Aspen Skiing Co. Begins Preparatory Work for Pandora Expansion

Aaron Smith cuts down a tree as part of Aspen Skiing Co.’s work on expanding Pandora’s terrain and adding lifts. Skico was able to work on part of the field as quickly as conditions allowed. Work in other areas is prohibited until after June 21.
Courtesy of Aspen Skiing Co.

Aspen Skiing Co. has begun clearing part of Pandora’s land on Aspen Mountain in preparation for the installation of a new high-speed quad chairlift next summer.

Skico crews began removing trees on May 2 for a works road and for the future lift line, according to Mak Keeling, project manager for Skico’s planning and development department.

“The focus of this year’s work is preparation for the construction of the elevator,” Keeling said. The elevator would be installed in the summer of 2023.

Pitkin County Commissioners approved the chairlift and Pandora land expansion by a 3-to-1 vote on November 17. The approval came after eight public hearings and extensive community debate.

Approximately 153 acres of traditional cut trails and natural glade terrain will be added to the upper east side of Aspen Mountain. All terrain is above 10,000 feet elevation.

The felling of trees figured prominently in the debate. Three of the county commissioners visited the Pandora land in late summer 2021 to get an idea of ​​the logging plan and other issues. Keeling told them at the time that Skico will depend as much as possible on removing standing and downed dead trees, especially for ski slopes. The alignment of the lift road and the works required the displacement of some live trees.

Skico revised its original logging plan with an alternative that will reduce the number of trees cut by about 27 percent, according to the plan submitted to Pitkin County. In the intermediate locations of the land under clearing, approximately 50% of the trees will be removed. In expert location, the contention rate will be 33%. In remote areas, undergrowth will be 25%, according to the plan.

As part of the county’s approval, some land needed for Pandora’s expansion was rezoned from rural and remote areas to ski recreation. On this rezoned land, the county has banned logging and construction until June 21 to minimize potential impacts to wildlife.

According to Suzanne Wolff, the county’s deputy planning director, on land that was already zoned for ski recreation before county approval, Skico was able to begin logging sooner.

“All of the trees we’ve cut so far are on Forest Service property,” Keeling said Monday.

Trees have been removed from the lower two-thirds of the lift line. Work will be undertaken on the upper third after June 21, Keeling said

None of Pandora’s land has been identified as elk calving ground by Colorado Parks and Wildlife. The U.S. Forest Service said in its environmental assessment of Pandora’s application that there were no signs of recent elk calving in the field.

“CPW has mapped elk production (calving) range below the project area in the McFarlane Creek drainage basin and eastward along the mid-slopes of the Roaring Fork basin,” the environmental assessment said. from the Forest Service on Pandora.

Logging began before the snow melted completely due to a tight schedule, Keeling said. Construction of the works road will require significant grading and earthworks as well as the removal of stumps, he said. Work will continue on the road until October.

The chairlift alignment must be cleared so that a study and chairlift profile can be completed for the high-speed quad chairlift. Skico has already made a down payment to manufacturer Leitner-Poma to build the chairlift in time for installation next year. The parts will be assembled at the company’s plant in Grand Junction. Before work can begin, the company needs an elevator profile.

“To the best of my knowledge, we were the first lift order of 2023,” Keeling said.

A helicopter transported the felled trees to a temporary storage area on Lud’s Lane, Walsh’s winter outlet and adjacent ski slopes to the Gent’s Ridge chairlift. It took about 10 hours of helicopter work to transport the trees, Keeling said. Now the limbs are removed.

Keeling estimated around 50% of tree cutting for 2022 is complete. In addition to completing clearing of the lift line, Skico will remove a portion of trees on 8.33 acres for glade skiing.

Once the logging is finished, logging trucks will transport the wood. They will access the site via Summer Road at the front of Aspen Mountain and depart on Little Annie Road at the back. Keeling said around 37 trips will be required this year. Transportation will likely take place in late June or early July, he said.

Logging for the expansion took place over three summers.

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