Stone: ‘Best for Aspen’? A sincerity test
A Stone’s Throw
“We all want what’s best for (fill in the blank).”
I know we’ve heard that statement countless times with the blank filled in pretty much any way you can imagine.
And most of the time that statement is about as sincere and authentic as a flag pin on a presidential candidate’s lapel — which is to say, pure, meaningless boilerplate.
I remember a debate a few years ago on downvalley schools. Almost everybody said, “Of course, we all want what’s best for the kids,” and then went on to suggest everything from (more or less) unlimited funding to (more or less) burning the schools to the ground and executing all the teachers.
It was as if “we all want what’s best” was some sort of inoculation against disagreement.
In the upper valley, the version most often heard is, “We all want what’s best for Aspen.”
And the ideas that follow are so wildly divergent that it’s hard to imagine what town they’re talking about: More development, less development. Taller buildings, lower buildings. More hotels, no hotels. More housing, no housing.
You know how it goes.
And, inherent skepticism aside, there’s no real way to check the sentiments behind those statements.
While some people are obviously and thoroughly dishonest — all they’re concerned about is “what’s best for” their personal profit — there are, in fact, honest disagreements on what really is best for Aspen.
Remember, our well-respected late Mayor Helen Klanderud was a principal backer of the grievous zoning error known as “infill.” I know Mayor Helen truly only wanted “what’s best for Aspen” — but her pursuit of that goal led her into what most would now call a disastrous mistake.
Similarly, I have good friends who sincerely believed (and maybe still do believe) that the new Aspen Art Museum was a great idea and a grand leap forward in the attempt to achieve “what’s best for Aspen.” Some of us sincerely disagree.
I’m going on about this because there’s a proposal floating around that I think is so clearly “what’s best for Aspen” that it could serve as a litmus test of whether people really do have the town’s best interests at heart.
I’m talking about the proposal to move the base of Lift 1A downhill several blocks, almost all the way to Durant Avenue.
Never mind — for now — all the questions and squabbles that leap immediately to mind about who gets to build what, about hotels and condominiums and all the rest of it.
Right now, I’m just talking about moving the base of the lift down the hill as close to downtown as possible.
Think for a moment what that would do for Aspen.
To begin with, it would signal a real commitment to being a ski town — and I believe that the foundation of this town’s identity has been and needs to be that Aspen is a great ski town.
And one of Aspen’s great glories as a ski town is the fact that the mountain rises up right at the very edge of town. We have the wonderful, historic downtown city blocks and then — wham! — a mountain. Right there.
It’s really pretty astonishing.
And then we cheerfully say, “Oh yeah. But you have to hike three blocks up a damn steep hill — with no sidewalks — to get to the lift.”
Yes, I know the gondola is superb, with only a short staircase to climb. But that superb gondola, combined with the lousy setup at 1A, warps the mountain.
There’s great skiing over there on the west side of Aspen Mountain, from the intermediate glories of Ruthie’s to the challenging runs down below. And it gets mostly ignored because of that uphill hike to the lift.
Yes, I know, if you’re going to be a rugged outdoors winter athlete, you shouldn’t be whining about walking uphill a couple of blocks.
That kind of abuse is easy enough to dish out — but if we’re talking about making Aspen the best town it can be, then we have to stop being so snotty.
And who knows? If 1A is revitalized, then maybe that embarrassing ghost restaurant at the top of the lift could be reclaimed, too.
I could go on, but I’m hoping I don’t have to. I’m hoping that all of you loyal Aspenites will see immediately that moving the lift down into town is a great idea.
I know. There are real estate problems and money problems — but those are problems in making it happen.
What I’m saying is that I cannot think of a single reason why it’s a bad idea.
I mean, personally, I think it would be great to have a gondola system that connects all four of our ski mountains. But I know there are some very powerful arguments why that’s not a good idea. We should be willing to debate that.
I know there are people who think plans for a big new hotel on Main Street is a great idea. I strongly disagree — but, again, we can (and will) debate that.
I know we can keep arguing about the Entrance to Aspen (Straight shot! S-curves! Across the open space! Dig a tunnel! Blow up the bridge!) for decades to come. There are good arguments on both sides.
But I do not think there is a good argument to be had against moving Lift 1A downhill.
Which makes it a great test to see who really means it when they say, “I only want what’s best for Aspen.”
Because if they’re against this idea, I think they’re making it very clear that “what’s best for Aspen” is what’s last on their minds.
Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His email address is email@example.com.
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