Details stalling new Highlands & school lift |

Details stalling new Highlands & school lift

Brent Gardner-Smith

You’re a kid. There is a big Christmas present under the tree. You know what it is. You know it is a really cool present. But you can’t open it until the grownups finish a bunch of legal documents and clear up the liability issues your present creates.That’s pretty much the situation that local kids are facing with the new $1 million Five Trees lift that connects the new Aspen Valley Ski Club building and the Aspen public schools with the Aspen Highlands ski area. And the kids are not alone. There are a few grownups who would also like the present unwrapped and put into use.The fixed-grip double lift, which was installed this summer between the school campus and the top of the Thunderbowl trail just above the Highlands’ base area, was scheduled to be up and running Saturday, Dec. 23.But issues about liability and details related to transferring the lift ownership from the developer of the Five Trees subdivision to a newly created metro district have delayed the opening.It’s now hoped that the lift will open a few days after Christmas, although it could take longer to work out the details. Once opened, the lift will be operated under contract by the Aspen Skiing Co. and is expected to be run on the same schedule as the other lifts at Highlands.”The board is working as hard as possible to get this done sooner rather than later,” said Aspen attorney Kevin Patrick, who is a member of the Five Trees Metro District board of directors. “We’ll be working over the weekend.”The new lift is currently owned by Zoom Flume LLC, the entity created by Hines Resorts to develop the Five Trees subdivision on the Moore Property. Zoom Flume is working to convey the lift to the Five Trees homeowners association, which will then transfer the ownership to the metro district.The lift, first called the “school lift” and now known as the Five Trees lift, was approved as part of the Five Trees subdivision, and conceptually, it was part of the new Aspen Highlands base village, which was also developed by Hines.It was held out as a community benefit for young skiers and snowboarders, who are expected to use the lift during their lunch breaks at school or for after-school race training. Aspen High School has an open campus policy and a block scheduling system, so it is possible that students could have a two-hour period in which they could go out and make some turns at Highlands. And having a lift across the street and a ski trail leading back to the school will help out a lot.And while it surely is a boon for local kids, the lift is not entirely an act of selfless generosity on behalf of Hines Resorts. It also made the Five Trees project a ski-in, ski-out neighborhood, which dramatically increased the value of the real estate.The Five Trees Metropolitan District was officially approved on Nov. 7 by the new residents of the area, which includes 40 free-market homes and 31 deed-restricted homes. The board of the metro district will now be meeting on Saturday evenings to work through a number of issues. The conveyance of the lift to the metro district, issues around liability and insurance, and exactly who gets to use the lift will be discussed.The current thinking is that residents of both the free-market and deed-restricted units, and their guests, will have access to the lift. As will the kids, coaches and staff of the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club, from both the competitive and instructional programs. Also granted access will be students from the elementary, middle and high schools at the Aspen School District, along with teachers and administrators.And that’s about it. It’s not a public lift, and if you’re not a kid, coach or teacher, you will be directed to the main Highlands base area – even if you are a parent of a kid who has the right to ride the lift.”We’re not trying to be tough landlords here,” said Gary Beach, the manager of the metro district, “but we are trying to establish early on that there are primary users of the lift.”The lift will cost about $100,000 a year to operate and about 95 percent of the cost will be picked by the owners of the free-market homes. The balance will be paid for by the owners of the affordable housing units.

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