Lift 1A improvements won’t harm races |

Lift 1A improvements won’t harm races

ASPEN ” World Cup race organizers are anxious for improvements at the base of Lift 1A so that facilities there match the quality of terrain on Aspen Mountain, according to an official with the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association.

“It’s a big opportunity for us,” said Calum Clark, vice president of events for the USSSA.

The Aspen Skiing Co. and other owners of private property at and near the base of the chairlift are working on a “master plan” for the area. Redevelopment is controversial to some observers because they fear it will change the laid-back feel on the west side of the mountain. Some people also are concerned that relocating a new chairlift farther up the mountain could affect ski terrain and make downhill courses too short to accommodate the world’s best ski racers.

Clark said he believes the improvements “will actually enhance” rather than harm Aspen’s standing as a host resort. State-of-the-art facilities would be welcomed by the International Ski Federation (FIS), he said. FIS officials regularly ask him when the Lift 1A side is scheduled for an overhaul.

Clark didn’t feel that moving the chairlift up the mountain would create too short of downhill courses.

The downhill course the women are scheduled to race on today features a vertical drop in elevation of 2,506 feet or 764 meters. FIS regulations require a vertical drop of between 500 and 800 meters or 1,640 to 2,624 feet. So Aspen Mountain’s course is near the high end of that range. Moving Lift 1A uphill a short distance won’t threaten the course’s certification.

The potential impacts are tougher to gauge on a men’s downhill course. Aspen’s downhill course had a reputation of being on the short side. The FIS requires a vertical drop of between 800 to 1,100 meters or 2,624 to 3,608 feet.

The men’s downhill course started farther up Aspen Mountain than the women’s, but it is still on the low end of the FIS requirements. Moving the chairlift uphill, even just a few hundred feet, wouldn’t help Aspen’s chances of luring a men’s downhill race back again.

It might be a moot point. Aspen Mountain hasn’t hosted a men’s downhill since 1995. Since then, the Birds of Prey course just 90 miles away at Beaver Creek, has become a world-renowned venue. That course has 2,483 feet of vertical drop.

Aspen Mountain is such an excellent venue for World Cup ski races because it has a unique variation of pitch, according to Clark. The terrain is well suited for both a speed event like the downhill and a technical event like the slalom, he said.

Aspen Skiing Co. Vice President of Sales and Events John Rigney said the company doesn’t want to undertake any development that would negatively impact World Cup courses.

“We want to have the men back at some point,” Rigney said. “We’re very happy hosting the women.”

Jim Hancock, Aspen’s chief of race for the World Cup events, is participating in the master planning meetings to make sure that perspective isn’t lost in the process. Clark toured the 1A site with Rigney to help picture in his mind’s eye how the area could be altered.

Clark said he envisions at least three improvements coming from the redevelopment of the Lift 1A base:

– New lodging at the base area could move racers closer to the race arena and avoid shuttling them from elsewhere in town.

– A new high-speed chairlift would benefit racers, course workers and FIS officials.

– A regraded base could make construction of infrastructure easier and less expensive. The costs are exacerbated because grandstands, VIP areas and other amenities must be constructed in a way that offsets the steep slope at the current Lift 1A base.

Clark summarized the possible improvements by saying they could “take this great race hill into the next generation.”

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