Colorado Tramway Safety Board grants variance for Aspen Mountain’s new base development

A rendering of what Lift One Lodge will look like.
Courtesy rendering

The Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board this week granted a variance to the yet-to-be-built Lift One Lodge, but told the Gorsuch Haus architects to go back to the drawing board so a new gondola-chairlift telemix can safely operate next to the planned hotel at the base of Aspen Mountain’s west side.

The tramway safety board’s technical committee expressed concerns about the horizontal distance from the chairlift to the building; that distance will be increased from the originally proposed 8 to 10 feet to between 10 and 12 feet.

The change will likely require some space to be removed from the hotel’s restaurant to push the building back from the telemix cable and chairlift, according to David Corbin, Aspen Skiing Co.’s senior vice president of planning and development.

Also of the committee’s concern was the distance between lift towers in one particular area in the case of a possible derailment of one of the chairlifts or gondola cars.

Corbin said that can be solved by adding another tower, which will decrease the likelihood of one of the carriers to reach the ground in the event of a “deroping” of the cable.

Those modifications are scheduled to be reviewed by the technical committee in August, and if approved, the tramway board will decide on the variance request in September.

The tightest distance that Lift One Lodge, which includes two buildings, has to the telemix is about 16 feet, Corbin said.

There are other portions of the buildings that come within the state’s requirement of a 35-foot clearance around the lift.

The board saw no issues with that side of the development and therefore granted the variance.

“The board seemed content with the committee’s review,” Corbin said.

The new telemix lift is part of the Lift One development project that voters narrowly approved in March 2019 and includes 320,000 square feet of lodge and commercial space at the western base of Aspen Mountain.

The Lift One Lodge is a 107,000-square-foot timeshare project, and the Gorsuch Haus is a 64,000-square-foot luxury hotel.

Lift One Lodge will add 34 fractional interest and six full-interest condominiums at the base. Gorsuch Haus will add 81 rooms.

The project also comes with a new chairlift coming 500 feet farther down the hill to Dean Street with the final descent for skiers and snowboarders being in a 60-foot-wide ski corridor.

Voters also blessed a skiers’ services space, restaurants, bars, a ski museum paying homage to the original Lift One chairlift and a parking garage, among other amenities.

The plan was fleshed out by the Planning and Zoning and Historic Preservation commissions already on a conceptual level, and then Aspen City Council referred it to city voters.

Jen Phelan, the city’s development manager, is acting as the project manager and owner’s representative for the municipal government’s piece in the development.

She said the final approval step is going back again in front of the Planning and Zoning and Historic Preservation commissions for detailed review, which focuses on minor issues such as finishes and materials on buildings, landscaping and grading of the site.

“It is anticipated that public hearings will be completed in early winter or January 2021,” Phelan wrote to Council in a memo. “Once final land-use approvals are granted, both applicants must submit final plats, development agreements, easement agreements … to perfect their entitlements and be able to submit a building permit application.

“Construction sequencing will be important to this project as construction cannot start until the end of a ski season to minimize the timeline the lift is offline,” she continued. “At this point, it is anticipated that the earliest construction start date would be April 2022.”

The developers have five years of vesting rights from their approval to begin the project.

The five groups that are involved in the project are Lift One Lodge, Gorsuch Haus, the Aspen Historical Society, Skico and the city of Aspen. Besides a land interest in the Lift One Corridor project, the city also has a financial interest, Phelan noted.

The city has allocated $4.36 million in an escrow account to help pay for public facing elements of the project, including improvements to Dean Street and the relocation of the Skiers Chalet Lodge, where the museum and skier services will be located.

The taxpayer’s money will be released to Lift One Lodge when overall improvements are constructed and “once the new ski lift is in a working condition,” according to Phelan’s memo.

Corbin said tramway board members commented during Wednesday’s meeting that they likely will see more ski area developments with similar variance requests as aging infrastructure and base villages get redeveloped.

“We are kind of the guinea pig,” he said.