Neighbors air opposition to gondola |

Neighbors air opposition to gondola

More opposition has surfaced against the proposed Buttermilk-Highlands gondola, and one group is suggesting different alignments for the tram.

A letter from an attorney representing a group of homeowners suggests two different gondola alignments to reduce various impacts. The Aspen Skiing Co.’s proposal to link the ski areas is part of a development master plan for Buttermilk.

Attorney Travis Thornton, writing to the Forest Service for homeowners in the Maroon Creek Subdivision, indicates his clients object most to the Skico’s preferred alternative – a straight-line alignment from the Cliffhouse restaurant to the base of Aspen Highlands.

The homeowners’ privacy is the primary concern, because the gondola would travel directly over the subdivision, Thornton wrote. Geologic hazards, impacts to wildlife and views, and noise are also cited.

Two gondola alignments have been suggested by consultant Beat von Allmen, of Alpen Tech. One extends northwest from the Highlands base to the top of the ridge and then angles along the ridge to the Cliffhouse. That alignment is similar to an alternative route developed by the Skico, with a less acute “elbow.”

The homeowners say that route would be less objectionable than the suggested alignment, because most of the towers would be on top of the ridge, rather than on the otherwise undeveloped steep slope.

Alpen Tech has also proposed a straight-line gondola from the base of Buttermilk to the base of Highlands. This is an unobstructed route, von Allmen writes, and it saves commuters the inconvenience of being exposed to weather on an open lift, and delivers them more quickly to their destination.

Skico planner Victor Gerdin said Thursday that a base-to-base gondola would run almost entirely over private property, some of it already platted for residential construction. “It would require easements all the way,” he said.

Gerdin also said the base-to-base design implies that the main purpose of a gondola is to replace bus transit. But transportation is not the primary purpose the Skico had in mind for creating the tram, he said.

“We’re not as excited about that as an option, because it doesn’t allow people to access skiing,” he said. “If it was just a transportation lift, we probably wouldn’t build it.”

Transportation is only one of four reasons the Skico has used in its quest to get approval for the project.

The Skico’s stated reasons for building the gondola are to fight declining ticket sales at Buttermilk and Highlands by linking the two mountains as one with varied levels of difficulty; to allow summer activities with views of the Maroon Bells; to allow parents and their children to ski on mountains best suited to their abilities and still meet for lunch; and to provide a transportation alternative, reducing auto traffic to Aspen Highlands.

Thornton asserts that the Skico’s four “needs” for the gondola would all be addressed better by other means.

The perception that Highlands is an expert’s area and Buttermilk is a beginner’s area is not strictly true, Thornton writes, and has been fostered by the Skico’s marketing. Thornton proposes that the perception can be corrected by different marketing and by charging less for tickets at Buttermilk.

Summer use of the ski areas and their restaurants would also be readily available without a gondola, Thornton said.

The need for families to lunch together may not be significant enough to justify major construction in a scenic natural area, he asserts.

And, while overcrowded roads do present a problem around Aspen, Thornton says his clients “question whether the preferred alignment for the gondola offers the best transportation alternative, as the time to travel by lift and gondola from the Buttermilk base to the Highlands base will be approximately 28 minutes, where a bus ride would take five to 10 minutes…”

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