A Lift 1A replacement on Aspen Mountain a lot to digest for City Council | AspenTimes.com

A Lift 1A replacement on Aspen Mountain a lot to digest for City Council

City planner Ben Anderson shows some renderings of potential chairlift scenarios on the west side of Aspen Mountain to resident Steve Goldenberg on Monday during an open house at City Hall.

The land-use application seeking Aspen City Council's approval of a new hotel on Aspen Mountain will remain on hold so that key players seeking to recharge the Lift 1A side of the ski area can reach a consensus on where a new lift would be placed.

That was the upshot of a Monday work session among City Council, Aspen Skiing Co. and the developers of the already approved Lift One Lodge and the proposed Gorsuch Haus hotel, which followed a three-hour open house for the public to review various lift-site scenarios.

In front of a crowd that crammed City Council Chambers for a meeting that consumed more than 31/2 hours, Aspen's elected officials heard a broad overview of the various lift-location options from Chris Cushing of the SE Group, a consultant firm that has come up with nine different ways a replacement of the historic Lift 1A could be used on Aspen Mountain.

They also heard from representatives of Lift One Lodge, Gorsuch and Skico, as well some residents, a few of whom lobbied that a new lift should follow the same path as the current one up for replacement.

The work session came after the City Council in March tabled the Gorsuch application so that an independent study could be done to evaluate the feasibility of various lift options. Developer Norway Island LLC, which is behind the Gorsuch proposal, offered earlier this year that it would create a widened entrance at the bottom terminal of the ski lift on the hotel property, which critics have argued would limit public access.

With that apparently no longer an option, the council now has nine chairlift scenarios to digest, but it ultimately agreed with the consultant firm's findings that two or three of the alternatives, with some tweaking and fine-tuning, will likely achieve a satisfactory outcome.

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But before they reach a consensus, the council directed the main principles with Lift One, Gorsuch and Skico to discuss what they see most viable for the logistically challenging side of the mountain. Both developments, neither of which has started (Gorsuch is still in the approval process), would possibly have to be relocated in certain scenarios.

"Some additional work needs to be done before the Gorsuch application is brought back on the table," Community Development Director Jessica Garrow said.

One of the leading scenarios calls for the bottom terminal of the chairlift to start near Dean Street, with skiers having to walk about 350 feet while assenting about 50 feet to the lift. Skiers walking to the lift would use the existing South Aspen Street sidewalk, a new walking path through Willoughby and Lift 1 public parks or a combination of the two. Under that scenario, the eastern building of Lift One Lodge would either be relocated or eliminated.

The second-most likely option would be placing the bottom terminal even closer to Dean Street. The terminal would be placed just south of the Lift 1 bottom terminal structure. Skiers arriving at the Dean Street public-transit stop would have to walk about 100 feet in length with a 10-foot vertical rise, according to the study.

Other factors are at play, as well, including the city's agreement with the Dolinsek family, who gifted their slopeside property to the city on the condition that it could have no lifts or permanent ski infrastructure, while it is still used as an easement for skiers and snowboarders.

A public vote also could be ignited if the ski museum, which voters approved but has not been built, were to be moved to accommodate the lift.

"If that were to change in some way, that likely would trigger a public vote," Garrow told the council.

The same would happen with any changes to the uses of public park land on the mountain, Garrow said.

Councilman Ward Hauenstein suggested a midway loading station on the new lift so that it would ease congestion on the lower part of the mountain. That idea caught on with others, too, and will be considered.

The Lift 1A side of Aspen Mountain means different things to different people. For some, it is a quaint side of a mountain that epitomizes Aspen's rich skiing and racing history. Lift 1A was built in 1972 and runs nearly halfway up the mountain. It replaced Lift 1, the first lift on Aspen Mountain.

Others say that side of the mountain has grown too staid and antiquated and is long overdue for new hotels, amenities and a new lift.

Mayor Steve Skadron vowed that the council will strive to capture both the new and old with whatever happens there.

"What we have here is a desire to balance history and the future to work with the Browns (brothers Aaron and Michael, the developers of Lift One Lodge) should their buildings be impacted," he said.

rcarroll@aspentimes.com