Aspen Skiing Co. wants to replace one of its workhorse chairlifts at Snowmass Ski Area and has asked the U.S. Forest Service for permission to do so.
Skico is looking to swap out the aging Big Burn detachable quad chairlift with an updated lift of the same type.
The application was submitted Aug. 13, and White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams signed an acceptance letter Thursday, triggering the agency’s review. The critical criteria for review are “purpose and need” for the new lift.
“The Purpose of the Big Burn Lift replacement is to replace the aging, existing high-speed detachable-grip quad chairlift — that has served Aspen Skiing Co./White River National Forest guests well for the past 33 years — with a new high-speed detachable-grip quad chairlift that incorporates the most current state-of-the-art components and technology,” the application by Skico Director of Mountain Planning Victor Gerdin said.
“There is a need for this proposed action because it has been determined the existing lift can no longer provide, due to its age, reliable and consistent access to some of Snowmass Mountain’s most popular intermediate terrain,” the application continued.
The Big Burn Chairlift was among the first generation of high-speed quads that Skico installed at its ski areas. It replaced a slow, fixed-grip double chair that had lines of legendary length. The high-speed lift debuted for the 1986-87 season and was an immediate hit.
It was relieved of some pressure when Skico replaced the slow, old Sheer Bliss chairlift with a high-speed quad, providing alternative access to Big Burn terrain.
The aging Big Burn lift’s “haul-rope” failed a recent inspection and requires replacement prior to the 2019-20 season, Gerdin wrote. That emphasizes the need to get it replaced, he said.
The replacement lift is proposed in the same alignment as the existing lift.
“The lift’s bottom terminal will move approximately 250 feet up the line to improve circulation and lift loading behind the bottom terminal,” Skico’s application said. “The top terminal will move slightly uphill or downhill to improve circulation in the unloading area.”
Skico is considering chairs with retractable “bubble” covers to provide additional passenger comfort on the lift, Gerdin wrote. The lift is somewhat exposed, particularly on stretches without trees. The capacity will remain at 2,200 passengers per hour.
The lift replacement was among the projects outlined in the 2013 Snowmass Mountain Master Development Plan, which was approved by the Forest Service. That will streamline review of the specific proposal.
Skico’s application didn’t identify when the lift would be replaced, if approved. Skico President and CEO Mike Kaplan said earlier this week it was too soon to tell if both the Big Burn lift replacement at Snowmass and the Pandora’s terrain expansion at Aspen Mountain would be pursued at the same time next summer. Skico is seeking approval from Pitkin County for Pandora’s and other projects on Aspen Mountain.