Aspen Skiing Co. sweetens the pot to seek OK for Pandora’s
Skico pledges to sterilize additional land along Richmond Ridge
Aspen Skiing Co. has vowed to restrict development on land it owns along Richmond Ridge as a way to try to earn approval from the Pitkin County commissioners for its Pandora’s expansion proposal.
Skico is proposing a restrictive covenant that “retains and commits to Rural and Remote Zoning and prohibits residential development” on its two parcels outside of the Pandora’s terrain.
In addition, the restrictive covenant makes good on a pledge Skico officials previously made to surrender any development potential within the Pandora’s terrain. The proposal “prohibits building improvements and recreation infrastructure except for one lift, terminals, towers and lift shacks, patrol shack, restrooms, electrical and water service to lift and these structure, ski trails and glades, service road for construction and maintenance.”
Skico is also restricting any commercial events and activities in winter and summer on the Pandora’s terrain.
The proposal was outlined in materials submitted to the county for the commissioners’ next hearing on the Pandora’s expansion plan Wednesday.
Skico wants to add 153 acres in the Pandora’s terrain to Aspen Mountain ski area. In order to do that, it must rezone 132 acres currently zoned Rural and Remote to Ski-Recreation and another 35 acres that are zoned for one residence per 10 acres to Ski-Recreation. The expansion would also utilize about 60 acres of National Forestland. The U.S. Forest Service has already approved the expansion. County approval of the rezoning is also needed.
The proposed restrictive covenant is Skico’s response to signals from some of the county commissioners at a Sept. 8 hearing that the company would have to sweeten the pot to potentially gain approval for Pandora’s. Some of the commissioners asked Skico President and CEO Mike Kaplan at that meeting if the company would pledge to sterilize its lands along Richmond Ridge, outside the Pandora’s terrain. He replied the company staff would study the request and consult with the ownership, the Crown family of Chicago.
A memo to the county commissioners from the county planning staff said Skico’s proposal would restrict development on two parcels in the Rural and Remote Zone. The county created Rural and Remote in the mid-1990s to prohibit Red Mountain-style development of mansions in backcountry areas such as the backside of Aspen Mountain. Rural and Remote limits development to 1,000 square feet and restricts utility extensions. While it has reduced the amount of development, it has morphed into development of luxury cabins selling for multimillions of dollars.
County planners fear the expansion of the Aspen Mountain ski area terrain will trigger additional development in Rural and Remote areas. They have advised holding off on approving Pandora’s until more assessment and planning can be done on limiting development on Richmond Ridge.
Some Skico critics have charged in public hearings that the company will eventually use the Pandora’s expansion to extend residential and even commercial development further into the backcountry on Richmond Ridge. Skico is pledging not to do that. In addition, by rezoning property within the Pandora’s terrain, it would surrender rights to about seven residential units.
Skico wants to add the Pandora’s terrain to give skiers and snowboarders more options. The terrain would lure sliders to the upper east side of Aspen Mountain and take pressure off the Ajax Express lift and terrain.
The new terrain would also vastly expand Aspen Mountain’s tree skiing. The terrain is also mostly east facing and retains snow well since it is above 10,000 feet in elevation.
The expansion proposal has garnered widespread support. More than 1,600 people have signed a petition urging county approval.
Some opponents have criticized the move as just another Aspen growth scheme. Some fear it will unravel the Rural and Remote protections that have made Pitkin County unique in Colorado’s high country.
The Pandora’s terrain has been skied for decades. Some “sidecountry” skiers and riders don’t want their stash converted to standard ski area fodder.
The county commissioners approved the first reading of a rezoning ordinance on Sept. 8 but made it clear the issue was far from settled. A second reading is required for approval and will be considered on Wednesday. The meeting starts at noon but the exact time of the Pandora’s hearing hasn’t been published yet.
U.S. Ski & Snowboard on Tuesday announced the final U.S. World Cup schedule, a lineup that includes the Aspen World Cup from March 3 to 5 on Aspen Mountain. Those races will include a men’s super-G and two men’s downhills.