Public weighs in on Snowmass summer improvements |

Public weighs in on Snowmass summer improvements

Jill Beathard
The Aspen Times
Alpine coasters are becoming the rage at ski resorts as a summer attraction. Riders on bob sled-like cars go down a rail. A coaster is proposed at Snowmass.
Getty Images/courtesy image | iStockphoto

A scoping process to weigh public opinion for proposed amenities on Snowmass Ski Area raised some concerns about losing the quality of existing conditions, including current hiking trails and preserving the mountain’s natural beauty.

Like other Colorado ski resorts, Aspen Skiing Co. has a long-range plan for expanding the activities it offers in the increasingly popular summer tourism months. In Aspen, the improvements envisioned are concentrated in Snowmass and more specifically, the Elk Camp area, where the gondola provides ease of access during multiple seasons.

The proposed improvements at Snowmass include 10 new mountain-bike trails, a mountain-bike skills park, an alpine coaster, a zipline course, a challenge course and a climbing wall. In public comments collected by the White River National Forest before a deadline of April 29, some hikers expressed concern for preserving their experience on the ski area.

“Please do not reduce or minimize the hiking trails for these activities,” wrote part-time resident Deb Cote.

Another part-time resident, Pat Keefer, went into more detail about her concerns, expressing her disappointment about losing the Vista and Sierra Club Nature hiking trails and asking for a compromise between the goals of adding new mechanized amenities and preserving the trails.

“Leave the Vista Trail where it is in its entirety and reroute any conflicting bike trails,” Keefer wrote. “Vista Trail is extremely popular. The alpine coaster design is tougher to move, and while the Sierra Club Nature trail is popular, it does not get nearly the use that the Vista Trail does. With less mountain-bike traffic at the higher portion of the mountain, it would be easier to reroute the Sierra Club Nature Trail.”

However, the Vista Trail currently intersects some of the downhill mountain-biking trails. The Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association said in its comments that the rerouting of the Vista Trail is crucial to ensuring safety on the trail network.

The association also threw its support behind the non-trail aspects of the proposal.

“Implementation of the mountain coaster, canopy tour, zip line, challenge course and climbing wall without delay will contribute to a well-rounded on-mountain experience for a greater number of visitors, ensuring the overall success of these recreation projects,” said the letter from the organization.

Other comments related to the ecological impact of the proposed improvements, including some from Colorado Parks and Wildlife. The Elk Camp area overlaps with summer habitat areas for elk, mule deer and lynx and provides potential nesting space for some raptor species, it said. It suggested seasonal stoppages of trail use and construction activity, a prohibition of nighttime activities and ways of minimizing the light and noise impact.

Some members of the public were worried about wildlife, too, which went hand-in-hand with concerns that the proposed amenities would impact the overall experience of the mountain.

“One of the best features of the current route (of the Vista Trail) is the wildlife at the top of the trail, fox, deer, etc. along the creek just before the trail exits to the gondola, and this is planned to be eliminated,” Keefer wrote.

“If the resort become (sic) so overcrowded throughout the year, then the charm of coming to Aspen and the surrounding area will no longer be a destination my family will support,” wrote Richard Luczyski, who said he’s been visiting the area since 1986. “The ski company should stick to the winter season.”

The proposed improvements also will undergo a land-use review with the town of Snowmass Village, although that might not start until completion of the Forest Service’s environmental-impact statement, said Julie Ann Woods, town community development director, in her response to the scoping notice.

A draft of the enviromental-impact statement is expected in late 2016 or early 2017, with a final decision from the Forest Service later in 2017. That means Skico could potentially start the first phase of work in 2017.


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