Sean Beckwith: Ski area improvements don’t mean ski area expansions
A lifetime on the internet has made me immune to most viral moments and movements. I don’t care about trick shots or balancing a broom or flipping a semi-full bottle of water so it lands right side up.
I even shrugged off the insane lift-line photos from Vail on Saturday. The easier you make it to access ski areas, the more people are going to visit. I personally welcome crowds and the popularization of snowboarding and skiing because it’s one of my favorite hobbies and more people would love it if they tried it.
That and I work on weekends so it gives me comfort knowing the powder day I’m missing also includes gobs of jerrys skiing off runs they’re not good enough to be on.
However, my concern about the increase in crowds isn’t over goons clogging chair lift corrals when I’m trying to lap Deep Temerity; people who enjoy the outdoors theoretically respect nature. It’s the nature that I’m concerned about. More skiers lead to more money and more money leads to more expansion because that means more skiers and more skiers mean more money.
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Aspen Skiing Co. isn’t the only skiing company trying to add terrain. Vail also is looking to expand its ski area and who could blame them because that line was like the Antichrist of advertising. It’s like if the MGM Grand aired video of them cleaning their pool filters after a holiday weekend. Think about if you spent a couple hundred dollars to ski and you spent almost a third of your day in one line.
There are obvious drawbacks to cutting down trees, destroying animal habitat, interrupting wintering wildlife and other infringements. Lynx, moose, elk, bears, mountain lions, deer, bighorn sheep, etc. are pretty dope and deserve consideration. (Also, shout-out to sage grouse and potentially wolves. I’m game to go out Liam Neeson “The Grey” style.)
The other issue with watching corporations buy up ski resorts like me stocking the bar after that Christmas bonus is the money could be spent to help the small towns they occupy to combat climate change.
Aspen and Basalt recently had public recycling centers close or downgraded because the towns couldn’t afford the program. Yo, Skico and Vail, those cities are located in your counties. I know it’s a hard sell for these businesses to fund causes they allegedly champion, but I can’t think of an easier PR win.
(Side rant: If billionaires ever had a conscience about people actively hating them — which, let’s face it, they don’t, but if they did — the best way to gain public adoration would be to spend sizable sums of money on recycling programs and infrastructure. The fact that recycling plants are actively turning away waste because the process isn’t profitable is appalling and deeply concerning.)
The amount of garbage a hotel/ski resort produces also should be taken into consideration in any new hotel or expansion proposal. From my time working on the loading dock at The Little Nell, I’ve seen how much trash comes out of there. Adding hotels, residences, mountain clubs, restaurants and more is only going to fill Pitkin County’s already rapidly filling dump, and that’s not even including the demolition debris from tear downs/renovations that can’t be diverted.
I’m not sure what the solution is to this influx of skiers caused by the Epic-Ikon acquisition spree without going bigger.
However, improving existing lifts and newly acquired sister resorts is an option.
While Big Burn is getting an upgrade, Snowmass could spread out skiers across its mountain even further by improving Campground. It’s slow and drops off in a place that makes traversing back to Sam’s Knob hard for people who aren’t good at snowboarding (See: Passholders, Ikon).
The Couch on Aspen Mountain almost takes as long as the gondola but people would use it if it were faster regardless of whether it’s in Pandora or at the same location. They also could move the bottom a tad to make that run out from Walsh’s more bearable.
I’m sure there are numerous upgrades like those examples that could be made at ski areas under the Vail and Alterra umbrellas that would improve skier experience but don’t involve unnecessary expansion. Vail sounds like it’s going to stay overrun by Front Range enthusiasts but putting loot toward widening ski boundaries is only going to encourage visitors. Incentivizing people to utilize sister resorts could be the best way to avoid Gaper-maggedon.
If everyone has access to the crown jewel, why would they go anywhere else? Polish those little gems and make them worth seeing, too. These resorts are being bought up because people go to them. A fine tune will do.
I haven’t heard any complaints about the new Clark’s Market at the Snowmass Center. Why does that need to be bulldozed after what seemed like a 15-minute run?
The post office can be made over the same way the old market was without plopping a couple free market condos on top of it. I’m not sure what the construction schedule would be but Snowmass will really struggle if it doesn’t have a grocery and/or full liquor store during peak season.
You could say that’s unfair to Skico because technically the Center isn’t its development, but at the same time I’ve seen their commercials advocating for airport expansion and ads backing Lift 1A over development.
I’m not shocked by much because the internet has made me numb to a lot. One thing that I would be surprised by, though, is if a ski company made sustainable, reasonable enhancements that don’t blatantly run counter to their climate-forward message.
Sean Beckwith is a copy editor at The Aspen Times. Reach him at email@example.com.
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