Aspen Skiing Co. officials hope to replace the High Alpine double chair at Snowmass Ski Area with a high-speed detachable quad chairlift by the 2016-17 season, Vice President of Mountain Operations Rich Burkley said Friday.
The chairlift has been targeted for replacement for some time because it is an “aging, fixed-grip double” chair that is simply due for retirement, he said. But Skico officials also see an opportunity to boost customer service in multiple ways with a replacement, he said.
The biggest advantage is the lift will be aligned so that skiers and snowboarders can stay high — above 10,000 feet — for a good portion of their day at Snowmass Ski Area, Burkley said.
“You can zigzag the whole upper mountain without coming down,” he said.
Skico is proposing to realign the new High Alpine chair to the west. The lower terminal will be on Upper Green Cabin Trail, downslope from High Alpine Restaurant. That will allow skiers and snowboarders coming from the expert terrain of Cirque Headwall, AMF, Gowdy’s, KT Gully and Rock Island to head back to the top of the mountain without heading down to the Sheer Bliss lift.
Burkley said the new lift could produce the following scenario: A skier makes a few laps to start the day on the Big Burn and then heads over to the Cirque. The skier could catch the realigned High Alpine chair and make a few bump runs on the trails on the High Alpine section of the mountain before riding the lift a final time and hiking into Hanging Valley Wall.
The realigned lift also will be designed to draw more people to the intermediate Upper Green Cabin Trail, which is underutilized because of the slightly uphill traverse required to access it from the current High Alpine lift. The upper terminal will be shifted west and slightly uphill so the traverse to Upper Green Cabin will be easier, he said.
Skico’s proposed lift won’t dump more skiers and snowboarders onto the High Alpine terrain because the chairs will be spaced to maintain the existing capacity, Burkley said. The ride time will be reduced even though the lift will be longer. The current double chair covers 1,388 vertical feet in 91/2 minutes, according to the Snowmass trail map.
Burkley said Skico has no intent of altering the experience in Hanging Valley Wall with the new chairlift. Even though it will be realigned and moved slightly uphill, the access to Hanging Valley will remain the same.
“Your hike starts at the same point,” he said. It requires a short hike to get to Roberto’s or Hanging Valley Headwall. That helps thin out skiers and snowboarders.
Skico submitted an amendment to the Snowmass Ski Area master plan to the U.S. Forest Service for the lift replacement, adding snowmaking and thinning trees in seven areas to expand options for skiers and snowboarders.
“This plan is a five- to seven-year plan,” Burkley said.
The Aspen-Sopris Ranger District has started the environmental review of the proposal and anticipates making a decision in 2015.
Skico wants to install snowmaking up to Elk Camp Restaurant. Currently snowmaking only goes to the bottom of the Alpine Springs chairlift.
Skico applied to thin trees in six distinct pods. One thinning project is connected to the realigned chairlift. There is already tight tree skiing to the west of the Reidar’s trail on High Alpine. The tree skiing starts more than halfway down the slope. The trees naturally thin out to create some short shots down to Green Cabin and toward High Alpine Restaurant.
The installation of the realigned chairlift will require thinning of trees west of Reidar’s. Skico is proposing thinning trees the entire length of the trail.
Another priority is expanding the existing Sneaky’s Glades, to the east of the Sneaky’s Trail on the Big Burn. Trees on the upper and lower portions of the glades would be thinned to the same density in the middle section, according to the proposal.
Other glading plans in the proposal include:
• Freefall/Glissade Glades: Trees would be thinned on about 5 acres of forest between two fully cleared areas leading into Garrett’s Gulch from skier’s right.
• Castle Glades: A currently closed area of about 15 acres between Baby Ruth and Hanging Valley Glades would be thinned to make it accessible.
• Long Shot Glade: There would be further thinning on about 30 acres west of the Long Shot Trail.
Upper Green Cabin Glades: Skico wants to thin trees on about 20 acres west of Upper Green Cabin, in the vicinity of the gate for the Dikes.
Burkley said Skico also is working on an update to its Snowmass master plan. Much of the new plan will concentrate on summer uses. Burkley said a major thrust will be additional lift-served trails for mountain bikers. The plan is to get a critical mass of trails on the Elk Camp side of the mountain.
“You can zigzag the whole upper mountain without coming down.”
Skico Vice President of Mountain Operations Rich Burkley