Aspen Skiing Co. Friends go full send on Pandora’s

New group will lobby Pitkin County Commissioners to approve Skico terrain addition

A map provided by Friends of Pandora’s shows the 153 acres of terrain Skico wants to add on the upper east side of Aspen Mountain ski area.
Courtesy image

The last time Aspen Skiing Co.’s proposal to expand into the Pandora’s terrain on Aspen Mountain was reviewed by the Pitkin County commissioners in 2019, it stalled in a 2-2 deadlock.

With another review slated for Aug. 25, a new citizens’ group is cranking up efforts to win approval for the plan.

To learn more

What: A new citizens group that favors the addition of the Pandora’s terrain to Aspen Mountain is hosting an open house.

When: 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday

Where: At the base of Aspen Mountain, on the lawn next to Ajax Tavern.

Who: There will be information displayed and officials from Aspen Skiing Co. and the U.S. Forest Service on hand to answer questions.

“Friends of Pandora’s” launched earlier this month as an independent advocacy group. The Friends group has a website with information about the proposal and a Facebook page that will be utilized to keep supporters informed and organized. It will host an open house Tuesday at the base of the Silver Queen Gondola to answer questions from the public and try to build support for Skico’s cause.

Longtime public relations executive Jeanette Darner said Aspen resident Bruce Etkin hired her firm to lead outreach intended to get the public involved.

The Friends group has the support of Skico, but it wasn’t formed at Skico’s request, according to Darnuer. She said Thursday she reached out to company officials to get accurate information about their proposal.

“They’re not involved except for giving us information,” Darnauer said. “Bruce is paying for this.”

Etkin is a skier and chairman of Etkin Johnson Real Estate Partners, which is a privately owned commercial real estate investment and development company based in Colorado.

Darnauer said the Friends has several longtime local residents on its 18-member citizen advisory committee. Many of them are avid skiers. The committee includes Dave Stapleton, Chris Klug, Bill Stirling, Dana Laughren and Sally Sparhawk, according to Darnauer.

The Friends of Pandora’s website was launched earlier this month.

“Aspen is a ski town. Some say the best in the world, and we want it to stay that way,” the website copy opens. The group contends that adding the Pandora’s terrain on the upper east side of Aspen Mountain will “create a bigger, broader, better ski experience and further Aspen’s competitive edge as a resort community economy — for today and the future.”

Aspen Skiing Co. also recently dedicated a page on its own website to provide information about Pandora’s. It’s simply titled, “Pandora’s Explained.”

“New terrain on Aspen Mountain?!? We hope so!” the page begins.

Skico is seeking approval for the rezoning of land that would allow it to add 153 acres to the current 675 acres at Aspen Mountain ski area and build a new chairlift. The 22% increase in terrain would be the first significant addition since 1985. The Pandora’s chair would serve the new terrain and also allow the extension of existing trails such as Walsh’s, Kristi and Hyrup’s. It would eliminate the hike out on Lud’s Lane.

Skico says adding the Pandora’s terrain will improve skier circulation on the upper mountain by taking pressure off the Ajax Express chairlift. It will diversify the terrain mix by adding intermediate glades and groomed runs. President and CEO Mike Kaplan said the additional terrain is needed for Aspen Mountain to retain a competitive edge.

Skico’s webpage concludes by urging people to get involved in Friends of Pandora’s if they want to help.

“We love the idea of Pandora’s and truly believe that if the skiing public were to vote on it, it would be overwhelmingly embraced,” Skico’s webpage said. “But Pandora’s fate lies in the hands of the Pitkin County commissioners. To support the commissioners in saying yes to Pandora’s, a group of citizens has formed an advocacy and awareness group, Friends of Pandora’s.”

While some members of the public weighed in pro and con during the earlier county hearings, the proposal didn’t spark the kind of massive community battle Aspen is famous for.

Critics of the plan voiced concerns about spreading activity to natural terrain on the mountain, interfering with the side-country experience and setting a precedent for rezoning Rural and Remote lands. Rural and Remote zoning was created in the 1990s to prevent rampant development in the backcountry. It limits development to small cabins. Skico officials said the zoning was never intended to prohibit ski area expansion. They have vowed not to build anything but skiing infrastructure.

Darnauer said Tuesday’s open house and the social media presence are designed to provide people with the information they need to form an opinion.

“It takes time to educate the community,” Darnauer said. “One of the reasons we are being aggressive is we don’t have that much time.”

There won’t be a presentation at the open house, but there will be information boards displayed and officials from Skico and the U.S. Forest Service will be on hand to answer questions. The Forest Service approved Skico’s plan. The Pitkin County Planning and Zoning Commission also recommended approval.

When the commissioners take up the issue Aug. 25, there will be a public hearing on the rezoning request and on a resolution amending the SKI-REC master plan for Aspen Mountain as required for the Pandora’s plan.