What were they thinking? | AspenTimes.com

What were they thinking?

The Park n Ride lot, where nobody parks and rides. Aspen Times photo/Mark Fox.

As the world’s great minds gather in Aspen for the Aspen Ideas Festival, the Times’ lesser minds gathered for an ideas festival of our own – bad ideas, that is. We know it’s hard to believe that in this slice of paradise we call home all is not perfect, but alas, it is not. Here we share a few of the worst ideas to come down the pike, in our humble opinion. The lot’s a loserGetting people out of their cars and into the mass-transit system, while tough to do, is an unqualified good idea. But thinking that once people had gotten into their cars, and had driven most of the way to their destination, that you could then get them out of their car, and transfer them to a shuttle that would take them the last few miles to their ultimate destination? That’s classically bad understanding of human behavior.That was the idea behind the city of Aspen’s Park ‘n’ Ride Lot. From its opening in the mid-’90s, the lot, adjacent to the Pitkin County Airport, was horrifically under-used, as numerous critics had assured. The badness of this idea has been fully confirmed: The lot was transferred to Pitkin County ownership, and is now under the control of the airport, which uses it for parking for employees, rental cars and airport users. None of whom are parking and riding, at least in the intended sense.

We’ve ranted about the new Campground chairlift at Snowmass at least once before, but apparently we didn’t get it out our system.To refresh your memory, this is the lift that deposits skiers and snowboarders about 900 vertical feet downhill from the old terminal, atop Sam’s Knob. So it just might be the first lift in history that is actually outperformed by its predecessor. Progress? We think not.Sure, the old double took an eternity (matching the longest ride in Aspen/Snowmass at 16 minutes), but it had its Ferenc Berko-style charms just the same. And the replacement lift (also a double) strikes us as even more of a deterrent for locals and visitors to experience the untamed glades characterizing the Campground area.Think about it? If you’ve got the two lifts side by side, which one to do you take? The one that goes to the top, right?In any case, nowadays once skiers and riders alight at the new “top” (somewhere on the Knob’s forested flanks), they must buckle their boots and strap into their boards for a boardercross-style traverse to the bottom of the Sam’s Knob quad. Only from there can they reach the top of the Knob.The idea behind this “upgrade” is still lost on us.

The Beatles sang about loving someone eight days a week. And while we here at the Times love working in our purple edifice, the turn from publishing five days a week to seven sometimes makes it seem like we’re working eight. Follow all that?It seems a little silly to complain, but more papers mean more work. We deal with it as best we can, which usually involves procrastination, profanity and whining. While it means more work for us here on Main Street and at the press in Gypsum, it is nature who is really suffering. The amount of trees felled to keep up with our new output must be staggering (even though our newsprint is 30 percent recycled).So it goes with progress. But one has to wonder if this just means more hard day’s nights.Shooting HST out of a cannonWe know His Royal Highness, HST, was a helluva writer and a good citizen, but come on. The hero worship is out of hand. And now they want to shot him out of a cannon, with permission from Sheriff Bob Braudis and the Bureau of Tobacco, Alcohol and Firearms.We doubt anyone else could get permission from Braudis and the BTAF to shoot their bodily ashes out of a cannon. It’s a bad idea; it sets a precedent that celebrities can do any harebrained idea that suits their large egos.

Since it appears Hunter S. Thompson is going to be shot out of a cannon, the plebeians want in. That much is established.And the millions of fans of HST differ a bit from the rest of the huddled masses. Like their late hero, a lot of them crave weirdness and violence, and so to deny them the opportunity to mourn Thompson is to put the entire upper valley in peril.One person, upon hearing that the August funeral and cannon blast would be invitation-only, wrote to the Times and threatened “to crash the elitist bash with so many acid-taking whoremongers it will make the Hells Angels at Altamont look like a gathering of librarians who have downed too much valium.”Bad ideas beget more bad ideas.

Hidden deep in some archive is the memory of a 1994 westbound HOV lane that ran approximately six blocks down Main Street. For a few months, parents ordered the entire family into the car just to go to the grocery store; those living west of the Hickory House cursed the authority figures who took away one lane. The three-stoplight town wasn’t ready to carpool for less than a mile, and the HOV lane idea flopped miserably. Those new to the city’s transportation and police departments don’t believe it ever existed, but old-timers can vaguely recall the parking lot that Main Street became when it turned HOV.A rotten toothPlaying on the mall is a highlight of many kids’ summer activities. The old playground next to Wagner Park was a place to see and be seen, hang, slide, swing and climb. Now, it is a demonstration of what will happen if you don’t brush your teeth every night.The giant molar park that replaced the old wooden jungle gym doesn’t even have a functioning slide. The rock slide doesn’t have the right texture to let a kid fly – rather, kids get an arm workout pushing themselves to the bottom. The swings have been replaced with spinners, flying-saucer seats that twirl fast enough to make a Happy Meal resurface. And the old-fashioned jungle gym is now a dentist’s worst nightmare. Bad ideas all around.

When the Aspen City Council required all downtown commercial buildings to maintain 25 percent open space, it did so with the best of intentions – to keep developers from building right to the edge of their properties and to allow for some pedestrian mingling space near shops and restaurants. Some success stories came from the requirement; two of the best places in town to hang out are the patios of Paradise Bakery and Zélé Café.But more often than not, this well-intentioned rule was a disaster, mostly because in America, people always find a way to get around the things they don’t like. Useless subgrade open space abounds in Aspen. (If you have to “waste” space, might as well waste what people can’t see from the street.) Perhaps the worst example is the dark, narrow space in front of what was Montage, and several restaurants before that. We wonder if the bad design spurred by the open-space requirement has anything to do with the lack of longevity of local eateries there.Another laughable example is the strip of concrete (required open space) in front of Manrico Cashmere. The shop is on a pedestrian mall, for Chrissakes! Luckily, the powers that be have realized their folly; now it’s at the discretion of the city whether or not to enforce this requirement.Uncrowded by designBack in the summer of 2000, when the Skico was preparing its 2000-2001 marketing campaign, Aspen had just had two down seasons, and research pointed to an 18 percent loss in Aspen’s and Snowmass’ bed base over the previous six years. Skico officials needed a strong campaign, and knew its lack of lift lines and uncrowded slopes were something to brag about, but they didn’t quite know how to do it without sounding elitist. It didn’t work.”Uncrowded by design” was probably the Skico’s most mocked marketing campaign – at least in local collective memory – for touching on the ever-sensitive subject of Aspen’s exclusivity (it’s too expensive for most normal people to ski here).

Skico officials, for their part, claim the company never used “Uncrowded by design” as a slogan, say Skico officials. But the point is, the phrase that former Skico COO John Norton uttered in public at least once stuck like a cheap piece of gum to a rubber sole. Locals won’t forget about it, perhaps, because like stereotypes, there was enough truth to it to rub us the wrong way. Many still blame the Skico for its part in pricing Aspen out of reach of the average visitor, and instead attracting rarely present second-home owners. Still, we all thank our lucky stars we’re not Vail, and grumble when we have to wait more than a minute or two in a lift line.It takes a VillageThe bad idea that was Aspen Highlands Village started from the best intentions, like most bad ideas. Why not take a muddy parking lot and a few scattered buildings with cheap construction and build a base village worthy of that posh Aspen name, complete with hangout spots and retailers?We’ll tell you why not. Because what Highlands ended up with is a sterile base village with a wind tunnel of a center plaza, scattered shops, a private residential club and an entrance that is too grandiose for locals who just want to ski the steeps and have a beer at the end of the day. As a result, you’d be hard-pressed to find a valley resident who heads out there for something other than skiing. That’s all the more obvious in the summer, when the empty base village sits sadly alone on Maroon Creek Road.We may consider the scale of Highlands Village one of Aspen’s worst ideas, but we’re appreciative of their attempts to turn things around. Several years ago, the retailers there got tired of being ignored in the summer. They rolled out a summer schedule of Tuesday-night outdoor movies, festivals and even a farmer’s market, and appear to be on their way to a summer comeback.As for the wintertime, we’d be fools to skip skiing at Highlands just because we find their base village a little over the top. We live in Aspen, after all.

One fall day in 1993, the Aspen Skiing Co. made a startling announcement that had nothing to do with snowboards on Aspen Mountain, free lift tickets or Elvis. Instead, the company announced that Buttermilk would no longer be Buttermilk.The Skico wanted to improve the ski area’s image and reform impressions that it was just a wussy mountain. So the braintrust at Skico declared that henceforth Buttermilk would be known as Tiehack, as only the east side of the ski area has traditionally been known.While the Skico can control lift ticket prices, it learned that altering history is about as easy as regulating fashion at its four local mountains. The ski area was known as Buttermilk since it was opened by Friedl Pfeifer in 1958. People, naturally, kept calling Buttermilk by its familiar name. And some joker used April Fool’s Day to post a sheet saying “I Can’t Believe it’s not Buttermilk” over the Tiehack sign on Highway 82.The Skico realized the joke was on it, so it found a convenient way to change the name back without eating too much crow. When Pfeifer died in February 1995, the company honored the Buttermilk founder by changing the name of the ski area back to Buttermilk.

The Flying Dog Brew Pub opened in Aspen in 1990, giving the town its first (well-deserved) brewery in nearly a century.Locals were able to quench their thirst year-round with fine selections such as Doggie Style amber ale. The basement restaurant was a popular watering hole and played host to one of the rowdiest Aspen Times Christmas parties of all time.Alas George Stranahan and his partners couldn’t keep a good thing going. The establishment outgrew its brewing capacity in Aspen when it went into the bottling business for wider distribution. The Flying Dog Brew Pub didn’t survive the transition. It flew the coup in 1994.While the service wasn’t always stellar, we took to that place like a whizzing dog to a fire hydrant. And we really miss that blackened chicken sandwich.Paint job leaves us blueYeah, yeah, only in Aspen would a business endure a brush with controversy over a paint job, but when the local branch of American National Bank moved into the bright blue Elli’s building and repainted it gray, people noticed. Or not.OK, some people noticed. We noticed. And we didn’t like it.

The building at the corner of Main and Mill, where Elli Iselin once sold skiwear, had long been Bayer blue (local icon/architect Herbert Bayer picked out the color). As if the banking industry isn’t considered drab already … well, whatever. We don’t like the big, standard-corporate sign out front of the bank either, by the way. How about something that fits with the building’s now-muted character?While we’re on the subject of paint, kudos to the operators of Pacifica, the Mill Street restaurant on the mall next to Wagner Park. This spring, the building was repainted an eye-catching blue – not in response to the banker’s gray on the Elli’s building, but just because they wanted to make the building stand out a bit. We like it. (Of course, our building is purple, so go figure.)A bridge too manyWork has just begun on what will eventually be a new bridge to carry Highway 82 over the Maroon Creek gorge, which we guess is a good thing, but various aspects of this whole project bug us.For one thing, the old bridge – the existing bridge – will remain in place right next to the new one, because underneath that pavement is the structure of an old railroad trestle. It’s been designated as historic, so now we’re stuck with it. It’s supposed to carry light rail, if that ever happens. In the meantime, an abandoned highway bridge will sit next to the new one. Chain-link fencing has been mentioned as an option to keep people from goofing around on what will be the old bridge and falling off. That will be attractive.Meanwhile, the new span will be 73 feet wide, but will only carry two lanes of traffic – one in each direction – because we haven’t had the proper vote to use the four lanes that are being constructed, even if two of them are dedicated to buses.Again, only in Aspen …

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