Forest Service hears support, concerns over Lift 1A replacement | AspenTimes.com

Forest Service hears support, concerns over Lift 1A replacement

Lift 1A was at the center of the action during World Cup skiing in November. The Forest Service approved Aspen Skiing Co.'s proposal to replace the lift.

While replacement of Lift 1A at Aspen Mountain has garnered a lot of attention because of the potential impact on Aspen hosting the World Cup Finals in 2017, the issue spurred only a handful of comments in the Forest Service review process.

Only four comments submitted by the public were posted in the online public reading room hosted by the White River National Forest as of Tuesday. Forest Service officials couldn't be reached to determine if more comments had been received but not posted prior to the Nov. 30 deadline.

In addition to the comments by four individuals, Pitkin County submitted comments to the Forest Service.

Aspen Skiing Co. submitted a letter to the Forest Service on Sept. 25 asking for the review to begin for the replacement of Lift 1A, also known as the Shadow Mountain Lift. The fixed-grip double chair, which was installed in 1972, will be replaced with a detachable quad chairlift, a gondola or a combination known as a telemix. The bottom terminal would be close to the existing location. The top terminal would shift 200 feet to the southwest, adjacent to Ruthie's restaurant.

"The new lift is approximately 3,710 feet in length with a 1,390 vertical foot rise and designed with a minimal increase to the 1,000 people per hour capacity of the existing chairlift," Skico's letter said.

The Forest Service started public scoping in late October and asked people to submit comments by Nov. 30.

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Steve Parmelee of Snowmass wrote to support "upgrading the old Aspen ski lift. For many different reasons."

"As most people know, current Federal law encourages public recreation on public lands," Parmelee said. He urged the Forest Service to expedite the review.

Bruce Lange, who only gave his address at Greendale, kept his comment succinct: "Absolutely great for everyone from Aspen to our visitors and for future races on Lift 1A."

Two commenters expressed concerns with the lift replacement project. Tim Murray of Aspen wants the Forest Service to forbid the use of helicopters and large earthmoving equipment when Skico replaces the lift.

"As you may know Aspen is one big construction zone right now, and the environment is suffering," Murray wrote. "The 'pork barrel' spending for public projects is accelerating, with new bus stations, library, county and city office buildings and an airport expansion.

"Most people I know are against all of it as you can see by the recent vote to limit the power of the city to grant variances, and the election to City Council of the architect of that action," Murray said.

The replacement of Lift 1A is small in comparison with the other projects, he said. However, if the Forest Service regulated construction impacts of the lift replacement, it could influence Aspen's direction, Murray said. He wants the agency to insist on every energy-saving option possible, even using old Lift 1A to transport materials uphill for the new lift.

He urged the Forest Service to use Aspen's Ecological Bill of Rights as a guide on regulating construction. The city government, Murray added, "has proven itself spineless towards the skiing company and other big money corporations."

Jaleh White of Aspen wrote to urge the Forest Service to make sure the new Lift 1A has convenient access. The current plan doesn't include a lift extended farther downhill or a funicular to transport passengers up to the lift.

"Aspen Street is too steep for walking up with ski boots," White wrote. "Unless I, or all the other people who live in that area, can get to the lift any easier than it is now, we will be forced to use the gondola as we currently are."

He concluded by saying he hopes the project won't exclusively benefit the five star clientele who will be staying in the new luxury hotel and condos proposed at the Lift 1A base. "However, I won't be surprised if it is," he said.

Pitkin County submitted a letter after the county commissioners briefly discussed the lift.

"Based on the very preliminary information available regarding replacement and realignment of Lift 1A, Pitkin County supports the project as a means of improving safety, reliability and the guest experience for those accessing Aspen Mountain," the county's letter to the Forest Service said.

However, the county asked for consideration of numerous points, including improved skier, pedestrian and vehicular circulation and access to the lift.

"It is important to ensure that Lift 1A remains readily accessible to the general public rather than be limited or perceived as a private portal to Aspen Mountain," the letter said.

The county also noted that county permits and possibly amendments to the 1998 Aspen Mountain Ski Area Master Plan might be necessary. One potential issue is lift capacity.

"Skico's current proposal for the new lift to accommodate a lift capacity of 1,200 to 1,500 people per hour exceeds the 1,200 people per hour capacity specified in the 1998 Master Plan," the county letter said. "This is not likely to be an issue worthy of a master plan amendment unless it results in an overall increase of skier capacity on the mountain," the county said.

White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams indicated the Forest Service review will likely be expedited because it impacts a small amount of national forest land.

However, even if Skico gets the approvals in hand by next spring, it is uncertain of the timing of the construction. Company officials have repeatedly said more progress is needed before they invest multimillion dollars on the lift.

scondon@aspentimes.com