John Colson: Questions jumping out of Pandora’s Box |

John Colson: Questions jumping out of Pandora’s Box

John Colson
Hit & Run

Within the next couple of weeks, the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners are expected to take a final vote on the proposed Pandora’s expansion project on the east side of Aspen Mountain.

The proposal, which would add roughly 153 new acres of skiable terrain to the existing spread of the Aspen Mountain ski runs, would comprise about 15 developed trails and about 70 acres of “gladed terrain,” on an area made up of public (60 acres of national forest) and private (93 acres owned by the Aspen Skiing Co.) lands perched pretty much directly above the North Star Nature Preserve just east of town.

A new lift, Pandora’s, would be strung over mostly public land, and new snowmaking equipment and service lines would traverse that same acreage of mostly public land.

On top of all this, of course, is the potential for an unknown amount of related development at some point that would remake the top of Aspen Mountain to the east of the existing Silver Queen Gondola building.

In addition, some existing ski lifts (Gents Ridge, Shadow Mountain, Bell Mountain) are slated to be either upgraded or simply removed, in Skico’s determined rush to turn Aspen Mountain into the closest achievable equivalent of the skiing mosh pit known as Vail.

I’ve been perusing the 2018 Aspen Mountain Master Development Plan (bureaucratically known as the MDP), which contains all the above-mentioned details and a whole lot more, and I understand that this proposal has great attraction for the residents and visitors of this glitzy ski town.

But I have a few questions about the whole thing, starting with a general query about how this fits in with the mounting perception that our world is on fire and that we, the human species, are tottering at the opening edge of what seems likely to be a ruinous century or more of planetary climactic catastrophes.

I know, I know, this is just one little spot on the planet, and Skico (along with the movers and shakers of the development industry and the local economy) generally seem to believe that what happens here has no bearing on all that.

We’re a ski town, the prevailing thinking seems to be, and we need to do whatever it takes to make us bigger, better and more attractive to skiers, snowboarders and (in the summer months) hikers, bikers and whomever else might want to come here for a little fun.

If it means ripping down an unknown number of trees, thereby lessening the amount of greenhouse-gas absorption right here in the Roaring Fork Valley and logically giving a localized boost to the global climate-change tsunami, well, there are plenty of other trees in the forest, right?

If it means adding to the town’s already overburdening level of light pollution, thereby further blanking out the stars at night, well, that’s a small price to pay for an “improved skiing experience” for those who can afford to recreate here, right?

In case my veiled sarcasm was not evident enough, I’ll put it more plainly — in my view, there is little that is “right” about all of this, and I have some more questions to ask.

Such as, how does this project dovetail with plans to vastly expand the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport in order to accommodate ever-larger private aircraft?

Oh, you’d forgotten about the airport expansion? Or you question why that project has any relation to this one?

Well, I’m here to tell you that nothing that happens in the upper valley, development-wise, should be viewed in utter isolation from other happenings. That’s because, just like the parts of the human body, it’s all connected to the world at large, as the current global upsurge in natural calamities has shown us.

For example, the MDP predicts that the added attractions on Aspen Mountain, by itself, will add at least a few hundred visitors to the mountain’s “comfortable carrying capacity,” which is developer speak for the number of human recreationalists who can fit on the mountain in a “comfortable” way on a given day (that number is expected to reach more than 4,600 if Pandora’s goes ahead.)

And how many of those comfortable visitors will expect to arrive here in private jets, which we all know are prime contributors to the greenhouse effect that is rapidly warming our planet?

I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I’m more than a bit worried by all this. I’ve lived in this area for 43 years, seen massive development raise its iron-jawed head and devour what once was a rather pastoral, low-key, quiet little corner of Colorado.

And I’ve had the depressing feeling that, with projects such as Pandora’s, we are paving over paradise at a pell-mell pace that uncomfortably adds to the deterioration of our entire planet, rather than to its ultimate improvement.

That’s it for now, but I’ll keep reading, talking and thinking, and please don’t be surprised if I have more to say on this topic.

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