New Aspen surface lift awaits approval
ASPEN ” A surface lift from Dean Street to Lift 1A at the base of Aspen Mountain is a crucial element of a proposed redevelopment plan for the area ” but it doesn’t have clearance yet from the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board.
Developers and Aspen Skiing Co. officials are betting the tramway board will give them a variance to install the T-Bar type lift, even though there isn’t enough clearance.
Tramway standards require 45 feet of clearance on either side of a ski lift, but the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) requires only five feet on each side of a surface lift.
And that is what the Skico will ask for, since the corridor where the lift would go is 50 feet wide, 40 of which is needed for skiing and grooming.
“We’ve talked to the tramway [board] informally and we can probably get a 35-foot setback,” said Dave Corbin, vice president of planning and development for the Skico.
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But the Skico can’t submit a formal application requesting a variance until a site plan is approved. The Aspen City Council is reviewing a master plan for the area, which proposes 300,000 square feet of residential and commercial space on either side of South Aspen Street.
“The tramway board doesn’t approve in the abstract,” Corbin said. “We need to get a site plan and building approval to take to the tramway board.”
The council will hold a public hearing on the land-use application Monday, when developers will bring a posse of experts to explain energy usage, construction management plans and financing of the project. The council is expected to make a decision on the master plan at its Dec. 8 meeting.
The lack of a variance for the surface lift may be an issue for the council but developers said they are confident they can convince elected officials that it will be granted.
“There is a high level of confidence that a variance will be granted,” said Bob Daniel, who is representing David Wilhelm, Jim Chaffin and Jim Light in their Lift One Lodge proposal.
Corbin and Daniel both said a surface lift doesn’t pose the same safety risks as an aerial lift in that, if there is a fire, for example, riders can easily bail off.
The surface tow would run along the same alignment as Aspen’s first chairlift, which began operating in 1947. It’s estimated that the lift would be between 600 and 700 feet long ” about a one- or two-minute ride. The equipment is 12 feet wide, Corbin said.
The proposed lift will start where the existing terminal of the historic Lift One chair is located in Willoughby Park, and take riders slightly above and left of a new, high-speed Lift 1A set 230 feet farther uphill.
Because of safety concerns, skiers and snowboarders would not be allowed to ride down to Dean Street while the surface lift is in operation. So the lift would operate in the morning and early afternoon, and then be shut down so skiers and snowboarders ski or board down to Dean Street at the end of the day.
“The beauty of this equipment is that the carrier is detached from the cable and [the chairs] can all be brought down and put away so people can ski through the corridor,” Corbin said.
The surface lift is a departure from Skico’s position that a lift in the historic Lift One corridor isn’t possible because of space constraints. But that was only if its purpose was for repeat skiing. Instead, the surface lift would serve as a mode of transportation up the hill.
A lift coming farther down the hill was a driving force in the creation of Lift One task force, made up of 27 citizens who recently approved a site plan for the base of Aspen Mountain’s west side. The six-month process was born out of two land-use applications that proposed hotels in the area, one of which requires Lift 1A moving up the mountain.
Originally, the Lift One Lodge proposed that people would ski at grade underneath an elevated portion of the building, impeding any kind of surface lift from operating.
Upon the suggestion by task force member and City Councilman Dwayne Romero, Daniel agreed to break up the building to allow a surface lift to run through it.
“It opened up the opportunity to put it straight through there,” Corbin said.
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