Skico drops added terrain at Buttermilk
The Aspen Skiing Co. pulled its proposal to expand skiing terrain at West Buttermilk Wednesday to avoid a fight, according to Bill Kane, vice president of planning and development.
“This is not an important enough part of the plan to suffer a lot of brain damage over,” said Kane.
The Skico had proposed in its updated Buttermilk Master Plan to add 100 acres of terrain to its permit area from the U.S. Forest Service. That terrain would have added about 20 skiable acres to the upper portion of West Buttermilk.
The West Buttermilk lift would have been lengthened and realigned to serve that additional terrain.
The proposal proved controversial, however, with backcountry skiing enthusiasts. A group called the Friends of the Buttermilk Bowls formed and promised to aggressively battle the plan in the Forest Service’s and Pitkin County’s review processes.
The citizens’ group started a petition and had collected between 200 and 300 signatures in about one week, according to founder Buzz Patten.
“I’m still a little bit in shock, to tell you the truth,” Patten said Wednesday night. Kane personally informed him of the decision Wednesday.
Letters explaining the Skico’s decision were also delivered to the county Community Development Department and to the Forest Service yesterday afternoon.
Ironically, in an interview earlier in the day – before word of the Skico’s change of heart – Patten said he hoped the Skico would show true environmental commitment by dropping the plan to expand into 100 more acres of National Forest.
Patten said the Skico’s decision to do just that made him feel much better about the company. He stressed that “I’m not unilaterally against everything the Ski Company does.”
But he and other activists felt that adding terrain to the western portion of West Buttermilk would adversely affect backcountry skiing in an area known as the Buttermilk Bowls or Sugar Bowls.
While the Skico’s new trails wouldn’t have stretched that far west, the development would still have opened the bowls to more activity, Friends of the Buttermilk Bowls claimed.
Kane said he hadn’t anticipated the opposition to the terrain expansion.
“We were insensitive to backcountry skiing,” he acknowledged.
Initially, he planned to make a final decision on whether to proceed with that part of the Buttermilk Master Plan after the Forest Service’s public comment period is over on May 3.
But it became clear that the issue struck a chord with the community and that there would be fierce opposition in the federal and local review processes. Kane said there was no need to spark that degree of controversy.
A proposal for expanded snowmaking was also removed from the Buttermilk Master Plan proposal. Otherwise it remains intact.
The proposal includes building a gondola from the summit of Buttermilk to the base of Aspen Highlands, and a major redevelopment of the Buttermilk base area.
The Forest Service is performing an Environmental Assessment on the plan. The Pitkin County Planning and Zoning Commission will begin review of the plan June 22.
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