Roger Marolt: Going underground for a new Lift 1A at Aspen Mountain

Roger Marolt
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It is time to dig deep for a solution for replacing the aged but iconic Lift 1A. The new lift will define that historic part of Aspen Mountain and our town for the rest of our lives and until the death of snow by greenhouse gas.

This is potentially the most impactful development project our town has seen in decades. The Ritz Carlton, Aspen Art Museum and all of Highlands base village were preschool Play-Doh projects by comparison. But no pressure.

I am not actually excited about any change to the Lift 1A part of town. I am a grouchy old-timer with a bad case of clusterphobia. If it was up to me, I wouldn’t budge a stone up there, vibrancy in the last organically serene part of town be damned.

However, Norway, not the (un-s—holish country but rather the ski run, is under siege and change is coming, so I figure we might as well get involved to try getting it right. Inasmuch, I do not think moving the lift even farther from town, even though the developers assure us it will be at a slightly lower altitude due to terrain grading and using shuttle vans to get people up to it, is a good idea. Equally unattractive, any sort of short surface lift from town to the actual ski lift seems overly complicated and not very user-friendly and likely to end up just mechanical clutter amid the expertly embalmed corpses in a miniature graveyard of modern, luxury resort hotels.

The only real option to make Lift 1A more attractive to more skiers is to bring the ski lift down to town, the way it was originally designed and built when it was one of the main factors that led to Aspen becoming a world-renowned ski resort. People love the idea of a real ski lift that rises from the heart of a real town.

Maybe we don’t have to dig so deep for a solution. As the consultants struggle to design a lift through a narrow corridor of buildings and over precious open space at the base area causing skier traffic, slope grooming and snowmaking operations to necessarily maneuver awkwardly around the towers of a proposed ski lift, we could have already dug a tube beneath the ground which could serve as a 200-yard conduit beneath the ski run that the lift could travel through before popping up to the surface at approximately its current bottom station.

Yes, it would be expensive to go gopher with the lift through this short section of terrain. It also would be an engineering marvel that could produce dramatic economic benefit for the entire town for decades to come. I am not aware of any other ski resort where a subsurface lift has been employed. Unique? Aspen on the list of resort innovation? Yeah, that has a nicely familiar ring to it. Let’s make this a thing we are proud of.

We could make the underground portion of the lift resemble a mine tunnel; a nod to our town’s history. I’m not opposed to a little bit of theme atmosphere for our new state-of-the-art chairlift.

Another idea would be to go high-tech with our new lift tunnel. Imagine a big screen surrounding the chairlift the entire length of the tunnel. What could be done with that? Ski racers shooting past, a view of a run through the X Games halfpipe from the eyes of a competitor, a simulated larger than life face shot from an epic day on the Bowl — and then, boom, skiers suddenly emerge from all the build-up to a sun-lit view of the world’s greatest ski area, larger than life, right in front of them. The possibilities are truly tremendous, creating buzz throughout the ski world.

Now, you know the major players in this thing, two hoteliers and Aspen Skiing Co., are going to tell us this plan is impossible. Trust me, they’ll come up with reasons why. But, I remind you that, when a developer tells us something like this is impossible, it’s just shortsighted, cheap-bastard talk.

So, then, who will pay the high price for an underground portion of a new Lift 1A that will allow the ski lift to come all the way back down into town again? I don’t know who will come up with the money to build it.

But our town will pay a much higher price if we don’t take this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get this thing built.

Roger Marolt is a big fan of the Lift 1A-hole. Email at