Guest commentary: Skico president backs Lift One option
Almost two days after a snowstorm earlier this month, I skied a favorite line between Henry’s and Super 8. It’s tight, steep, every turn counts and, as usual, it was mostly untouched. One reason the line gets overlooked is because it’s accessed by a 47-year-old fixed-grip double chair. I wondered about that as I skied it. Will adding a modern, higher-capacity lift as part of the Lift 1 corridor project mean more tracks in my favorite places? What will the whole corridor plan do to the experience of skiing that special side of the mountain?
It’ll change it. You can’t argue with that. And since choices in Aspen are so often framed in terms of their downsides, much of the conversation has gone that way. But I see a lot of upsides: The new lift will give better access to the Dumps and the whole west side. It’ll make doing laps over there a first-choice option. Come springtime, that’s where I would start — carving corn turns on Fifth Avenue and Silver Rush, and then watch from a patio at the new Gorsuch Haus or Skiers Chalet Steakhouse as Aspen Mountain’s army of experts rip down Corkscrew and Slalom Hill.
People develop personal attachments to the way they ski a mountain. 1A has long been that treasure you hit later in the day. But could drawing skiers over there earlier have effects elsewhere? Maybe an extra Walsh’s-to-Jackpot lap on a powder morning or another pass through the Dumps as skiers are more balanced between the Silver Queen Gondola and the new lift.
Ski-area planning 101 says you bring the lift to the bottom. This goes farther: It brings the lift all the way to town. At Skico, we have obsessed over making sure the plan meets our requirements for ski area operations, World Cup-scale events, skier safety, and flow. At 60 feet wide at its narrowest point, the proposed ski return leading to the new lift is comparable to the Little Nell run as it funnels into the right side of the gondola, which is 58 feet at its narrowest. And while losing the last few turns on Norway is not ideal, it’s necessary to make the project work. The overall tradeoff for more balanced usage of the west side of the mountain offsets that small terrain loss.
The proposal honors our skiing past in a way that seems fitting for a town as history-obsessed as Aspen. Frankly, the current state of the original Lift 1 artifacts should embarrass all of us. They’ll be front and center now, more accessible to the public and a reference point for a ski museum brought to life by the Aspen Historical Society. That’s just one aspect of a revitalized base area that will include dining, apres and skier services. The development will bring vitality to a side of the mountain that has been too sleepy for too long, and it’s what would justify Skico adding the lift capacity.
I’m not ignoring the fact that the plan comes with two sizable buildings. But with the Hotel Lenado and the Mountain House having joined the list of the lodges we’ve lost over the past few decades — totaling hundreds of lost beds — I welcome Gorsuch Haus and Lift One Lodge. They’re in a location where bed base belongs and where they’ll have the least impact compared to adding them elsewhere: walking distance to both transit and all of the amenities in the core.
On balance, the upsides really do outweigh the downsides here. I’ve seen lots of ideas for the revitalization of the base of 1A, and this is the best plan I’ve encountered. Let’s not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Please join me in supporting the Lift 1 corridor proposal at the ballot box.
Mike Kaplan is the president and CEO of Aspen Skiing Co.