Guest commentary: Cut the environment a break, no to Pandora’s
There is currently a well-funded and orchestrated public relations campaign that aims to sell the public on the proposed Pandora’s ski area expansion. We have seen this many times before, most recently with the Lift One corridor project.
As an avid skier who happens to own land on the back of Aspen Mountain, this expansion aroused my curiosity, so I read the Skico’s Aspen Mountain master plan and here is what I learned:
• This project will require the removal of 108 acres of trees. This will generate more traffic during logging and subsequent construction. Upon completion, the expansion will lead to more visitors, more visitor traffic, increased lift ticket prices leading to even more exclusivity.
• This expansion would sit directly above the Northstar Nature Preserve with lift construction, logging, then snow cats grooming trails and avalanche mitigation. I’m not sure what nature is being preserved.
• Elk herds are in serious decline across the state because human development has fragmented their habitat. This expansion occurs in a known corridor from Smuggler Mountain across the Northstar Nature Preserve to Richmond Ridge.
• This expansion will push “side country” skiers to the south towards MacFarlane’s, a notorious steep-skiing zone that has claimed several lives due to avalanche and indeed fully buried an Aspen Mountain Powder Tours guide not long ago who survived.
• The proposed expansion requires a zoning change. Much of the land is zoned rural and remote, and acted in 1994 to limit development in the back country. Zoning changes have most often favored developers over the community. Remember the zoning change required for the Lift One corridor?
• Public access from the back of Aspen Mountain will change. The Skico has proposed rerouting winter access because of the location of the new top terminal.
• The Skico is currently advertising for a senior vice president of planning and development: salary $238,137.00 (See for yourself at aspensnowmass.com).
I’ve heard several supporters say Aspen needs this expansion to stay relevant. (Relevant means appropriate to the current time, period or circumstance.) Relevant to what? We have four ski areas totaling 5,527 acres: nearly 9 square miles and we need more?
Consider these recent headlines:
• The United States government has for the first time in history officially declared a water shortage on the Colorado river.
• Lake Oroville, California’s second largest reservoir, stopped generating electricity for the first time ever because of a lack of water.
• The Dixie fire in California became the largest in that state’s history.
•The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its most recent report. It is a “code red for humanity.”
• Meteorologists report smoke from massive Siberian wildfires has reached the North Pole for the first time. (Locals know this melts snow faster.)
• Siberian wildfires are now bigger than all other wildfires in the world combined.
• National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that global surface temperatures reveal that July 2021 was the hottest July recorded to date.
• Locally, water levels in Ruedi Reservoir are reportedly so low that losing our hydropower there is looking likely.
The IPCC report basically states that we are locked into 30 years of worsening climate impacts no matter what the world does. The upside is there is still a window in which humans can alter the climate path. The decisions we make now matter more than ever.
The Skico has not demonstrated a real need for this expansion. They operate four local ski areas that are widely acknowledged as having the shortest lift lines in Colorado if not the industry.
Clearly, business as usual is not working for the planet or for our community. Our planet is in crisis; our community is in crisis.
Locally, climate change is affecting the very air we breathe, the days we can safely recreate outdoors due to air quality, the views we cherish, the exponentially increased traffic we drive in. Climate change has shortened our ski seasons and lengthened our fire seasons. We cannot ignore what is right in front of us any longer.
In the near future, the Pitkin County commissioners will vote on the Skico’s proposed expansion. Please send your comments to them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
John Doyle moved with his family to Aspen in 1980. While Doyle is a member of Aspen City Council, he said his commentary on Pandora’s reflects his views as a citizen and not the board’s position.
Town Park wetlands? If you build it they will come! They will come with dogs off leash to jump in the pond. They will come with children to picnic on a man-made beach.
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