Skico: Ajax land purchase unrelated to ski operations |

Skico: Ajax land purchase unrelated to ski operations

The Aspen Skiing Co. bought a greater share in five mining claims on the back of Aspen Mountain recently, but the significance of the $300,000 deal might be for what the purchase doesn’t represent.The Skico acquired a one-third interest in 147 acres of mining claims from Brent and Debra Loushin, according to deeds recorded in the Pitkin County clerk’s office and parties knowledgeable of the deal. The company already had a one-third interest in those same claims. It bought them in 1990 to acquire water rights for ski area operations on Aspen Mountain, according to Skico attorney Dave Bellack.Another member of the Loushin family retained the remaining one-third interest in the mining claims, Bellack said. The mining claims are located contiguously along an old jeep road that starts near the bottom of the Northstar trail on Aspen Mountain, then traverses south toward a pond where the Loushins have owned a cabin for decades.The Skico’s purchase fueled speculation among some camps that the company might be gearing up to expand the ski area south of the upper terminal of the Silver Queen Gondola.Bellack said the purchase was unrelated to ski area operations or the powder tours the Skico operates on the back of Aspen Mountain. The mining claims aren’t in areas utilized by Aspen Mountain Powder Tours, he said.The mining claims are in an area that is a confusing jumble of private and public lands, in the vicinity of an area known as Harris’ Wall, which is popular with backcountry skiers. Murray Cunningham, co-director of the powder tours, confirmed he rarely uses the area.The Skico’s purchase also has no apparent relation to its permit for Aspen Mountain ski area. The southern extent of its permit with the U.S. Forest Service includes the Pandora’s and Powerline areas south of the Silver Queen Gondola, according to Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle. It doesn’t extend to the area where the mining claims are located.Although Pandora’s and Powerline are within the Skico’s permit area, they are outside its official ski area boundary. People informally ski or ride those trails and curl back into the ski area, but they aren’t patrolled. Hanle said there are no immediate plans to try to include Pandora’s and Powerline in the official ski area boundary.In the late 1990s, the Skico briefly toyed with the idea of seeking approval for a chairlift that would serve expert terrain in places like Pandora’s, Powerline and Harris’ Wall. It dropped the idea after consultations with Pitkin County planning officials, according to two sources familiar with the talks.The 147 acres that the Skico now owns a two-thirds interest in are zoned rural and remote. They would have to be rezoned for the Skico to include them in ski area operations.Bellack said the Skico’s purchase of the additional one-third interest in the mining claims was primarily a pre-emptive move. The company didn’t want to risk having the land sold to an unknown party with unknown plans, he said.Rich Wagar, an Aspen real estate agent who assisted the Loushins with the sale, said the Skico also acquired additional water rights.Springs on the mining claims flow to a pond in the ski area that supplies water for snowmaking, Bellack said. Those springs also supply water that is treated for use at the Sundeck.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is

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