Maroon Bells avalanche debris leaves brides scrambling to find new altar

A recent view of the Maroon Bells Scenic Area. The popular destination is closed until June 15 due to avalanche debris
Shelly Grail Braudis/U.S. Forest Service

More than a dozen couples are scrambling to make last-minute arrangements for their weddings that were planned to be at the Maroon Bells but were canceled due to avalanches in the area this past winter.

The U.S. Forest Service has delayed the May 15 opening of the Maroon Bells Scenic Area to June 15 so Pitkin County public works crews can remove avalanche debris from the access road.

Thirteen weddings were planned at the amphitheater and three more at the East Maroon Portal between Memorial Day and June 14.

Brides and grooms were notified last month that they wouldn’t be able to carry out their dream weddings with the majestic backdrop of the bells.

“We’ve been dealing with hysterical brides,” Aspen Chamber Resort Association Debbie Braun told her board of directors during a meeting last month.

Braun updated the board that the chamber is helping them find alternative locations around town.

For Heather Becker and her fiance Bryan Daugherty, it was a crushing blow to their plans to be married in front of the Bells at the amphitheater.

“The wedding part wasn’t important but the Bells were,” Becker said, adding that the outdoors and the mountains are her “church” and she wanted nothing more than to say her vows at the amphitheater with her family and friends present.

“We want to showcase where we live and why we live so far away” from family and friends, Becker said.

She and Daugherty rode their bicycles up Maroon Creek Road last week to check out the carnage.

“We saw the carnage and I started crying,” Becker said. “I didn’t realize how much it meant to me.”

Their June 6 wedding is still on, but it will be held at Mollie Gibson Park at the base of Smuggler Mountain, with views of Aspen Mountain as the backdrop.

That is where the couple’s reception was going to be anyway, and it’s just a few steps away from their condo at Centennial, Becker said.

“At the end of the day, we will be married and that is the important part,” she said.

Ross Daniels is Becker and Daugherty’s photographer and wedding planner. He said he has a few clients who had weddings planned in early June at the Bells and now are scrambling.

“Some of these brides are pretty bummed,” he said. “It’s sad. You have your heart set on the Bells.”

Daniels said his clients are leaning on him to find alternative places.

“They are still coming and so are their families and trying to make the best of it,” he said. “I will definitely find them a place … their dreams are a bit crushed but it’s OK.”

Eliza Voss, the director of marketing for the chamber, said her office received five phone calls from harried couples within two hours of the forest service’s announcement.

The chamber is helping with alternative locales, suggesting places such as Mollie Gibson Park, or the John Denver Sanctuary but they are not the Bells, Voss acknowledged.

“It’s not only a beautiful view, it’s also an affordable option,” Voss said.

It costs $200 to rent the amphitheater and $75 to use the East Maroon Portal, according to Shelly Grail Braudis, recreation manager for the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District for the forest service.

She was the one burdened with informing the couples that the Maroon Bells area would be closed and they would have to find other options.

“We knew it was a decision that couldn’t be made lightly,” Grail Braudis said.

But there is so much snow and debris covering the road and the facilities in the area that there was no way possible to open on time, she noted.

The county is making good progress, Grail Braudis said, and she and county officials will meet next week to discuss if June 15 is still the opening date.

Besha Deane, of the T-Lazy-7 Ranch, located just below the Maroon Bells entrance, said she has been fielding calls from brides looking for alternative locations.

“We are trying to help any canceled Maroon Bells brides by offering a discounted rate for our ceremony meadow as availability allows,” she said.


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