Aspen Skiing Co. starts prep work for Pandora’s expansion

Logging underway for lift line, construction road

Aaron Smith fells a tree as part of Aspen Skiing Co.’s work on the Pandora’s terrain expansion and lift addition. Skico was able to work in part of the terrain as quickly as conditions allowed. Work in other areas is prohibited until after June 21.
Aspen Skiing Co./Courtesy

Aspen Skiing Co. has started logging some of Pandora’s terrain on Aspen Mountain in preparation of installing a new high-speed quad chairlift next summer.

Skico crews started removing trees May 2 for a work road and for the future lift line, according to Mak Keeling, project manager for Skico’s planning and development department.

“The goal of this year’s work is preparation for lift construction,” Keeling said. The lift would be installed in summer 2023.

The Pitkin County commissioners approved the Pandora’s chairlift and terrain expansion by a 3-1 vote on Nov. 17. The approval came after eight public hearings and extensive community debate.

About 153 acres of traditional, cut trails and natural, gladed terrain will be added on the upper east side of Aspen Mountain. All of the terrain is above 10,000 feet in elevation.

The removal of trees was a big part of the debate. Three of the county commissioners toured the Pandora’s terrain in late summer 2021 to get a feel for the logging plan and other issues. Keeling told them at the time that Skico will depend as much as possible on removing standing and downed dead trees, particularly for ski trails. The lift and work road alignment required moving some live trees.

Skico revised its initial logging plan with an alternative that will reduce the number of trees cut by approximately 27%, according to the plan submitted to Pitkin County. In the intermediate pitches of gladed terrain, about 50% of trees will be removed. In expert pitches, the glading rate will be 33%. In remote areas, glading will be at 25%, according to the plan.

As part of the county approval, some land needed for the Pandora’s expansion was rezoned from rural and remote to ski-recreation. On that rezoned land, the county prohibited logging and construction until June 21 to minimize potential impacts on wildlife.

On lands that were already zoned ski-recreation prior to the county approval, Skico was able to start logging earlier, according to Suzanne Wolff, assistant county planning director.

“All the trees we’ve cut so far are on Forest Service property,” Keeling said Monday.

Trees were removed from the lower two-thirds of the lift line. Work will be undertaken on the upper third after June 21, Keeling said

None of the Pandora’s terrain has been identified as elk calving grounds by Colorado Parks and Wildlife. The U.S. Forest Service said in its environmental assessment of the Pandora’s application that there are no signs of recent elk calving on the terrain.

“CPW has mapped production (calving) range for elk below the project area in the McFarlane Creek drainage and eastward along the mid-slopes of the Roaring Fork drainage,” the Forest Service’s environmental assessment on Pandora’s said.

Logging started before snow was fully melted because of a tight timeline, Keeling said. Constructing the work road will require extensive grading and earth moving as well as removal of stumps, he said. Work will continue on the road until October.

The lift alignment must be cleared so that a survey and lift profile can be completed for the high-speed quad chairlift. Skico has already made a down payment with manufacturer Leitner-Poma for construction of the chairlift in time for installation next year. Parts will be assembled at the company’s plant in Grand Junction. Before that work can start, the company requires a lift profile.

“To the best of my knowledge, we were the first 2023 lift order,” Keeling said.

A helicopter hauled the felled trees to a temporary storage area on Lud’s Lane, the wintertime egress from Walsh’s and adjacent ski trails back to the Gent’s Ridge chairlift. It required about 10 hours of helicopter work to transport the trees, Keeling said. Now limbs are being removed.

Keeling estimated that about 50% of the tree cutting for 2022 has been completed. In addition to completing the clearing of the lift line, Skico will remove some of the trees over 8.33 acres for gladed skiing.

Once the logging is completed, logging trucks will haul the timber out. They will access the site using Summer Road on the frontside of Aspen Mountain and depart on Little Annie Road on the backside. Keeling said about 37 trips will be required this year. The hauling will likely occur in late June or early July, he said.

Logging for the expansion has been spread out over three summers.


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