Larsen: Cry the beloved backcountry — Pandora and beyond |

Larsen: Cry the beloved backcountry — Pandora and beyond

Marcella Larsen
Guest Commentary
Aaron Smith fells a tree as part of Aspen Skiing Co.’s work on the Pandora’s terrain expansion and lift addition. Skico was able to work in part of the terrain as quickly as conditions allowed. Work in other areas is prohibited until after June 21.
Aspen Skiing Co./Courtesy

It doesn’t take much to lose something sacred and unique, through incremental development — commercial or “recreational.”

This community lost something through Pitkin County’s approval of a significant ski-area expansion (increasing Aspen Mountain’s terrain at least by 20% percent): Pandora — and one that was absolutely not permitted by the applicable master plan or land-use code, which is why planning staff opposed the development.

This loss is goes beyond the physical — wildlife habitat and preservation of the backcountry. It’s also a spiritual loss if one cares at all about the backcountry.

It’s all done now. The trees will be logged, the helicopters already flew near elk-calving habitat, and the felled trees were taken down through the backcountry, down Little Annie Road and through Castle Creek Road, perhaps so no one in Aspen would realize that SkiCo is logging the backcountry.

While some rallied to SkiCo’s cause — some with financial interests and some who just didn’t care because they just like to ski — our community and, more importantly, the land will be forever bear the burden of their craven actions.

I wish it stopped there, but SkiCo is contemptibly advocating further development through its comments regarding the new Castle Creek Master Plan, which county staff has inexplicably and without public input (e.g., the Castle Creek Caucus) included in their latest draft. This will go to the Pitkin Planning and Zoning Commission, where I volunteered for over a decade — that same P&Z that approved what amounted to a “spot change” in the master plan, so the Pandora plan could be approved.

This is crazy stuff, to be sure, and implicates the very integrity and independence of Pitkin County’s master-planning process. For example, SkiCo’s heavy influence includes some new language in the Castle Creek Master Plan (to my knowledge, not shared with the Castle Creek Caucus until recently), including: deletion of language disapproving future ski-area expansions by SkiCo; deletion of fundamental scenic-review criteria, as if the entire Castle Creek drainage should expect to see industrial ski development; and it also seeks to add “resort cabins” as a special review use in the backcountry.

Relatedly and predictably, real-estate speculation is rampant in the backcountry, with Emily Kloser (from CCI and also Kloser LLC) — who represented to multiple news sources that she just wanted a “cabin” to use for her family — just sold an eight-acre lot that had already received a TDR (independently worth a substantial sum) for $4.7 million this year.

Other recent backcountry real-estate sales include much larger sales. Two properties are now seeking STRs in the backcountry, which is contrary to the Rural/Remote zoning.

I wonder whether anyone genuinely cares about the backcountry any more and is willing to do what it takes to preserve it. This is an open question to the community and also the sitting members of the Board  of County Commissioners.

Marcella Larsen is a land use attorney, who served on the Pitkin County P&Z for over 10 years.