Stone: Wait! Is that a behemoth behind the behemoths?
I’m afraid I may wind up out of step with a lot of people here — including maybe even myself (hate it when that happens) — but I have to say I have failed to be sufficiently outraged about the proposed Gorsuch Haus lodge up at the top of Aspen Street.
Let me stipulate (as the lawyers like to say) that, yes, it’s another damned new hotel in Aspen and, yes, I am fiercely opposed to any new hotels in Aspen — for a lot of good reasons.
But, that said, we need to face the fact that a few new hotels are going to get built. They are already baked into the mix, and so our dual mission should be to stop the ones we can stop and to make sure the ones we will have to live with are the best they can be — or, at least, the best we can force their developers to make them. (As opposed to one, which I’ll get back to in a little while, which got a City Council vote of approval with this ringing endorsement from Aspen’s mayor: “It’s the least worst project.” Way to go, you fierce watchdogs of the public interest!)
I think Gorsuch Haus falls into the category of “Damnable New Hotels, Inevitable” and should therefore be induced (with regular beatings, if that’s the only way) to be the best it can be.
In fact, the project has already been beaten up pretty thoroughly and, based on revised plans posted online this week, it seems that the beatings are having a beneficial effect.
But I have found it interesting that much of the outcry about the project is based on its sheer size and looming presence, high up at the top of Aspen Street like a demonic vulture, ready to swoop down and carry off our children.
But those who worry about the project’s effect on that semi-pristine mountainside seem to have missed the fact that the landscape in question is already doomed.
Those wide-open spaces along Aspen Street, leading up to Lift 1A? As we say in New York, “Fuggedaboudit!”
Two other behemoth projects are already set to squat in what some apparently think of as sacred open vistas.
On your right, looking up the hill, you will see the Aspen One townhomes (that “least worst” project I mentioned earlier) already under construction. On your left, across from Aspen One, you eventually will see the Lift One Lodge.
And once you’ve seen those two … well, you won’t be able to see much else.
Gorsuch Haus won’t disappear, but I don’t think it’s going to look like a monstrous brooding presence, tucked in behind those two big guys.
So, with Gorsuch Haus beaten up and beaten down and pretty much walled off from public view, it might be time to take a slightly wider look at what could be done to improve that side of Aspen Mountain and, in the process, improve all of Aspen in a way that really matters by making this place a better ski town.
And — as has been said many times already but needs to be said many times again — the greatest thing anyone could do for Aspen as a ski town right now would have to start with shifting the planned Lift One Lodge.
A quick recap for those who haven’t been paying much attention:
Right now, the base of Lift 1A is way up at the top of Aspen Street.
Admittedly, the steep hike to the lift is beloved by those who prefer not to share the mountain with flatland, low-altitude interlopers who have neither the desire nor the legs and lungs to start their day with that uphill slog.
For those who like to think of that side of the mountain as their own little private preserve, that’s all very cool.
On the other hand, for those who think Aspen should offer the best skiing experience possible for all concerned, it means a big chunk of the mountain is missing. Once upon a time, Ruthie’s Run was considered a classic Aspen ski run. Now it’s more like Chernobyl, an abandoned radioactive dead zone, as everyone rides the gondola and never ventures into the wilderness over on the west side of the mountain.
The real solution is not glitzy new hotels (yes, like Gorsuch Haus); it is to extend Lift 1A down the mountain, preferably clear down to Dean Street, just about even with the base of the Silver Queen Gondola.
And what’s blocking this great leap forward for Aspen as a great ski town?
Lift One Lodge, foolishly approved (but fortunately not yet built) right smack in the way of that lift.
Of course, the Lift One Lodge developers — a pair of brothers named Aaron and Michael Brown — are not unreasonably clutching their approvals to their collective chest and insisting they’re going to build what they are entitled to.
But perhaps (and, yes, perhaps I also believe in the Easter Bunny) a massive public outcry and, more effective, a massive dangling of favors from the city could alter their position — and alter the position of their lodge, at least enough to allow the lift to extend down to Dean Street, which, by the way, would make their property pretty much ski-in, ski-out — a major plus.
I know the chances are slim, but perhaps (there’s that word again) somewhere way down deep, the brothers Brown really do care a little bit about this town — from which they are intent on making an awful lot of money.
In any case, that’s a fight that’s worth having.
So let’s have at it. Let’s devote all that anti-Gorsuch energy to persuading the Browns to do what’s right — but, just by the way, while we’re at it, let’s keep our collective eye on the development ball so we don’t wind up with another “least worst” project in the form of a Four Seasons Hotel at the base of Shadow Mountain.
Let the beatings commence.
Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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