Sean Beckwith: Lift 1A redevelopment could use a closer look
Aspen Skiing Co.’s fervor to expand its brand, ski areas, summer activities and add resorts — technically the resort-buying spree is Alterra Mountain Co., which is tied to the Crown family, who owns Skico — is massive news in the industry. From purely a public-relations point of view, it’s good for tourists who now have a better financial path to ski more places as well as more options for summer visits.
It’s a little more complicated from a local’s perspective. While some of us welcome more access to what is currently side country in the Pandora area of Aspen Mountain, there’s a portion of people who resent their stashes becoming available to anyone with a pass. The redevelopment of the Lift 1A area will increase the chances of Aspen hosting future World Cup events. However, again, locals aren’t exactly thrilled with the prospect of a multimillion-dollar renovation doing away with part of the town’s charm and history to appease WC officials in the hopes of making it an annual stop again.
If the Gorsuch property is approved, the cost of losing the parts of Lift 1A people enjoy — the history, the lack of ski traffic, the unimpeded access — should be made up by the revitalization of that area. Will adding lodging, shopping, a museum and restaurant be enough for locals to frequent Lift 1A or will it fall flat during shoulder and summer seasons a la Base Village in Snowmass? Developers can claim amenities will bring back the vibrancy of the area, but it’s up in the air whether a place so far away from a grocery, liquor store and nightlife will attract anyone other than tourists staying at its hotels.
The Pandora expansion is less complicated. Ski bums want their side country preserved, and Skico wants to add gladed territory. Aspen Mountain appears small on a ski map or when compared with Highlands or Snowmass. It’s Aspen’s flagship ski area and it’s completely understandable that Skico wants to update and add to the mountain.
An intriguing aspect of the proposed work on Aspen Mountain is the arguments against both contradict each other. Aspenites’ backlash toward Lift 1A work revolves around access exclusivity while the issue with the Pandora area is locals worried about losing/sharing side country. It’s essentially a me-first argument in the same selfish vein of the business-first method that Skico applies.
What’s more concerning is how much Skico seems to care or, in this case, not care about the desires of Aspenites. Admittedly, I was all for adding resorts with the thought that the Skico season pass would operate kind of like the Epic Pass. Once it was revealed season-pass holders wouldn’t benefit from the buying spree, that enthusiasm was replaced with apathy.
That’s not exactly the case for residents of the towns where Alterra Mountain Co. purchased ski areas. They should be a little worried about the company’s influence on the places they live. Snowmass has been in a prolonged battle for pot shops since recreational marijuana use was legalized. Even though marijuana does not affect on-mountain operations, Skico still chimed in on the debate because they want to preserve the town’s family-friendly appeal.
The same predicament applies to The Aspen Way, Skico’s mantra of inclusivity started last year in a not-so-veiled response to the divisive Trump administration. Regardless of what you think of The Aspen Way or its accuracy, people may not want politics mingling with their town’s moneymaker.
Skico’s pay raise for its entry-level workers, fight against climate change and other philanthropic efforts should be applauded. You can tell the company cares about its employees, the industry and image. That said, it also is a business with an emphasis on the bottom line. Recent comments about the potential of the Lost Forest and this push for the Lift One remodel speak to that.
Tourist visits dictate business moves, not the will of locals. You can look to the cost of a single-day pass versus a season pass (12 single-day tickets are roughly the same price as a Premiere Pass, so we know where the money is at), or Skico CEO Mike Kaplan’s comments on the Aspen airport renovation as evidence of a pro-tourist lean.
It will be up to Aspen voters to decide the fate of the Lift 1A redevelopment this spring. Aspen and Snowmass Village citizens rarely have an opportunity to alter Skico’s plans. One the major Skico projects voters had an opportunity to decide was Base Village, and we all know how polarizing that still-unfinished development is. It’s worthwhile to take a step back and really scrutinize the mountain-shifting work proposed on the west side of Aspen Mountain because Pandora can’t be put back in that box.
Sean Beckwith is a copy editor at The Aspen Times. Reach him at email@example.com.