Gondola network for ski areas? | AspenTimes.com

Gondola network for ski areas?

An idea tossed around Aspen in the past is about to make a resurgence: A local developer is interested in connecting the four ski areas with gondolas.

Scott Writer, a principal with Four Peaks Development, is exploring a plan for a gondola network, he explained during the informal Friday Men’s Club at Jimmy’s restaurant last week. While the idea remains in a conceptual stage, he would like a group of 10 to 12 people to agree on the “basic premise” of a plan, which would then be presented to community groups one at a time.

His preliminary plan for the mountains includes a transportation hub at the base of Buttermilk Mountain, where buses would drop off skiers who could then get on the gondola system to any of the ski areas. Writer also envisions a performing arts center and Aspen’s U.S. Forest Service office at the base, and a recreational area at Buttermilk targeting a younger crowd.

The area may once have been considered “the middle of nowhere,” but Writer said with several developments in the area, many amenities are more centered around Buttermilk than they are around Aspen’s commercial core. He named the new Aspen Recreation Center, the schools, Colorado Mountain College, the Maroon Creek Club and the future of Burlingame affordable housing.

Writer grew up in the Roaring Fork Valley and recently helped in the successful fund-raising of $8 million for the ice rink in the Aspen Recreation Center, scheduled to open on April 12. He is also a partner in the new Hyatt Grand Aspen development. Friday was his first public presentation of a new effort to link the mountains.

Writer said there are two general political schools of thought in Aspen: one he considers “backwards thinking,” or trying to keep Aspen the same, and another that “looks to the future,” by treasuring the town’s past, but is still “moving forward to become the best it can be.”

He put the plan for a gondola network in the latter category, saying that Aspen’s Economic Sustainability Report that was completed last September even lists a gondola network as something that could be done to boost Aspen’s viability.

“We may have a chance to take the bull by the horns and move in a forward-thinking direction,” he said. “I’m proposing this because I want us to be the best we can be – there’s no staying the same. I’m looking for help picking up the ball and carrying it over the goal line.”

Writer hopes a group of interested people can agree on a concept for the gondola network, and then work on a ballot initiative to gain public support and taxpayer dollars. He said he envisions the funding coming through partnerships with entities such as the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, the Aspen Skiing Co. and the Colorado Department of Transportation, and some private partnerships from the community.

“Everyone can benefit from this – it will allow Aspen to continue to be the best ski area on the planet, and it will be a place people feel they need to visit just to see,” he said. “And as it’s been said many times before, when someone visits Aspen for the first time, they’re probably going to come back.”

Other details of Writer’s idea are forthcoming, though he did say he hopes the gondola from Buttermilk to Elk Camp at Snowmass Ski Area will take about 13 minutes – roughly the same amount of time it takes to ride the Silver Queen gondola. He also hopes environmental concerns about gondola towers can be addressed with eco-friendly construction methods that continue to evolve.

Many at the Friday Men’s Club expressed interest in the concept, including Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud.

“It is an idea whose time has come,” she said. “People do resist change, but you should let this concept fly on its own merits.”

[Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com]

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