terrain on the upper east side of Aspen Mountain. The terrain is on northeast- and east-facing slopes and above 10,000 feet in elevation, so it holds snow well and longer into spring. Skico would add roughly 82 acres on 15 developed trails and 71 acres on gladed terrain — adding a substantial amount to the tree skiing on Aspen Mountain. The new lift would also allow the extension of the existing Walsh’s, Hyrup’s and Kristi trails.
Skico officials have said adding the Pandora’s lift will reduce traffic and pressure on the Ajax Express chairlift and Silver Queen Gondola because some skiers and riders would choose to make laps in Pandora’s.
In addition to asking if the Pandora’s chairlift could be relocated, Child asked if a new type of zoning called Rural and Remote-Ski Recreation could be created. He touted it as a way to accommodate Skico’s proposal without potentially setting a negative precedent that could unravel Rural and Remote Zoning. That special zoning was created in 1994 and expanded in later years to prevent rampant development of large homes in backcountry areas. The zoning allows 1,000-square-foot cabins.
Corbin responded that creating the new zoning seems “untimely and impossible in the context of the current application.” However, Skico is open to looking at ways other than zoning to provide “further assurances that the original intent of Rural and Remote zoning is respected in the Pandora’s area.”
Other possible tools are conservation easements or restrictive covenants, according to Skico. The company is willing to limit allowable amenities to ski trails, a lift and ancillary structures, according to Corbin’s letter.
The county commissioners will resume review Wednesday in a meeting that starts at noon at the county courthouse. Masks are required and seating is limited. The meeting can also be watched remotely by going to pitkincounty.com. There is not an exact time for the Pandora’s review, but there are only a few minor items on the agenda before it.
— to www.aspentimes.com