Meredith C. Carroll: Aspen’s nostalgia will survive with Gorsuch Haus

Meredith C. Carroll
Muck Off

If you grew up somewhere along the Eastern Seaboard, there’s a good chance your family once vacationed in Colonial Williamsburg. Perhaps a photo exists of you posing in a stockade wearing either a white mob cap or black cocked hat, which means you have proof that you never need to visit there again. After all, there’s a limit to just how many times you can be fake entertained by fake shooting a fake colonial person with a fake musket.

Aspen needs to proceed with caution or risk becoming the ski town equivalent of Colonial Williamsburg.

While the abundance of rich local history is worthy of conservation, the Aspen Historical Society, Historic Preservation Commission and the wood paneling on the staircase wall at Carl’s all exist to ensure no one will ever forget that Aspen is old. Coupled with the fact that no one wants to see, say, the Hotel Jerome razed to make room for an Old Navy and Bed Bath & Beyond, it’s safe to say Aspen’s quirky quaintness is here to stay.

Despite that, we’re witnessing the decision on yet another development getting dragged out in part because of an allergy by some to progress, otherwise known as change. The Gorsuch Haus project, with a proposed high-speed lift, skier plaza, lodge, restaurant and bar, is hardly a Holiday Inn Express or Applebee’s. Designed to inspire the nostalgia of classic alpine ski lodges, it would be a thoughtful and welcome addition to an otherwise unnecessarily dead area of town.

However, employing an argument more tired than Rip Van Winkle, some opponents say the Gorsuch Haus is more suited to Vail — despite our ski-town frenemies being an unquestionably better match for a cookie-cutter–type project wherein a corporation simply cuts and pastes their design into a glorified strip mall off the Interstate 70 corridor. The Gorsuch Haus detractors keep missing the memo (and newspaper articles and public hearings and emails and website and Facebook posts) about how this project is being painstakingly crafted for this one specific area that was vibrant more than half a century ago and now languishes embarrassingly in advance of the World Cup spotlight next month.

While harkening back to ye olden days may work for Colonial Williamsburg, if Aspen digs its heels too far into the past, it, too, could easily be a one-and-done destination for visitors. Sure, people get a kick out of seeing an abundance of one-piece ski suits, although there’s a reason they’re only spotted en masse once a year at the Highlands’ closing party: not everything that happened in yesteryear needs to be preserved lovingly in acid-free tissue paper, and sometimes it’s even just OK to chuckle at what once was.

Maybe some ski towns have managed success by leaving their middling timeshares complexes and rickety chair lifts as is, but for the prices visitors pay during, say, President’s Week in Aspen, the bloom will fall off the rose eventually if it becomes too obvious other resorts have managed to strike a more vibrant balance between then and now.

To be sure, there’s significant value in advocating for slow and careful growth. Nevertheless, it’s also important to consider if what’s being defended actually merits a defense. When Snowmass’ Base Village was first proposed, the ensuing uproar might have tricked you into thinking some soulless tyrant was trying to knock down Stonehenge and replace it with a Mall of America sequel — instead of simply trying to add some much-needed vitality to a circa-1977 town with not much more than condominiums and ski shops as far as the eye could see.

Of course, Gorsuch Haus needs to make aesthetic sense and also financial sense. When the developers go before the City Council again next month, they’ll unveil whether the project remains feasible by shaving down the density and height. A reduction in the overall scale would certainly go a long way toward appeasing those protesting what they say will be lost views, even if the only real threat to the vistas in that area of town are low-lying clouds (and now, possibly, Scott Pruitt).

Not everyone clamoring to keep Aspen as charming and weird as days past is wrong. But a 21st-century chair lift and other modern-day amenities can’t really be what they think will be our downfall. After all, not all change signals the pending apocalypse. Aspen may well be development happy although even those averse to improvement will hopefully see the Gorsuch Haus for what it is: a happy development.

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