Aspen Skiing Co. hopes to garner public support for second Pandora’s debate
Aspen Skiing Co. is hoping to garner public support for its proposed Pandora Field Expansion on Aspen Mountain when it renews an offer of approval to Pitkin County Commissioners on August 25.
In a presentation Tuesday morning to the board of directors of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, Skico representatives said support was low key the first time commissioners considered Skico’s proposal to add 153 acres of new land and a quadruple chairlift in the Upper East Side of Aspen. Mountain.
âFrom a Ski Company point of view, we think the support for this is really pretty broad in the community, although maybe somewhat latent or quiet,â said David Corbin, senior vice president of planning at Skico .
Skico officials urged ACRA members to “spread the word” that “Pandora will improve Aspen Mountain” and consider speaking at the county commissioners meeting or submitting a letter to the county.
Skico is also working with a group called Friends of Pandora’s, which has launched an online petition to support the proposal. Friends of Pandora’s is an independent, privately funded citizens’ group, according to Skico’s director of community engagement, Michael Miracle.
To whip up excitement about Pandora, Skico touts the benefits of adding a mix of advanced and intermediate terrain. Much of the new skiing and riding would be done through tree glades.
âIt’s probably best viewed as land under the existing Walsh and Hyrup trails and south of those two trails,â Corbin said.
A groomed intermediate trail would allow skiers and cyclists to avoid the steeper terrain at the top and access gentler slopes to the skier’s right of Walsh.
âFrom there, there’s a new, mid-level, clear terrain that’s the bread and butter of this ski terrain, if you will,â Corbin said. “It gives 1,200 feet of vertical drop, which equates to quite a bit of skiing.”
Skico touts the new terrain as adding diversity that will keep Aspen Mountain in demand among customers. It would be the first addition of land to Aspen Mountain since Walsh’s was developed in 1985.
The chairlift would be configured to allow the extension of the Walsh, Hyrup and Kristi grounds, so that there would be additional expert terrain.
The US Forest Service has reviewed and approved Skico’s proposal. In its environmental assessment, the Forest Service said there would be approximately 77.5 acres of traditional and cleared trails as part of Pandora. Eight trails would provide 40.1 acres of expert terrain. Seven trails would provide 37.4 acres of intermediate terrain. The covered ground was not broken down by capacity.
âThe open terrain would be mostly expert and intermediate level terrain, while traditional trails would provide a mix of intermediate, intermediate and expert level terrain,â the Forest Service review said. âThe terrain would be accessible to intermediate skiers via trails like the Copper Trail. “
Another attractive aspect of Pandora’s terrain is its elevation above 10,000 feet and the northern aspect.
âWhat people may not fully understand is how it really changes the skiing experience,â Corbin said. âIt’s a whole new aspect. It is high. It retains snow very well and for many of our skiers, it will give them the opportunity to circulate on the upper part of the mountain in a different way.
More skiers and runners are likely to be doing laps from Pandora’s chair and other high mountain lifts and not returning to base during the day. The new chairlift will also eliminate the need for the ‘never-ending Gent’s Ridge ride’, a notoriously slow quad chairlift.
âIt’s really a substantial improvement in the skiing experience on our part,â said Corbin.
Miracle highlighted Pandora’s high worth.
“This is a key adaptation to climate change, to open up high altitude terrain,” he said. â(It is) oriented north. The snow lasts a really long time up there.
While the skiing is the exciting part, the decision of the county commissioners will depend on the land use. To achieve its goals, Skico needs Commissioners to approve the rezoning of 132 acres of rural and remote to Ski-Recreation.
Rural and remote zoning is considered the gold standard by conservationists, as it has prevented the development of the Pitkin County hinterland with McMansions such as Red Mountain, Starwood, McLain Flats Road and Castle Creek Valley, to name a few. Rural and remote zoning was approved in 1994 to avoid the development of pockets of private land behind Aspen Mountain, Smuggler Mountain, Hunter Creek Valley, Van Horn Park, Lenado, and Fryingpan Valley.
Skico notes that rural and remote zoning was never intended to exclude developed skiing. The company has made a commitment not to build anything like restaurants on the land that would be rezoned from Rural and Remote. The development would be limited to the lower lift terminal, associated storage and possibly a ski patrol station, Corbin said.
Critics said allowing rezoning of rural and remote land would set a bad precedent that other private landowners could follow.
County commissioners were deadlocked 2-2 over Skico’s original proposal for Pandora in the first review in 2019 (Commissioner Clapper recused herself because she has a family member who works for Skico).
Skico exercised his right to have the request filed rather than a formal vote. The company provided additional information – essentially strengthening its position – and returned to the county review process this year. The Pitkin County Planning and Zoning Commission voted 4-0 on June 1 to recommend approval of the plan. Now the real show begins.