Pitkin County’s P&Z recommends approval of Skico’s expansion into Pandora’s
Application now heads to Pitkin County commissioners
Aspen Skiing Co.’s second attempt to win approval for expansion of Aspen Mountain Ski Area into the Pandora’s terrain sailed through the Pitkin County Planning and Zoning Commission on Tuesday night. Next up is a tougher test before the county commissioners.
The planning commission voted 4-0 to recommend approval of rezoning and other land use technical points necessary for the expansion. The decision wasn’t a surprise since the commission also recommended approval after holding four meetings in 2019.
The U.S. Forest Service also has approved Skico’s request to add 153 acres of standard trails and tree skiing and a high-speed quad chairlift on the upper east side of the ski area as well as a new patrol headquarters at the top terminal of the chairlift, south of the Silver Queen Gondola’s upper terminal.
The expansion would add terrain to the south of the existing Walsh’s run. It also would allow trails such as Walsh’s, Hyrup’s and Kristi to extend further down the slope.
The planning commission affirmed their support of the project with little discussion.
“It’s consistent with the federal decisions. It’s consistent with land use. It’s contiguous to an existing ski area,” said Jeffrey Woodruff, the planning board’s chairman. “Everyone in this forum would agree, we’re not looking to create a new ski area.”
Aspen Skiing Co. is seeking approval to expand Aspen Mountain Ski Area into the Pandora’s terrain. Here’s a look at the proposed components:
* Add 153 acres of new ski terrain. Eighty-two acres would be added via 15 developed trails; 71 acres would be in gladed terrain.
* Add one detachable quad chairlift.
* Add a ski patrol headquarters.
* Add an access road from Northstar Trail to the lower chairlift terminal.
The long-planned Pandora’s expansion got high centered in the prior review in 2019 when it reached the county commissioners. The board voted to separate consideration of an updated plan for improvements within the existing operational boundary of the ski area and the Pandora’s expansion. The improvements on the mountain — such as expansion of the snowmaking system — easily earned approval from the commissioners.
The Pandora’s rezoning died by stalemate. The board was leaning 2-2 on the proposal with Patti Clapper abstaining. At that time, Steve Child and Kelly McNicholas Kury were reluctant to approve Skico’s request to rezone lands in the Rural and Remote zone district to Ski-Recreation. Commissioner Greg Pochman and former commissioner George Newman voted to support Skico’s proposal.
Rural and Remote zoning was created in 1994 to prevent rampant growth from sweeping into isolated areas of the county. It was created with the back of Aspen Mountain in mind, including 132 acres that Skico wants rezoned. Rural and Remote was later expanded to cover thousands of acres in the county. Development is limited to small cabins and extension of utilities is prohibited.
Skico officials have argued that Rural and Remote Zoning wasn’t meant to preclude development of downhill skiing. They have agreed not to seek amenities other than ski terrain, a chairlift and the patrol shack.
The resolution approved by the planning commission Tuesday night emphasized Skico’s proposal won’t detract from the intent of Rural and Remote zoning.
“The land will remain rural in character although the intensity of use will change due to the introduction of developed recreation with new ski runs, service road and lift,” the resolution said. “The area currently experiences consistent human activity with backcountry use, snowmobiles and snowcats for powder tours.”
During the first round of the commissioners’ review in 2019, Skico asked for the application to be tabled rather than formally voted on so they could rework the application. Now it’s up for review again, though little has changed in the application. When it comes before the board this time, new commissioner Francie Jacober will be taking her first look at the project. She was elected in November to the seat formerly held by Newman. The date of the hearing hasn’t been set yet.