Aspen Skiing Co. provides details on future of Gent’s Ridge, Bell Mountain lifts and on-mountain huts
Here are the key components of the Aspen Mountain Master Plan in nutshell. The plan has been approved by the Forest Service and is under review by Pitkin County.
• Add 150 acres of terrain and a high-speed chairlift in the Pandora area, upper east side of the mountain.
• Add 53 acres of snowmaking at the top one-third of the ski area.
• Evaluate the Gent’s Ridge chairlift after the Pandora lift is installed. Possibly remove Gent’s Ridge.
• Consider realignment of the Bell Mountain chairlift to boost ridership and make the world-class terrain more accessible.
• Replace Lift 1A.
• Remodel or rebuild Ruthie’s Restaurant after Lift 1A is upgraded.
• Build ski huts for overnight use in the existing Buckhorn Cabin area.
• Reroof Sundeck Restaurant/Aspen Mountain Club and expand the building by 477 square feet.
• Build a new ski patrol headquarters.
Aspen Skiing Co. has laid out greater details for lift alterations, rehab of Ruthie’s Restaurant and the possible addition of ski huts on Aspen Mountain in a master plan update submitted to Pitkin County.
The biggest revelations concern skier circulation once a new lift is added with the Pandora expansion. The U.S. Forest Service has approved Skico’s plan to add 150 acres to the ski operations and build the Pandora lift, serving the upper east side of Aspen Mountain. That specific project is under review by Pitkin County as part of the review of the update to the 1997 master plan.
Skico’s Pandora expansion plan includes a high-speed detachable quad chairlift with a top terminal 950 feet south and slightly east of the upper terminal of the Silver Queen Gondola. The lower terminal of the Pandora lift would be about 1,500 feet downslope from the lower boundary of the existing Walsh’s run.
Adding that lift with about 150 acres of new terrain likely would have implications for the Gent’s Ridge lift.
“Because the Pandora lift will serve almost 80 percent of all the existing terrain served by the Gent’s Ridge lift, in addition to 150 additional acres, the Gent’s Ridge lift may be removed,” the master plan said. “ASC intends to track Gent’s Ridge ridership to determine if it is redundant and if/when removal would be appropriate.”
Skico also is pondering how it can better utilize the Bell Mountain lift, installed in 1957 and upgraded in 1990, according to the plan.
“Due to redundancy with the Silver Queen Gondola, this once iconic lift, which serves all aspects of Bell Mountain’s world-renowned terrain, sits idle almost all season long,” the master plan said. “As a result, a shortening and/or realignment of the current alignment is planned that would provide shortened ride times, improved skier circulation and increased ridership.”
It is possible that the lower terminal will be moved up Copper Bowl, according to the plan.
Skico has U.S. Forest Service approval to replace Lift 1A with a high-speed chair. Details are being hashed out with the city of Aspen and hotel developers at the base. The future should be clearer after a possible city ballot question on development-related issues in March.
Despite increasing from 675 to about 825 acres and replacing some old, slow chairlifts, Skico stated its goal isn’t to pack more people onto Aspen Mountain. The ski area’s comfortable carrying capacity — the ability of infrastructure and services to “comfortably” accommodate skiers and snowboarders — would increase from 4,290 to 4,610 guests per day.
Once Lift 1A is replaced, Skico envisions reviving Ruthie’s restaurant at mid-mountain on the western side.
“Ruthie’s Restaurant was taken out of service approximately 10 years ago because of the lack of need, however, ASC anticipates that a food and beverage guest service at this location will once again become a viable service with the upgrade of the Shadow Mountain lift,” the master plan said. “In addition, ASC plans to offer this facility for special event use, both for daytime and evening events, on a year-round basis. Lastly, remodel will include accommodations offering a truly unique opportunity for overnight guests.”
Skico is examining construction of overnight huts, modeled after the 10th Mountain Division Ski Huts, on private lands near the existing day-use Buckhorn Cabin.
“The huts are planned to be simple structures capable of sleeping eight to 20 people with bedding and various supplies provided,” the plan said. “The huts will include kitchen facilities for food and beverage preparation and service.”
Skico also is planning for a new ski patrol headquarters at the mountaintop.
“This facility will be between 1,500 and 2,500 square feet and be located adjacent to the north side of the gondola storage building, generally in the northeast corner,” the master plan said. “Reconstruction of the patrol headquarters, in concert with remodeling of the gondola building, may permit and include guest access and an additional scenic observation and event platform incorporated in or on the structure.”
The various changes would be phased in over time. The master plan stressed the timing is an estimate only.
The Pandora lift and trail development may be implemented over two to seven years. Snowmaking upgrades are planned in that same time frame.
“Planned upgrades to the existing lifts may be implemented between three and 15 years in the future,” the plan said. The Ruthie’s facilities also are being considered over five to 15 years.
The U.S. Forest Service approved the Aspen Mountain Master Development Plan last year. The plan submitted to the county contains additional details because so much of the ski area is on private lands rather than national forest.
For example, the Sundeck Restaurant is on private lands, so Skico’s plans for that facility aren’t subject to Forest Service review, noted David Corbin, Skico’s senior vice president for planning and development. Skico is planning a minor expansion of 477 square feet to the Sundeck-Aspen Mountain Club along with a roof replacement, he noted. That project will be reviewed by the county.
Corbin presented the Aspen Mountain Master Plan to the Pitkin County Planning and Zoning Commission on Dec. 4. The review will continue Jan. 15 in the county commissioners meeting room. Meetings typically start at 5 p.m.
After the planning commission makes a recommendation, the county commissioners will review the master plan for Aspen Mountain.
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Kevin Warner started his career with the U.S. Forest Service as a wilderness ranger in 2001. Now he’s taking over the key position as Aspen-Sopris District Ranger.