Saddle Sore: Back up the truck on Lift 1A
Like the shadow of a giant, fast-moving raptor rapidly overtaking us in Wagner Park, the linear spread of group think is poised to consume common sense and the top of Aspen Street. The Federale International du Ski (FIS) said it wanted an upgraded Lift 1A and some “improvements” around the base of said lift, and everyone (most everyone) jumped on the bandwagon of “build something. Quick. We gotta save the World Cup.” Some of this makes sense, like a new 1A, but I’m thinking that most of it doesn’t.
I don’t know much about World Cup racing, other than having had the privilege of running the men’s downhill course back in the 1970s before Hans Klammer showed the world how good Aspen Mountain could make a champion look. But if I had to make a bet on it, I’d swear the FIS committee is more concerned about the size and safety of the finish area than they are about how many “hot beds” are arranged around a new and improved Lift 1A.
As a matter of fact, if we could figure a way to have the downhill finish in Wagner Park, we’d probably be guaranteed all the World Cup races we wanted, ad infinitum. Over many years, Aspen Skiing Co. or its predecessors have made (or will make) some poor land-use decisions, selling off most of what could have helped make a great finish area.
If you have the lungs for it and don’t climb it every day during the winter, take a stroll up Aspen Street to see what all the fuss is about. On your left, just above Deane Street, you’ll see the original loading area of Lift One, the first single-chair installed on the mountain. No, it wasn’t the first lift — it was preceded by the boat tow, a wooden box with several rows of seats pulled up the right side of Lower Corkscrew (think Lindsey’s Loop) by means of a cable and an old gasoline engine scavenged from some defunct mine.
It might not sound attractive or sophisticated to you in today’s world, but that’s where skiing in Aspen really got its start. The 1950 FIS Championship participants loaded up and headed for the downhill start from that point. Call it Willoughby Park, call it the “old” Lift One, the “Tuna Trolley,” call it whatever, but it is indisputably where the soul of Aspen skiing resides.
If we keep pushing the bottom of Lift 1A any farther up the hill, we might as well tear the son of a bitch out and start walking up to the bottom of Ruthie’s Lift. Maybe we should design these proposed buildings around the Lift One corridor and extend 1A back to where it should have been to start with. Keep things small, like the Holland House and Skier’s Chalet.
This issue isn’t about skiing or the World Cup — it’s about building a hotel on vacant land, using the specter of a World Cup pullout as a crutch to gain approvals.
Take a look at the base area at Aspen Highlands and you’ll get a good idea of what development on Aspen Street near the base of 1A will look like. If it’s even that busy. As Roger Marolt said in one of his cut-to-the-chase pieces, skiers staying at the Gorsuch Haus (or Lift One) will hop on a bus and head to Snowmass. Most tourists and residents won’t/don’t ski the 1A side of the mountain, no matter what the enticements are. It’s too steep, too narrow, or too psychologically disabling. Development is not going to “revitalize” that area — all it’s going to do is put in a half-empty hotel to house people who are going to ski somewhere else, folks who won’t like that steep climb after a night in downtown Aspen.
It was my suggestion in 2010 that the city buy Centurion Partners land after it emerged from bankruptcy looking to renegotiate or sell a $22.5 million note with Alpine Bank. The Centurion group had been refused city blessing for its project, the Lodge at Aspen Mountain. Mick Ireland told me at the time that the city couldn’t afford to buy the note on that property, although it had recently paid $18 million or so for a lumber yard at the Aspen Business Center. There’s still vacant land.
A nice, well-cared for city park would certainly be pleasing to the eye, even in winter. But, if you truly want to revitalize that area, build employee housing and create some real vitality.
I have (had?) friends in the Norway Island Group, have studied the proposals in some depth and can only say that building large hotels, motels and other clutter along Aspen Street near the base of 1A is folly. Let’s think this through a little more clearly before we really screw things up.
Lift One opened for business in December 1946. Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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