Aspen Skiing Co. hopeful that Lift 1A construction could start next summer | AspenTimes.com

Aspen Skiing Co. hopeful that Lift 1A construction could start next summer

Lauren Glendenning
The Aspen Times

Aspen Skiing Co. has taken the first step toward replacing Lift 1A, even as development plans for the lifeless base area remain unclear.

The U.S. Forest Service announced Wednesday that it's beginning the formal environmental review for the Lift 1A chair replacement and realignment. The lift was contemplated in the 1997 Aspen Mountain Master Plan and has re-emerged as a hot topic over the past year, putting into question Aspen Mountain's ability to hang on to the 2017 World Cup Finals.

Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle said Thursday that initiating the Forest Service review process now opens the door for construction as early as next summer.

"We've decided to take this step now in the hope, or in the unlikely reality, that all the other pieces come together," he said.

Those other pieces include the tired base area where private landowners, including Skico, are considering future development possibilities.

"We're in discussions with the ski company about the potential plan for developing essentially a new base area," said Jim DeFrancia, who is partnering with Jeff Gorsuch to purchase some of the property around the base of Lift 1A. "And we're in comparable discussions with the new owners of Lift 1 Lodge about how we can integrate our thoughts with their thoughts."

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Base-area talks

The Lift 1 Lodge project, a 77,000-square-foot, 84-room hotel, was approved by the city in November 2011 and has all of its entitlements in place, Community Development Director Chris Bendon said Thursday. Bendon said the city has encouraged all the parties to work together because each development piece affects the entire base area.

"There's this infrastructure that extends beyond the properties," Bendon said. "The sum is greater than all the parts."

Bendon said he expects an application from the Gorsuch ownership group for the current base area, but he's not sure when. He also said he wouldn't be surprised to see an application for amendments to the Lift 1 Lodge.

Bendon said that while the city has not been involved in the discussions, he hears they're going well.

"It's all good news from our vantage point," Bendon said.

DeFrancia said some tentative plans are in place in order to advance discussions. There's no defined date for filing a development application, but he and Gorsuch are looking to do something "sooner than not," DeFrancia said.

There's more urgency due to the World Cup, he said, adding that everyone wants to move forward in order to mitigate the risk of losing the World Cup Finals.

There have been some mixed messages about whether the International Ski Federation would pull the event from Aspen due to the old infrastructure. In June, Skico Vice President of Sales and Events John Rigney told The Aspen Times that FIS officials made it clear they wanted a new lift in place by 2017. Rigney said at the time that Aspen's name on the FIS calendar as the 2017 finals host essentially has an asterisk next to it.

But a month later, a top FIS official visited Aspen and said the organization wants the finals to take place here in 2017. The lift wasn't something FIS was spending much time or energy talking about, Atle Skaardal told The Aspen Times in July.

A change of heart

Skico had remained steadfast in its position that it wouldn't move forward with a Lift 1A replacement until there was more certainty about the development around the base area. Skico Chief Executive Officer David Perry said in January that "replacing Lift 1A on its own is not an option," and Rigney reiterated that point over the summer.

But Hanle said Thursday that if Skico waited for the base-area development pieces to come together before it started the formal review process with the Forest Service, there would be no way to start construction next summer.

"It's a hopeful step that if everything else works out, we're on our way with the Forest Service," Hanle said.

Scott Kaden, the mountain sports lead for the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District, said that while the public comment period for the project ends Nov. 30, there's no way to know how much time the review will take after that. The public comments determine the various issues that need to be analyzed, he said, and then the Forest Service takes the appropriate amount of time to look at each issue.

"For example, if they find some significant resource or outcome effect, we might have to do more of a (National Environmental Policy Act) analysis than we thought," he said.

Public vs. private lands

There are two parcels of Forest Service land in the proposal that the current lift alignment doesn't impact. The current upper lift terminal is on private land, but the new proposed terminal would be on public land. There's another parcel just downhill from the upper terminal that also would affect public land, Kaden said.

As for the base terminal, the Aspen Planning and Zoning Department would need to do a minor site-plan review if the project entails just a simple upgrade. If more facilities are proposed, Bendon said that would trigger a much larger city review process.

lglendenning@aspentimes.com

Comment on Lift 1A proposal

The Forest Service is initiating a formal environmental review of the project. Public comments will be accepted until Nov. 30, 2015. Comments should include a name, address, phone number, organization represented (if applicable), the title of the project (Aspen Shadow Mountain (Lift 1A) Replacement/Realignment Project), and specific facts, concerns or issues with supporting reasons why they should be considered.

Submit comments online at https://cara.ecosystem-management.org/Public/CommentInput?Project=48007