Buttermilk plans spark opposition | AspenTimes.com

Buttermilk plans spark opposition

John Colson

A new group has formed to fight plans by the Aspen Skiing Co. to expand the Buttermilk ski area.

The group, called The Friends of Buttermilk Bowls, this week is mounting a petition and fund-raising drive to garner public support to stop the expansion, according to organizer Buzz Patten.

The Skico, under its proposed Buttermilk Master Plan, is asking for permission to expand the western edge of the Buttermilk permit area by roughly 100 acres, which the company estimates would yield some 20 to 50 acres of low-intermediate terrain that would be much like the Red Rover run at West Buttermilk.

Skico Vice President of Planning and Development Bill Kane said recently that the expansion plans will have little effect on the so-called “sugar bowls” or “Buttermilk bowls,” which are located between West Buttermilk and the eastern edge of Burnt Mountain.

But Patten’s group, which includes what he termed “a multifaceted, wide cross section of our community,” believes the Skico can and should be limited to the “footprint of the current developed area without taking more acres of valued public land,” according to a statement issued by the group.

Patten, a 25-year resident of the Aspen area and an avid backcountry skier, stressed that the Friends are “not unilaterally anti-ski company” and that the members actually support many things the company does.

But, he said, “We just can’t find any justification for encroachment into public lands at a time when the industry is relatively flat” in terms of skier numbers.

Pointing to the four ski areas, which he said have enough terrain to satisfy any skier, Patten continued, “It’s really important to wake the community up. We’ve got to stop this pattern of whittling away and carving away at our public lands. Enough is enough. Often, it is this kind of brazen disregard of the sanctity of special areas that has historically fomented an anti-Skico attitude in this community.”

The group also is concerned that the Skico may be setting up the ski area expansion as the foundation for a land-development push, which could further threaten what the group’s public statement described as the place where “many of us had our first backcountry ski experience.”

Kane, however, said the expansion hinges on the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Plan, which is due out in June, and urged the Friends and others to take part in the Forest Service planning process that is under way.

If the Forest Service does not designate the 100 acres for alpine skiing in the Forest Plan, Kane said, “We’re done,” and the expansion plan will be abandoned.

He said the expansion would go hand in hand with shortening the existing West Buttermilk lift, and building a new lift that would extend higher up onto the ridge at the top of the ski area. Both lifts would start at essentially the same spot where the existing lower lift terminus is located.

According to Kane, the original plans for West Buttermilk called for a lift that reached higher on the ridge, similar to the proposed alignment, but those plans were modified because of limitations to the power plant that drove the lift.

Kane denied that there are any land-development schemes associated with the proposed expansion, and said of the overall expansion proposal, “It’s not as though we’re going to live or die over this.

“We think it’s a discussion worth having,” Kane concluded. If it is approved, “You’re not going to have commercial, alpine skiing poking into the bowls,” he said.

The Buttermilk Master Plan is currently the subject of a Forest Service Environmental Assessment study, which will identify environmental concerns associated with those aspects of the plan that involve the use of public lands, including the expansion on the west side.

A public comment period, called the “scoping period,” started on April 2 and will continue through May 3.

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