Aspen Skiing Co. wants to replace High Alpine chairlift at Snowmass

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times

Aspen Skiing Co. has applied to replace the High Alpine chairlift at Snowmass Ski Area, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

Skico wants to replace the fixed-grip, double Riblet lift with a high-speed detachable quad, according to its application. Skico wants to improve the experience for its customers by reducing the lift riding time without increasing uphill capacity, said Scott Kaden, winter sports leader for the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District. It would maintain the existing capacity through the spacing of chairs on the new lift, he said.

Aspen Skiing Co. officials couldn’t be reached for comment on the proposal Thursday. The Forest Service review is in an early stage. The White River National Forest’s Schedule of Proposed Actions — a list of major internal projects and all proposals from permit holders on federal lands — indicates an environmental assessment will be performed. A decision is expected next year.

Skico proposed a significant realignment of the chairlift in a westerly direction. The bottom terminal would be relocated to a flat area on the Upper Green Cabin Trail, about 1,000 feet downhill — to the northwest — of High Alpine Restaurant, Kaden said.

The upper-lift terminal would be shifted above a road cut that provides the traverse to Upper Green Cabin Trail. The upper terminal would be about 300 feet southwest of the existing patrol shack, Kaden said. That would make the traverse to Upper Green Cabin significantly easier.

The current alignment places the lift east of the patrol shack and High Alpine Restaurant.

The High Alpine chairlift serves the three primary trails in the High Alpine section of terrain — The Edge, Showcase and Reidars. It also provides access via the traverse to Upper Green Cabin, a popular intermediate trail that is usually impeccably groomed.

However, many riders use High Alpine to make laps in the expert terrain of Hanging Valley Wall and Hanging Valley Glades. Hanging Valley Wall requires a short hike that many skiers and snowboarders feel is well worth the effort. Even when there is a line of hikers, the vast terrain absorbs the numbers and feels uncrowded.

Skiers and snowboarders who were aware that Skico listed the High Alpine lift replacement in its ski area master plan several years ago were concerned an upgrade would eliminate the hike and dump too many people into Hanging Valley. The proposed lift upgrade appears to ease those concerns.

“The proposed alignment does not change current access to the Hanging Valley Wall,” Kaden said.

The Forest Service review will include collecting public comment at a future, as of yet unannounced date.

High Alpine is the last of the ancient chairlifts at Snowmass Ski Area. The Burlingame lift, a double chair installed 47 years ago, was yanked out this summer and won’t be replaced. The High Alpine Chair hoists riders up 1,388 vertical feet in nearly 10 minutes, according to the Snowmass trail map.

The lift is known for particularly short seats that cut off the circulation of many riders. The present alignment also catches wind. The new alignment would make the lift more wind protected, according to the application.