Aspen’s Lift 1A site supported for hotel, but work wanted on lift access

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
This rendering shows the restaurant at the top of theGorsuch Haus project, the varying height of the building stepping up the ski hill and the relation of the lift and lift plaza with the hotel.
Norway Island/courtesy photo |

The Gorsuch Haus received mostly outright support or more tepid votes of confidence Tuesday night in the first public hearing held in the city of Aspen review process.

Several audience members at an Aspen Planning and Zoning Commission meeting said the site of the proposed hotel on the west side of the base of Aspen Mountain is the perfect spot for a hotel. However, some urged the development team, headed by Jeff Gorsuch, to make adjustments to their proposal to make it more palatable.

“Look at this project and know it’s got to be a hotel and do whatever needs to be done to make it happen,” said Ruth Kruger, an Aspen resident who participated in city-organized community planning efforts looking at the Lift 1A base several years ago. The town cannot afford to place another condominium project at such a vital spot, she said.

Longtime Aspen businessman Dick Butera was solidly in favor of Gorsuch Haus as planned. He said the hotel is as important to the revitalization of the west side of Aspen Mountain as the Little Nell Hotel approval was to the rebirth of the ski area overall in 1987. The Crown family, owners of Aspen Skiing Co., said they would build the Silver Queen Gondola if The Little Nell was approved. They delivered, Butera said. If Gorsuch Haus is approved, it means delivery of a new high-speed lift that is desperately need to replace Lift 1A, he said.

62 lodge rooms proposed

Gorsuch and partners in Norway Island LLC have a contract to buy property needed for the hotel from Aspen Skiing Co. Norway Island proposed 62 lodge units, six free-market residences and one affordable-housing unit. There also would be commercial space and skier services ranging from ticket offices to a ski patrol locker room. The building would be terraced up the mountain with 67,781 square feet above ground.

While the city planning staff supports the idea of lodging at the site, it is concerned about the size and mass of the project, said Jennifer Phelan, deputy planning director for the city, during the public hearing.

A crowd of more than 50 gathered into the commission’s chambers, with more people spilling into the hall. While there were a handful of comments about size and mass, more questions were raised about access to the new lift.

The bottom terminal of the new lift would be east of and slightly uphill from the existing base terminal. Skiers could be dropped off at a cul-de-sac and follow a pedestrian route that wraps around the northern end of the building to a plaza that includes the lift.

Privatize the lift?

The planning staff raised concerns about the configuration of the building and interplay with the lift. “The location of the lodge building essentially privatizes the lift and moves it uphill, making it more difficult to access and does not preserve a visual feature that ‘contributes to the identity of the town,’” Phelan wrote.

Aspen resident Ward Hauenstein said Aspen “has only one shot to get this right.” For him, that means having a visual corridor from the cul-de-sac to the chairlift. He also said there must be a viable “people mover” from Willoughby Park farther down the slope to the base of Lift 1A.

Among the handful of speakers against the project was Michael Brown, co-developer of the Lift One Lodge, a project downslope from the Gorsuch Haus property. Lift One Lodge has been approved for 22 fractional units at the Skier’s Chalet site.

Brown contended Gorsuch Haus is out of character for the neighborhood and should be required to follow the city’s Lodge Zone District regulations. That would require significant alterations, he said.

Brown said the project is garnering some community support because Gorsuch is a local resident. If an “outside person” made the same proposal, it wouldn’t advance, he said, and this proposal shouldn’t either.

Brown also contended that the Gorsuch team hasn’t been willing to negotiate on issues such as the platter lift. “They never reflected any of our concerns in their application,” Brown said. “They met with us to check off a box” required by city regulations.

Brown’s project accommodates the platter lift alignment and they agreed to put $600,000 into the project, he said. The only ingredient lacking is a landing area by Lift 1A, Brown said.

DeFrancia: Platter lift isn’t viable

Jim DeFrancia, president of Lowe Enterprises, a partner in Gorsuch Haus, said after the meeting that the team doesn’t feel a platter lift is a viable option. Skico has said it wouldn’t operate the lift or provide snowmaking and grooming. In addition, since the lift is located in a narrow ski corridor, the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board would require it to be shut down when skiers were coming down the slope. Figuring out when the lift would operate and when it would be shut down is daunting, he said.

The Gorsuch team wants to use a shuttle between Rubey Park and other locations in Aspen and the cul-de-sac at Gorsuch Haus. Richard Shaw of Design Workshop, the project designer, downplayed the significance of the lift not being visible from the drop-off point. Pedestrians arriving at Aspen Highlands, Snowmass and the Little Nell Plaza don’t immediately see the base of the lift, he said. That’s a common design in the ski industry.

While the lift would be 225 feet away from the drop-off point, it would be visible after about 30 paces, DeFrancia said.

The planning commission members asked some questions but didn’t make comments Tuesday. The hearing got continued to July 19 at 4:30 p.m. in City Hall. It will resume with public comment.