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Aspen lighting up downtown winterscape to celebrate holidays

New trial for lighting on pedestrian malls designed to have the eye gravitate up to the tree canopy

People wander about downtown Aspen amid the holiday lights after a storm blanketed the area with fresh snow just in time for the holidays on Friday, Dec. 24, 2021.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

This holiday season the city of Aspen has put a laser focus on lighting up its downtown pedestrian malls, with the goal of celebrating winter, creating excitement and drawing visitors into the spaces.

After hearing from Aspen City Council members this past winter and early spring that they’d like to see different ways to light up the downtown core, the parks department contracted with a local consultant, Alpenglow Lighting, to create a concept that updates the current schemes primarily on the internal large trees within the pedestrian malls, according to Steve Barr, the city’s parks operations manage and Matt Kuhn, the city’s parks and open space director.

The city of Aspen trees are lit up for the holiday season throughout the downtown core on Thursday, Dec. 23, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Visitors walk through rainy downtown Aspen through the decorated holiday lights on Thursday, Dec. 23, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

“It gave us an opportunity to explore some ideas and see what the future holds,” Barr said. “We are happy with what we have done and it adds some accents.”



As visitors to the mall move through the corridor and look inwardly down Hyman and Cooper street, the goal is to create an inviting space by using light to accentuate forms and colors of the mature trees while at the same time conveying a more open feeling that draws the eye up into the canopy.

Pedestrians walk through downtown Aspen with trees decorated with holiday lights on Thursday, Dec. 23, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

The trial approach for this winter focuses on Hyman and Cooper malls and highlights alternative styles that provide illumination to larger trees that traditionally have been wrapped at the bases with lights.




Mayor Torre said the changes were partly sparked by the pandemic “and the desire to do things outdoors for people so they can be entertained,” he said earlier this week. “Going back to a year ago when we were talking about this, it was the idea of utilizing Wagner Park and the pedestrian malls for some sort of outdoor experience and the lighting is part of that.”

Terry Butler, longtime proprietor of The Residence Hotel, a small luxury boutique hotel on Galena Street and a resident on the Hyman Avenue mall, said she’s noticed a subtle change with the lighting.

“I’ve enjoyed the lights, and when it snowed that heavy wet snow a couple of weeks ago the mall was so beautiful,” she said. “I just love our town and I have such a wonderful time at Christmas.”

Another motivation for the change was environmental, and lights, which have been LED for a decade, are either turned off at 11 p.m. or are connected to photo sensors that automatically turn on and off at dusk and dawn.

Holiday lights decorate the trees on the walking mall in downtown Aspen on Thursday, Dec. 23, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

“While I have an environmental sensitivity around it, I look forward to having something that is both of the quaint character but also exciting and experiential,” Torre said.

People wander about downtown Aspen amid the holiday lights after a storm blanketed the area with fresh snow just in time for the holidays on Friday, Dec. 24, 2021. Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times.

Barr and Kuhn said this week that more advanced systems are being tested that allow for remote control of lights and include dimming options, as well as more easily changed timers since most are manually installed on each tree.

The lighting design company has been asked to create a three- to five-year proposal that can build off of this year’s trial.

The trial does not change traditional lighting designs on the street trees of Mill and Hyman around the Wheeler Opera House, or on the crabapple bosques on Mill and Galena.

People mill around the walking mall through the holiday lights in downtown Aspen on Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

The plan is to incrementally adapt and change the winter lighting styles and themes each year, but Kuhn pointed out that the biggest challenge is the aging power infrastructure, which can be prone to failure and limits some types of lights.

When the mall is redeveloped in future years to update infrastructure underneath and make the surface ADA compliant, there is an opportunity to create a dynamic lighting installation for the community.

All of the lighting on the malls is done in house, which is not typical of many cities, Barr noted.

“It’s a large scale operation what we do,” he said.

It takes about 20 people to string up all of the trees, which takes place in October for viewing just after Thanksgiving and they are on until just after President’s Day weekend.

Holiday lights decorate the trees on the walking mall in downtown Aspen on Thursday, Dec. 23, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

The parks department spends about $40,000 a year to install, remove and replace lights within the mall, parks and streetscape.

An additional $10,000 is anticipated on new lights and design services for this season’s trial.

csackariason@aspentimes.com

A carriage is pulled down Hyman Ave. after a storm blanketed the area in fresh snow just in time for the holidays on Friday, Dec. 24, 2021, in downtown Aspen. Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times.

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