Sean Becwkith: Skico needs to pick a side — and develop it
You know when you put a ton of effort into something and it turns out it was just a huge waste of time? Like when you force an entire city to vote on a project, lobby for it and get it passed only to see developers pull out? Or you write a column decrying the proposal in the first place and it ultimately doesn’t matter due to the aforementioned bailing developer?
Aspen Skiing Co. is facing two such situations with the Lift 1 redevelopment and the Pandora’s expansion. While it’s back to the assessment board with Pandora’s and who the hell knows with Lift 1, it seems like Skico’s attempts to reassert Aspen Mountain as its Crown jewel are fizzling.
However, if you were able to mess around on Ajax this winter, you wouldn’t know the ski area is falling behind other mountains. Sure, people rarely go to Lift 1 but that can be said for certain areas at each of Skico’s four mountains. Campground and Two Creeks at Snowmass, West Buttermilk at Buttermilk and Thunderbowl at Highlands are all open for the plundering any time you want to go out of your way for solitude and untainted snow.
Would a new lift at Lift 1 or access to Pandora’s really improve the way people ski Aspen Mountain? The Elk Camp Gondola changed the way people ski Snowmass and probably for the worse. Instead of rarely touched terrain filled with stashes, it’s now a cluster of people who gravitate to a gondola like zombies to fresh human flesh.
Adding new lifts and terrain could spread out the crowds but it also could simply add more skiers. I’m not trying to be territorial like a surfer cutting your leash but eventually the mountain is going to look like a page out of “Where’s Waldo?”
However, providing opportunities to people who normally can’t afford to ski, which includes a lot of locals’ families and friends, while retaining the exclusivity those same locals complained about losing with the creation of the Ikon Pass is its own column.
With Skico/Alterra doing its best Amazon impression to acquire, expand and test the boundaries of monopoly restrictions, it’s worth asking, does it really need to encroach on wildlife habitat and force Aspenites to pay for its playground expansion?
That’s an either/or question, not one about the moral compass of the company. Why does it need to do both? If it really wants to keep Aspen Mountain on par with the world’s best resorts, and at this point it essentially is, one massive move could be enough to satisfy whomever’s ego needs that No. 1 spot in the annual arbitrary ski industry rankings.
The karma of Skico lusting over a Lift 1 expansion, asking the city for money and getting it approved only to see a squabble over the controversial hotels submarine the deal is enough to revel in. (And allow me to revel. … Revel, revel, revel.) I guess if you want something developed right, develop it yourself?
The fairy tale route would be for Skico to go back to the city with plans to build and run the properties still unnecessarily proposed as part of the push to “make the west side of Aspen Mountain relevant” and only pursue Pandora’s if the shiny new lifts and hotels don’t push the ski area back to whatever tier is above prominence. But while we’re dreaming, it should put its political power and money behind fixing — or even marginally stabilizing — the affordable housing problem in town.
Hosting the World Cup is an incredibly cool honor for Skico as well as a boon to the pockets of its residents, but one gets the feeling that bringing the event back isn’t the driving motivation behind redevelopment. And if you’re looking for proof, look at the Pandora’s expansion.
Skiers can already access it via backcountry, forest would be removed and habitat would be destroyed all to make sure there’s gladed skiing on Aspen Mountain, something I’ve never seen a shortage of.
The only positive to adding a lift would be more runs on a mountain that the company already says isn’t being fully utilized. According to that logic, it should try to fix Lift 1 before needlessly expanding.
All of this effort to rezone and redevelop is nearing a point where it could all be for naught. Who knows how the Pitkin County commissioners perceive Skico’s endeavor at local domination but they’re only one vote away from irreversibly altering the landscape of Aspen Mountain.
However, even if both proposals fall through, you can count on Skico acting as undeterred as “Pinky and the Brain”:
“Gee Brain, what are we gonna do tonight?”
“The same thing we do every night, try to take over the (ski) world!”
Sean Beckwith is a copy editor at The Aspen Times. Reach him at email@example.com.