Skico won’t replace Lift 1A until broader plan is in place for Aspen base area
Aspen Skiing Co. is standing firm on its position that it won’t rush to replace Lift 1A despite pressure from the International Ski Federation and the mechanical breakdown of the 43-year-old chairlift.
Skico executives have insisted for years that they will not make a multimillion-dollar investment in a new chairlift until it becomes clear what will happen with developments at the base area.
“Replacing 1A lift on its own is not an option,” Skico Chief Executive Officer David Perry told The Aspen Times recently. “A comprehensive solution to that neighborhood is needed before a lift location and type can be decided.”
Skico officials said in the past that only about 3 percent of its customers on Aspen Mountain access the slopes via Lift 1A on the west side of the ski area. The vast majority of skiers and snowboarders use the Silver Queen Gondola.
Skico’s position is that until there is more vitality surrounding the Lift 1A base, it doesn’t make sense to replace the chairlift. However, there’s no guarantee of increased vitality on the scale Skico hopes for anytime soon. A prime development site west of South Aspen Street near the chairlift base was eyed for a hotel, including the Lodge at Aspen Mountain proposal, but now it’s been approved for 14 free-market units and 17 affordable-housing residences. The developer is taking reservations for the free-market units.
On the east side of the South Aspen Street, where the Skiers’ Chalet and former Holland House site are located, the owners have approvals for 22 fractional ownership units that would operate like a lodge and five-wholly owned units. However, there’s been no movement on construction while the owners seek financing.
Meanwhile, Lift 1A is showing signs of wear and tear. The chairlift was shut down Dec. 31 because of a broken tooth on a gear. It remains closed while Skico searches for a replacement part. The company believes it has located the part and the lift will open later this month, possibly as soon as one week, according to Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle. He said the lift — which was erected in 1972 — remains viable despite the problem in the gearbox.
In addition, the organization that schedules World Cup ski races said Skico must replace the chairlift and the community must spruce up the base area or risk losing future events. The deadline is in question. Skico Vice President of Sales and Events John Rigney said World Cup races aren’t at risk until 2018. However, Aspen Journalism, an independent news organization, reported that FIS officials said Aspen is at risk of losing the World Cup Finals in March 2017 if there isn’t progress in improving the lift and base area. The FIS Congress awarded the World Cup Finals, a prestigious event, to Aspen in June.
Rigney said he has no reason to believe the event will be taken away from Aspen.
“I know what was in our bid, and what was in our bid was the existing infrastructure,” he said. “Right now, I’m planning on the 2017 World Cup Finals and I’m planning on what I’ve got” for infrastructure.
Rigney said he suspects he will be asked again about progress with base area and lift improvements when the FIS Congress convenes in May. The FIS has said Aspen’s long-term standing as a host venue for World Cup events is at risk without improvements, according to Rigney, but no specific deadline has been given. That said, the race dates that typically would be awarded to Aspen starting in November 2017, now have an asterisk and USA placed on those dates on the FIS calendar, he noted.
“All talks have been framed around the long-term calendar,” Rigney said. He said he doesn’t expect to have to fight to retain the World Cup Finals in 2017 when the FIS Congress convenes in May.
“All the things that made Aspen special and made it a compelling bid are still in place,” Rigney said.
He noted that the issue isn’t just Lift 1A. The FIS “wants the whole base buffed out,” he said. “It’s a unique situation where our fate isn’t completely in our hands here.”
However, if Skico decided to build the lift in the same alignment with a similar footprint for the base facility, it would apparently sail through the review process. White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams said recently that he didn’t believe the lift would require Forest Service review because it’s on private land.
Aspen City Attorney Jim True said his impression is a replacement on the same footprint would possibly require a type of approval called 8040 Green Line Review. That is intended to protect the environment above the elevation of 8,040 feet.
“The upgrade on footprint would require some level of review, most likely by (the Aspen Planning and Zoning Commission),” True said.
If that review was all that was required, the chairlift replacement wouldn’t have to go to the City Council, he said.
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Trouble seems to plague the former Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park site in Basalt. The latest controversy is over the black fence that was erected three years ago on the site near the heart of downtown.