Mountain biking, overnight huts proposed for Aspen Mountain
Besides a new lift and more than 150 acres of new skiing terrain, Aspen Skiing Co. also is proposing several other improvements to both summer and winter recreation opportunities on Aspen Mountain.
Those plans include gondola-served mountain biking, reopening Ruthie’s Restaurant to include evening food service, building overnight huts for skiers and hikers near Ruthie’s Restaurant, rebuilding and expanding Buckhorn Cabin, re-jiggering the Bell Mountain Lift and constructing a new ski patrol building, according to Pitkin County documents.
The plans are part of Skico’s proposed upgrades to the Aspen Mountain Master Plan, which Pitkin County commissioners will begin addressing and debating Wednesday. The county’s Planning and Zoning Commission has already approved the plans, while the U.S. Forest Service approved the new lift and skiing terrain portion of the plans — known as Pandora — last month.
Commissioners must also approve Pandora, which will require them to rezone 132 acres from the Rural and Remote designation to Ski Recreation. Another 35 acres in the Pandora area must be rezoned from Agriculture/Residential to Ski Recreation as well to make those plans come to fruition. Of those acres, 93 are owned by Skico and 60 are on National Forest land, according to the documents.
The 4,191-foot-long Pandora lift will begin about 1,500 feet downslope of current lower Walsh’s trail boundary and end about 950 feet south and a little east of the Silver Queen Gondola’s top terminal, according to the documents. The area will include about 60 acres of gladed terrain and 15 developed trails on another 82 acres.
The Pandora Lift could spell the end of the Gentleman’s Ridge Lift, which was constructed in 1985 with a never-realized option to turn it into a high-speed quad, according to the documents.
“If it is determined that after the Pandora Lift is installed there is redundancy with the Gent’s Ridge Lift, then the Gent’s Ridge Lift will be removed,” according to a January memo from Assistant Community Development Director Suzanne Wolff to the county Planning and Zoning Commission.
Skico also wants to tweak the Bell Mountain Lift, first built in 1957 and upgraded in 1990, because the gondola made it redundant and seldom-used, the documents state.
“As a result, a shortening and/or realignment of the current alignment is planned that would provide shortened ride times, improved skier circulation and increased ridership, according to Wolff’s January memo.
As for summer recreation, Skico wants to implement a two-year trial plan for gondola-served mountain biking on Aspen Mountain. Skico would be required to track rider and load numbers for the mountain biking program and provide that data and evidence of the public’s response to it to the county for further review after the two year experiment.
The company also is asking for permission to build “downhill and flow mountain biking trails” in the summer, according to documents.
Several of Skico’s proposed upgrades focus on improving on-mountain facilities.
The company wants to renovate or rebuild Ruthie’s Restaurant, which closed about 10 years ago, Wolff wrote in the memo. Skico believes food and beverage service at Ruthie’s will again become viable once the new Lift 1A, which will terminate at the restaurant, is built, the memo states. It wants permission to serve food at the restaurant during evening events.
Skico also wants to build one or two overnight huts for tourist skiers or hikers in the vicinity of Ruthie’s Restaurant. A site plan included in the documents shows the two cabins slated to be built upslope of the front of the restaurant.
“The hut or huts are intended to be modestly sized structures, each offering overnight accommodations on the mountain for eight to 20 hikers, skiers and other mountain visitors,” according to Wolff’s memo. “The huts would include kitchens.”
Buckhorn Cabin would be re-born under the new master plan. Skico wants to renovate or tear down and remove the current cabin and build a larger structure to serve as “an expanded shelter alternative and food and beverage option for daily operations and special events,” Wolff’s memo states.
A site plan for Buckhorn included in Wednesday’s county commissioner packet indicates the existing cabin would be removed and a larger one with a sizable deck facing Aspen Highlands could be built.
“Improvements (to Buckhorn) may include the addition of restrooms and kitchen facilities of a rustic nature,” according to Wolff’s memo.
The new ski patrol building would be between 1,500 and 2,500 square feet and relocated to the north side of the gondola building. The existing patrol building would be demolished and removed. Skico also wants to renovate Bonnie’s Restaurant and remodel and expand the Aspen Mountain Club at the Sundeck.
Continued night use of the gondola also is included in the requests. The 2018 baseline number of events — 150 — would remain the maximum, while specially permitted gondola events would end at 1 a.m., and others at 8:30 p.m. The number of guests will not exceed 500 people unless by special permit.
Finally, the company wants to expand snowmaking efforts to cover 53 more acres located at the upper portion of the ski area. The proposed effort would require installing underground air and water pipelines, construction of a water pump station and two more storage ponds, according to Wolff’s memo.
Commissioners are scheduled to begin debating the master plan, which is to cover the next decade, at their regular meeting Wednesday. Commissioner Patti Clapper has recused herself from deliberations about the plan because two of her family members work for Skico.
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