Deep Steeplechase chairlift still a dream for Highlands
Skiers and riders diving into Steeplechase during these dwindling days of the ski season must remain content with dreams of things that might have been – and still may come.
Although the Aspen Skiing Co. hasn’t given up on plans to add a chairlift to serve Highlands’ expert terrain in Steeplechase, at least two other projects are higher on the priority list, according to Skico Senior Vice President John Norton.
But Highlands loyalists have reason to remain hopeful, he said.
“I think it’s a question of `if,’ not a question of `when,’ ” said Norton. “I can’t think of a lift we could put in that would have as dramatic of an effect on terrain.”
The Steeplechase lift is envisioned as a way for Highlands to make an even bigger splash in the ski world with its expert terrain. Highlands has always enjoyed a lofty reputation for its steeps and deeps. The Skico believes a lift in Steeplechase could attract greater numbers of expert skiers.
But first things first.
The Skico has already committed to replace the old Cloud 9 and Olympic chairs this summer with one high-speed detachable quad. That has the highest priority because it reduces the riding time to a vast variety of terrain and allows the Skico to avoid costly maintenance to two antiquated lifts.
Next on the priority list is a gondola connecting the summit of Buttermilk to the base of Highlands, Norton said in a recent interview. That gondola has been proposed as part of the Buttermilk Master Plan, which must earn federal and county approvals.
The gondola is seen as a way to spark greater interest in Highlands and Buttermilk, which lag behind Snowmass and Aspen Mountain in popularity and use. With the interconnect, they would be marketed as one diverse skiing opportunity.
Once the gondola is completed, the Steeplechase lift would likely be the highest priority, said Norton.
The long-range plan for Highlands calls for a 4,400-foot-long lift providing a 2,200 vertical rise in Steeplechase. It would be a fixed grip double chair with a riding time of nine minutes. It would be aligned to unload riders in the same general area as the Loge Peak lift.
But the real delight for skiers and riders would be the expansion of the Steeplechase terrain to 190 acres, creating what’s been dubbed “Deep Steeplechase.”
“The Deep Steeplechase area will almost double the vertical elevation currently available to skiers,” says the U.S. Forest Service’s approval document on the long-range plan for Highlands.
“The development of lift-accessed service will provide the advanced and expert skiers with an improved fall line in which to ski the area,” the review document added.
The new lift would eliminate the need for the irritating trip back to the mid-mountain on the catwalk. The lift would also catch skiers and riders coming down from the Temerity terrain.
Norton said it’s nearly impossible to tell when the Steeplechase lift will emerge on the Skico’s “to-do” list. The fate of the proposed Buttermilk-to-Highlands gondola must be determined first, and that project is just entering the local government review process.
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