Pitkin County commissioners approve Skico’s 10-year project
After months of meetings, Pitkin County commissioners on Wednesday approved a 10-year master plan for Aspen Mountain, though the approval didn’t include the Pandora’s expansion area.
Aspen Skiing Co. officials asked the county board in an Aug. 30 letter to carve out the proposed 167-acre Pandora’s expansion area at the top eastern section of Aspen Mountain and address it as a separate development application. The request came after a late August meeting in which commissioners split 2-2 on whether to approve the new ski terrain.
“I think it’s a wise decision by the Ski Company in looking at the tea leaves,” said Commissioner George Newman, who voted to approve Pandora’s last month. “They can address the issues raised and come back and respond.”
Commissioner Steve Child, who opposed the Pandora’s expansion last month, also said he thought Skico’s separation of its Pandora’s plans was wise.
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“Now they can proceed with the things they want to do this fall,” Child said. “Pandora could take months and months still.”
The Pandora’s application — which includes rezoning those 167 acres from the restrictive Rural and Remote designation to a less restrictive Ski Recreation tag and building a 4,191-foot-long lift — was postponed until Oct. 9. That date, however, is merely a placeholder so Skico can figure out how long it will take to address commissioner concerns about Pandora’s, meaning the application will likely be addressed by the county board later than October.
Meanwhile, Skico now can begin acting on approvals in the Aspen Mountain Master Plan that were approved Wednesday. That includes rebuilding Buckhorn Cabin, relocating and rebuilding the ski patrol shack atop Aspen Mountain, increasing the number of nighttime events at the Sundeck and possibly opening Ruthie’s Restaurant during the day.
One of the major discussion points Wednesday involved hashing out the number of nighttime events Skico can hold per year at the Sundeck, as well as the corresponding operating times for the Silver Queen Gondola. Skico wanted to increase the number of events from 72 per year to 150 per year.
Newman, however, balked at that number even though Skico officials said they’d received no community complaints about nighttime gondola use or Sundeck use.
“It seems like a lot to double it,” he said.
Instead, Newman suggested capping the number of nighttime events at 110 per year, while giving Skico the ability to come back to the board later if that isn’t enough. His colleagues agreed.
As far as gondola hours, Skico wanted to be able to have all guests down from the Sundeck by 1 a.m., and all staff down the mountain by 2 a.m.
Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury said she thought midnight “was more reasonable,” though the other three commissioners felt the times Skico wanted were acceptable. The 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. cut-offs were eventually approved.
Also approved Wednesday was tearing down the ski patrol shack at the top of Aspen Mountain and building a new 1,500- to 2,500-square-foot ski patrol building next to the north wall of the gondola.
“Some in the community have deep nostalgia for the ski patrol shack,” Commissioner Greg Poschman said.
“We’ll certainly make pieces of it available to the public,” said David Corbin, Skico vice president for planning.
Buckhorn Cabin also will be torn down and rebuilt. After initially placing the new building close to the ridge where the current cabin sits, Skico moved it back from the edge based on commissioner suggestions. The new cabin will be 1,000 square feet and feature bathrooms and a large deck.
Ruthie’s Restaurant, which closed about a decade ago, will be allowed to be renovated and can open during the day for food service. Skico can open Ruthie’s for nighttime food service as well, though officials will have to come back to the county board with a nighttime plan that must be approved by commissioners.
Two proposed resort cabins that would have housed tourists overnight near Ruthie’s were axed from the master plan early on. Those cabins are completely off the table at this point and won’t be allowed even under further review.
Finally, commissioners balked at allowing a playground-type area with climbing walls, a bungee trampoline and challenge courses at the top of Aspen Mountain. McNicholas Kury said she didn’t support such structures, which could have reached 28 feet in height, and her colleagues agreed that any such use would only be allowed under further review from commissioners.
Skico also initially asked for a two-year trial plan for gondola-served mountain biking on Aspen Mountain. Commissioners eliminated that provision from the master plan, though Skico can come back to the commissioners later with a mountain biking plan that also would be considered under the further review process.
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Wayne Hall took a job as an air traffic controller at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport in 2003 thinking he would stay for a short time. Instead he stayed for nearly 17 years and was promoted up to the position of air traffic manager. He reflected on the experience upon retirement.