Pandora’s chairlift remains in the box |

Pandora’s chairlift remains in the box

ASPEN – The Aspen Skiing Co. put additional thought last summer into building the Pandora’s chairlift on Aspen Mountain but officials decided the time isn’t ripe yet for the project.

Although the new chairlift remains on the Skico’s long-term “to-do” list,” it isn’t in the 2011 capital improvement plan, Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle said Friday. “There will be no work done in that area this summer,” he said.

The Pandora’s area is steep, gladed terrain to the skier’s right of the Walsh’s trail on Aspen Mountain. It is also accessed from south of the upper terminal of the Silver Queen Gondola. The terrain is already a popular “sidecountry” area for skiers and riders. It’s got a backcountry feel but it is easily accessible.

Pandora’s is within the ski area permit boundary but not part of the managed ski area. There are no trails signs or avalanche control by the ski patrol.

Skico officials invited U.S. Forest Service specialists to tour the Pandora’s area last summer for a preliminary discussion on what would be required for a formal review, according to Jim Stark, winter sports administrator with the Aspen Ranger District. The Skico flagged a proposed lift line through the forest prior to the tour, he said. The Forest Service contingent included a geologist as well as experts in wildlife and visual impacts.

“We’ve done some pre-work, so they’re thinking about it,” Stark said, adding that no proposal has been submitted by the Skico for Forest Service review.

The Pandora’s chairlift and terrain was envisioned in the 1997 Aspen Mountain Master Plan, the last such plan approved by the Forest Service. A master plan for each ski area provides the Forest Service with a conceptual idea of what the Skico is thinking for upgrades over time. Lift construction and terrain additions must also go under some level of environmental review by the Forest Service.

The Aspen Mountain Master Plan proposes a fixed-grip quad chairlift with a ride time of about 8.5 minutes for Pandora’s. It would be about 4,250 feet long with a vertical gain of about 1,400 feet. (To put that into perspective, the Ajax Express chairlift on Aspen Mountain is 4,721 feet long with a vertical gain of 1,101 feet, the master plan said.)

The Pandora’s chairlift would serve about 150 acres of trails and gladed terrain between Harris’ Wall and the existing Walsh’s area. That includes areas known as Rock Gully, Power Line, Pandora’s and Dakine Bowl.

“The trails will be primarily gladed trails left in their natural condition,” the master plan says.

Stark said the chairlift and the terrain it would serve are “somewhat similar” to the Temerity chairlift and some of the terrain it serves at Aspen Highlands.

As contemplated in 1997, the lower terminal of the Pandora’s chairlift would be on a bench at the 10,000-foot elevation, below Lud’s Lane, which provides the egress for the Walsh’s area. The upper terminal would be about 1,500 feet south of the upper gondola terminal in an area called the Quarry.

A new, short catwalk would be required to circulate skiers from Walsh’s to the lower terminal, the master plan said.

The Pandora’s lift has been the stuff of dreams or dread for some time. For some skiers and riders, adding lift service to the Pandora’s area would be a welcomed way to make access easier to challenging, fun terrain. For others, it would be an unwelcome invasion of their powder stash.

For now it’s a moot point. The terrain addition and lift construction aren’t going to happen any time soon, according to Skico.

“That area is in our long-term plans, we just haven’t done anything more official or moved forward with any sort of analysis or study of the situation at this point,” Hanle said.

The Skico and Forest Service are working on a plan to thin trees in the ski areas that were hit by the bark beetle epidemic. The proposal includes extensive work in the Pandora’s area. However, the tree thinning on its own won’t allow creation of new ski trails, Stark said.

The Skico hopes to finalize its 2011 capital improvement plan sometime this month. A decision hasn’t been made yet whether or not a new Tiehack chairlift, replacing the two existing lifts, will be pursued in 2011, Hanle said.

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