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Buttermilk plan not just for winter

Jeremy Heiman

Trail-user conflicts on Smuggler Mountain Road could be reduced if recreationists take a cue from the Aspen Skiing Co. and begin to use trails on Buttermilk Mountain.

A master plan that the Skico has created for development on Buttermilk promotes the public use of trails on Buttermilk for hiking and mountain biking. The company is seeking approval from Pitkin County and the city of Aspen for the master plan, which calls for numerous improvements at the company’s teaching mountain.

Glenn Horn, a planner working on the master plan for the Skico, told the combined planning and zoning boards of Aspen and Pitkin County yesterday that use of the mountain could take a great deal of pressure off popular recreational areas such as Smuggler and the Rio Grande trail.

“Buttermilk has tremendous potential for summertime use,” Horn said. There’s always a parade of people climbing the hill in the winter, he said, but it’s underutilized in summer. “We’d like to make it easier to use in summer,” Horn said.

Horn said a gondola the Skico has proposed, linking the base of Aspen Highlands to the top of Buttermilk, would make the mountain easier to use in summer. He suggested a hypothetical trip that summer tourists could take if the lift is built: catch a bus to Aspen Highlands, take a look around at Highlands base village, ride the gondola to the top of Buttermilk, have lunch at the Cliff House Restaurant atop Buttermilk, hike down the mountain by way of an interpretive nature trail, and take a bus back to Aspen.

While miles of trails exist in the National Forest land surrounding Aspen, nearby trails that can be enjoyed conveniently by less athletic visitors to the area are in short supply, Horn said. The Summer Road on Aspen Mountain is too steep for such use, and Smuggler and the Rio Grande are overused. Conflicts between dog walkers, mountain bikers, hikers and others on Smuggler have been one result of overuse.

Some of the National Forest trails around Aspen are also overused and as a result suffer such problems as erosion and litter. Some in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness especially feel the pressure. Horn said Forest Service policy has begun to lean toward encouraging the use of lands nearer to developed areas, to take pressure off those more remote areas. Heavier use of Buttermilk would work toward that end, he said.

A network of single-track trails already exists on Buttermilk, laid out by Buttermilk Ski Patrol head Michael Hutton, Horn said. The trails are ideal for mountain biking and hiking.


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