Aspen’s electeds choose parts of ‘uphill economy’ effort

Sean Van Horn heads up Tiehack at Buttermilk Mountain in Aspen for one of his laps during a North American 24-hour vertical ski record attempt, which also served to raise awareness of mental health issue in conjunction with Aspen Strong. Accompanying him on the lap was friend and fellow endurance athlete Casey Weaver.
Courtesy Justin Patrick

Aspen City Council agreed Monday to move forward with specific elements of the “uphill economy plan” that was initiated by a previous administration.

After reviewing a 130-page packet of information surrounding the plan, which began in 2017 and was budgeted for $100,000 to develop, council members said it’s worth pursuing but not at the expense of an over-worked staff in the community development department.

Mayor Torre said he would like to see an outside organization like the Aspen Chamber Resort Association or a local nonprofit pick up the plan and run with it.

The plan was completed in July and designed to build culture and community, reinforce the values of human-powered recreation all four seasons and introduce more users to the sport, according to long range planner Phillip Supino.

Council members agreed to continue funding the Buttermilk Ascent event, which is a collaboration with Aspen Skiing Co. and local gear and guide companies to join novice and experienced uphill skiers to climb the mountain together and demo equipment.

Last year, the city paid $15,000 in event fees to Skico to cover the costs associated with hosting the event.

This past spring, the event drew 75 attendees from around the world, 40% of whom had no prior uphilling experience, according to Supino.

Council also agreed to fund the uphill socials, which occur each Friday and attract as many as 140 locals and visitors. They meet at the base of Tiehack and ascend to the Cliffhouse for breakfast.

This past season, the socials cost a total of $4,800, which provided breakfast to more than 800 attendees during the 12 weeks the event took place.

The uphill economy plan, which council agreed needs to be rebranded, was developed after nine months of work by city staff and consultants. They worked through hundreds of concepts and thousands of data points to arrive at recommendations and policies, according to Supino.

Council members emphasized that the plan should not increase usage in the backcountry but rather drive policy discussion on how to help preserve the public lands experience.

That’s how Pitkin County officials, particularly those from the open space and trails board, feel about the plan.

In a letter to the city, the county’s open space board said preservation and enhancement of biodiversity is more important than growing the economy through recreation.

“The plan’s emphasis on developing and promoting backcountry recreation assets may inadvertently have the effect of commercializing the backcountry, thereby degrading the outdoor experience, contributing to resource damage and compounding management challenges,” the letter reads. “The (board) is not supportive of efforts to promote/facilitate expanded backcountry recreation given the management challenges that already exist on public lands.”