Snowmass Town Council approves 7 Skico cell towers, shoots down 2 over aesthetics

Snowmass Tourism announced their lineup of winter events.
Jeremy Swanson/Snowmass Tourism

Aesthetic concerns won over on Monday night as Snowmass Town Council members and residents pushed back on two cell towers currently proposed for the base of Two Creeks ski lift.

“Cell phone service is very poor at my house, and every one of my neighbors would stand up and say, ‘Yes, we want better cell phone service,'” said Snowmass resident Jay Warren, who represents a group of fellow residents opposing the towers’ construction. “But if you ask them to make that trade, I can’t find a single one who’s going to make that trade because that’s why they moved here.”

For months, Aspen Skiing Company has looked to build multiple cell towers for Snowmass Village to improve access to emergency services on the mountain. On Monday, the council approved seven of nine of the proposed towers.

Aspen Skiing Company proposed cell towers at seven locations on Snowmass mountain to increase access to emergency services.
Contributed Photo

The council, however, asked Skico to come back with a different proposal for two 36-foot towers at Two Creeks Base Area, one that would conceal the cell towers better. 

Monday’s meeting was the third time Mak Keeling, Skico’s vice president of mountain planning and development, presented proposals for the cell towers on Skico property in Snowmass. He first introduced the proposal to Snowmass Town Council in August, and council members asked him to re-imagine the height and location of several of the cell towers. Council members again asked him to adjust the height of the towers in October.

Skico’s initial proposal for Two Creeks was one 54-foot cell tower. In October, it proposed two 40-foot cell towers. Its most recent proposal to council on Monday was two 36-foot cell towers at the base of Two Creeks ski lift. 

Aspen Skiing Company renderings of two proposed 36-foot cell towers at the Two Creeks Base Area in Snowmass.
Contributed Photo

“The intent in these towers… it’s to assist with emergency services – whether they’re with patrol, whether they’re with mountain rescue, whether they’re with the ambulances and the hospitals,” Keeling said. “It’s to improve communication on the mountain, as well as in the village.”

But the aesthetic concern of the towers — the only ones in the plan that cannot be easily hidden among trees or behind buildings — won over on Monday night. Residents and council members agreed that having two 36-foot cell towers was too “visually impactful,” Council member Alyssa Shenk said during the meeting.

Residents asked Skico to consider other locations for the towers or cancel the plan for those towers altogether. Keeling reminded the council that the towers – which will accommodate Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T – are to improve communication on the mountain for better access to emergency services.

Shenk, however, suggested that skiing and snowboarding in areas without cell coverage comes with risks. She suggested people worried about getting hurt somewhere without cell coverage should carry a Garmin device, many of which can send the user’s location to emergency contacts.

“Here’s the thing … I get that you want to be there for the people who get themselves in a bad situation, but there are lots of places in this area where you’re not going to have cell service and you’re going to get in a bad situation,” she said during the meeting Monday. “You go up Castle Creek or Maroon Creek Road, any of these places, and we can’t protect everyone everywhere.”

“If people are really concerned, they should carry a Garmin device – I mean truthfully, if you’re really concerned for your safety,” she continued.

But as a world-class ski resort, Keeling argued it is the responsibility of Skico to provide easy access to emergency services when it can.

“We have the world’s best ski area, and we have a level of expectation of communication, and we have some of the world’s worst cell phone coverage on this mountain,” he said during the meeting. “I mean, I hate to generalize like that, but our guests deserve to be able to make a phone call or send out a text message if they’re hurt, if they need to find a friend, whatever it is.

“We all know people who have been stranded for who knows how long because they didn’t have the ability to communicate, and they had to wait for a random person to come by them. I don’t think that should be an expectation; I think we should expect that we can do a little better than that,” he added.

Shenk asked if the proposed tower at the Elk Camp Activity Center, one 70-foot tower, could also cover the area the Two Creeks towers would cover. Keeling said because of its location and reduction in height — down from 90 feet from SkiCo’s October proposal — that it could not reach the same areas.

He also said once people reach Burnt Mountain, they would lose service from the Elk Camp tower because it is too far away.

“I do think when you’re on most of the runs of Snowmass that expectation (of communication access) should be there and it should be granted, but I feel like when you’re making the hike up to Burnt Mountain and you’re going in ‘the backcountry,’ I don’t know what you can really expect,” Shenk said.

Aspen Skiing Company presented proposals for cell tower heights and locations to the Snowmass Town Council three separate times.
Contributed Photo

Warren and fellow residents object to the construction of the Two Creeks towers on the basis of aesthetics. He told the council on Monday that he has met with Skico several times to address alternatives to the Two Creeks towers but has “failed to convince them of places outside of the Two Creek slot.”

Skico estimates the first cell tower at Lynn Britt Cabin will be constructed in 2024 now that the council approved the plan. The Two Creeks towers were also planned for 2024 construction, but it is unclear if and when they may be constructed because Skico must reevaluate their location. The five other approved towers at the Alpine Springs Lift Base Area, Burn Chair Top, Elk Camp Activity Center, High Alpine Restaurant, and Sam’s Restaurant are scheduled to be constructed in 2025.

“As long as we’re able to, as a community, able to approve an additional tower on that eastern side that allows for that coverage over there, then we’ll keep looking and try to figure it out,” Keeling said.