Guest commentary: Pandora’s will open more opportunities for Aspen Mountain |

Guest commentary: Pandora’s will open more opportunities for Aspen Mountain

Bill Stirling
Special to The Aspen Times

Pitkin County commissioners are facing a major decision Aug. 25 to add 153 acres of superb advanced and intermediate skiing to the upper east side of Aspen Mountain. This adjacent, out-of-bounds area called Pandora’s was included with the Aspen Skiing Co. master plan, but the applicant decided to remove it to address concerns expressed by commissioners. The balance of the master plan was approved in 2019.

The advantages Pandora’s will bring reminds me of the ways Aspen Highlands improved after the bowl opened and the Temerity lift was built. The lift improved circulation. The bowl gave the Highlands virtually the highest elevation and steepest skiing inside any ski area boundary in America, but Temerity lift enabled skiers to get quickly back up to the top. It reduced top-to-bottom speed runs. The Pandora’s high-speed lift will do the same for Ajax. Skiers skiing Walsh’s would no longer have to struggle to pole uphill to ride the “Couch,” but would be able to connect to ride the new lift. It will spread skiers across the mountain better. It will make skiing in Aspen a better experience.

Since Ajax and the summit are already zoned for ski area use, it would seem logical to extend the existing Ski-Rec zoning boundary into Pandora’s, as that adjacent section is already being skied, especially by locals, but without the safety aspects that would come from bringing it in-bounds. The creation of the Rural and Remote Zone in Pitkin County was a brilliant notion and has saved the edges of the wild habitat all over the county from being over developed with large homes. However, Rural and Remote was never designed to prevent the expansion of skiing.

With the continued dramatic changes wrought upon us by climate change, having more skiing terrain higher up on Ajax becomes increasingly critical. Climate change is the issue at hand. I mentioned in the mid ’90s at a public meeting that already the winter had lost one to two weeks to the fall and one to weeks to the spring. Including Pandora’s in Skico’s permit makes all the sense in the world and addresses climate change head-on. It does not solve this major issue. However, the higher up the mountain you can expand skiing the better. Plus this addition is on the northeast side! The temperatures are colder at the top and will hold the snow longer. The quality of the snow is always better higher up. Water isn’t an issue here either. After melting in the spring, all that snow eventually works its way back down to the streams. Dealing with and adapting to climate change are the over-riding issues of the day.

Skiing drives the winter economy for our resort town and community. I would bet that most locals did not move to Aspen for just the Victorian architecture, the village feeling, the Aspen Idea, the arts, sciences and the unique, local community’s collection of partisans, athletes, intellectuals, artists, musicians and our array of characters. They also moved here for the amazing range of superb skiing on the four mountains, the cross-country skiing and the unlimited year-round outdoor recreational activities. Most of us benefit from this ski economy.

The Pandora’s forest needs thinning to make it safer, if a fire were to start there someday. That discreet forest is loaded with downed and dead trees and cleaning up of the forest floor will remove much of that detritus. The Forest Service agrees; it approved the Environmental Assessment.

Having a wide variety of terrain and adding new terrain is key to our continued success. It will be a key factor for repeat visitors and to accommodate our valley’s expanding population. Some locals, who oppose this expansion, love having Pandora’s as their own, almost secret “stash.” Let’s improve the variety and quality of skiing on Ajax for all Aspen Mountain skiers. This proposed expansion will create more interesting and better skiing.

For all these reasons, I urge everyone to show your support by writing a letter to the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners, showing up and speaking out at the public hearing Aug. 25 and telling your friends about this needed addition to our unique ski mountain. If you need more information, you can get it through the citizen’s group, Friends of Pandora’s at Let’s encourage the commissioners to bring Pandora’s into the permitted Aspen Mountain Ski Area. I believe it is in the long-term best interest of Aspen!

Bill Stirling served as Aspen mayor from 1983-91 and remains a political activist on local state and national issues. He is now a full-time broker with Douglas Elliman.

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