Vozick: Pandora’s Box has opened. Now what?

As the snow-laden slopes prepare for Pandora’s opening, the excitement in the air is palpable. The expansion, while cause for celebration, requires a critical examination of its environmental implications. Ski companies must provide adrenaline-pumping activities while preserving delicate ecosystems. As a snowboarding environmentalist and Roaring Fork Valley resident, I must balance the thrill of exploring new areas and the need to advocate for extensive ecosystem preservation.

Aspen SkiCo’s legacy in world-class recreation is evident in Pandora’s expansion. Skiing and snowboarding provide a call to the wild that is the perfect harmony between adventure and nature. Pandora’s can be a beacon that demonstrates the coexistence of environmental stewardship and economic success.

Aspen Mountain’s once thriving ecosystem has witnessed the clearing of 106 acres of trees and approximately 4,226 tons of timber that were already facing dieback from drought in the arid west. Pandora’s deforestation necessitates an examination of its potential impacts on the local flora and fauna, water sources, and soil quality. Aspen SkiCo has made tremendous strides in adopting eco-friendly practices, and the opening of new terrain demands a new comprehensive approach to environmental restoration.

Forests of Aspen trees are biodiversity hotspots and the most notable species in this ecosystem is the majestic elk. The beleaguered herds that roam the Roaring Fork Valley have experienced a 50% reduction over the past twenty years because human’s expansion into previously undeveloped nature has overwhelmed their ability to adapt. Pandora’s expansion is destined to disrupt these areas of biodiversity, leading to the fragmentation elk populations. It is essential that Aspen SkiCo invest in wildlife corridor projects to aid the movement of species across the mountain that were formerly free to roam.
Ski trail construction causes soil erosion, impacting the quality of water downstream in the Roaring Fork Valley. Implementing erosion control measures, such as revegetation with native plants and the use of natural barriers, can mitigate the effects of this attrition. Furthermore, Aspen SkiCo has a duty to conduct regular soil quality assessments to ensure that ecological balance is maintained.

The west is currently in its longest recorded drought in climate history. The alteration of natural drainage patterns due to ski trail development will impact water sources and the delicate nature of mountain hydrology. Aspen SkiCo must invest in water management strategies, including the restoration of wetland areas and the implementation of water conservation practices. Partnering with the Roaring Fork Conservancy, one of the largest watershed organizations in Colorado, can aid in improving regional watershed planning, water resource policy initiatives, and stream management.

Reforestation initiatives are crucial to Aspen SkiCo’s environmental agenda. Forests play a pivotal role in stabilizing slopes, preventing erosion, and providing habitat for local species. Any disruption should be met with a commitment to replanting native vegetation that aligns with the natural ecology of the mountain. Although reforestation cannot be done on the cleared land that created the ski runs of Pandora’s, it can be done on the vast backside of their properties where elk herds winter.
Environmental education programs can empower the local skiing community to become advocates for responsible recreation. The Aspen Center for Environmental Science provides Aspen SkiCo with the potential to amplify their joint mission of empowering environmental stewards for responsible recreation.

By using frameworks in place by local organizations to cultivate a community that values the restoration of the natural environment, Aspen SkiCo can create a lasting positive impact beyond Pandora’s boundaries.

Pandora’s opening demands a new commitment to environmental responsibility, providing Aspen SkiCo with the ability to set gold standard precedents for sustainable development in the outdoor recreation industry. Pandora’s success should not be measured by the number of skier visits, but rather the enduring health of the ecosystems. As an avid snowboarder and environmentalist my call-to-action stems from a profound respect for nature, one that recognizes the interconnectedness of outdoor adventure, and the delicate ecosystems present on Aspen Mountain.

Zoe Vozick is a Basalt resident.