Developers submit plans that reimagine ski portal on Aspen Mountain’s westside
The Aspen Times
The long-awaited land-use applications for two lodging developments to be built at the base of Aspen Mountain’s west side were filed with the city this week.
If approved by city of Aspen officials and voters in the coming months, Lift One Lodge and the Gorsuch Haus, along with a new chairlift going down to Dean Street, will activate a portal of the mountain that has been underutilized in recent decades.
It also would bring back to life the origins of skiing in Aspen and reignite ski racing, including the possibility of World Cup races, along with other competitions and activities.
“The results of this unprecedented public-private collaboration are profound — we have a chance to reconnect our town to the historic side of the mountain where the magic began,” Jeff Gorsuch, a member of the Gorsuch Haus team, said in a statement.
Jim DeFrancia, representing the Gorsuch team, said Friday the hotel proposal is now 64,000 square feet and 81 rooms. The previous application asked for over 70,000 square feet and six rooms with seven condominiums.
Michael Brown, who along with his brother Aaron Brown, have approvals for 199,000 square feet for their entire project, which includes two lodge buildings. They are asking for the project to increase 3,000 square feet.
“Our building is about 1 percent bigger,” Michael Brown said Friday.
Instead of the already approved 22 timeshare lodging units, the Browns are asking to up that to 34, bumping the lock-off potential from 84 to 104 keys.
To accommodate a 60-foot-wide ski corridor, the Browns had to narrow their buildings and make them longer.
“Our architects did a great job creating efficient buildings,” Brown said.
DeFrancia said the redesign of the Gorsuch Haus now has it as a straighter building and closer to South Aspen Street.
He added that the design team took into consideration previous comments by city officials during the review process and was able to reduce the building’s size.
“We were trying to stay within what the city was telling us and we already had been chastised for its size at (the Planning and Zoning Commission),” he said.
For the past year, the Browns, the Gorsuch team and the other property owners in the area — the city and Aspen Skiing Co. — have been working diligently together to reimagine a new ski portal and corridor.
DeFrancia’s team and the Browns realize the creation of a western ski corridor is a legacy project that could shape the next 100 years.
Agreeing on all of the moving parts was a challenge, the developers said, but they are happy with the results.
“A lot of time and energy was spent in the community discussing this and everyone realized what’s at stake and that we better get it right,” Brown said. “There were some tough conversations and everyone had to compromise.”
“At the end of the day it was a very cooperative venture,” he said. “There are just an extraordinary number of public amenities with these projects and we all got together and got it done.”
The Browns plan to move the Skiers Chalet Lodge onto nearby city-owned land and turn it into a ski history museum in cooperation with the Aspen Historical Society. The building would be situated next to the new chairlift terminal. It would house skier services and other public amenities.
The original Lift One bull wheel, along with the first tower and chair, will be relocated to Willoughby Park in the same historic alignment as it has been since 1947.
Dean Street will be redesigned with dedicated cycling and pedestrian lanes. A parking garage accessed off Dean Street will include 50 public parking spots, along with bicycle storage and ski lockers.
“It’s an incredible plan that brings these resources to the most visible area,” Brown said.
He said he is most excited about relocating the Skiers Chalet Steakhouse farther down the hill from where it exists today. It would reopen as a restaurant and create an atmosphere at the base of the mountain that would resemble the heydays of the 1950s and ’60s.
“The steakhouse really becomes a focal point of vitality and restoring it to the way people remember,” Brown said.
A key part of the overall plan is the use of the Dolinsek property, which is situated next to the city-owned park. The city purchased the half-acre from the family in 2014 for $2.5 million. Brother and sister John and Josephine Dolinsek had a life estate built into the deal, allowing them to live their lives out on the land before the city takes it over. John died in 2016.
Josephine is in her late 90s. When she dies, the property would be used for return skiing to the new chairlift and snow storage in the winter. In the summer, it would be the site of a park that honors the landscape with gardens and original tree species.
“Lift One Lodge and Gorsuch Haus bring lodging and vitality back to where it all started, the original base of Aspen Mountain,” said Mike Kaplan, Aspen Skiing Co.’s president and CEO, in a statement. “This collaborative planning process is helping achieve two community goals — bringing Lift 1A back to town and replacing some of the lodge rooms that have been lost over the years.”
The two lodge applications will now be reviewed by city staff and prepared for public review. Lift One Lodge is scheduled to go before the Aspen Planning & Zoning Commission next month. City Council is expected to review both applications in November.
The development and lift would affect city-owned property, which requires a vote, along with potential referendums if the lodge developments require variances that are outside of what’s allowed by municipal law.
An election is expected in either February or March.
“We’re excited and feel positive moving forward and we hope the community is too,” DeFrancia said. “We feel very comfortable that people will realize the merits of this.”