Skico application: Pandora expansion adds coveted lift-served tree skiing to Aspen Mountain

Aspen Skiing Co. views its proposed expansion into the Pandora terrain on Aspen Mountain as a way to expand the ski area’s appeal to upper intermediate and expert skiers.

The expansion onto about 153 acres on the upper east side of the ski area would add popular tree skiing on about half of the new terrain, according to an application Skico submitted to the U.S. Forest Service. The other half of the terrain would feature traditional ski trails but with interspersed tree clusters.

Skico’s application said Aspen Mountain lacks extensive tree skiing. Only half of the existing expert terrain on Aspen Mountain is considered gladed, with trees providing a more natural feel. Most of the trails are fully cleared.

“While the cleared trails remain popular, an increasing number of users enjoy gladed terrain within more natural settings,” Skico’s application said. “This trend is evidenced by the increased use of side-country terrain — the areas immediately adjacent to the ski area boundaries.

“This project proposal for Aspen Mountain addresses that trend and offers more unique, lift-served gladed terrain for advanced intermediates and experts that enhances the existing options available to Aspen Mountain users.”

Skico formally submitted a proposal for the expansion to the Forest Service on Jan. 19 with a request for the agency to initiate the required review under the National Environmental Policy Act.

The White River National Forest staff screened the proposal and officially accepted the application Feb. 22. It will start the public scoping part of the review this spring, according to Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams. The official notification to Skico said the Forest Service anticipates the project will require an environmental assessment — a less-intensive type of review than an environmental impact statement.

Skico’s expansion would add 153 acres and a new chairlift on the upper east end of the ski area, to skier’s right of the existing Walsh’s trail. The lift also would allow extension of Walsh’s, Hyrup’s and Kristi, which are double diamond runs.

Within the new terrain there would be about 15 developed trails covering 82 acres. There would be another 71 acres in gladed terrain.

“Much of the area is sparsely timbered so that traditional trail development would not require extensive clear cutting,” Skico’s application said. “The trail and glade construction intends to capitalize on the existing openings and natural glade so the end product better matches the existing condition visually.”

The Pandora terrain would provide a mix of intermediate, advanced-intermediate and expert opportunities, the application said.

To make sure intermediate skiers don’t get in over their heads, there will be grading between the Northstar and Copper trails to provide access to the Pandora lift’s lower terminal via the Loushin Traverse.

Skico is still contemplating whether to install a detachable or fixed-grip chairlift. It will be 4,300 feet long with a vertical rise of 1,260 feet. It will be able to haul 2,000 passengers per hour. The top terminal will be south of the upper terminal of the Silver Queen Gondola.

The bottom terminal would be on a natural bench that will be screened with natural vegetation from the valley below, the application said.

The other big component of Skico’s plan is expanded snowmaking to the summit of Aspen Mountain. Skico officials said earlier this winter that the snowmaking component took on added urgency after low snowfall early this season and last season impeded the opening of terrain.

Snowmaking will be added to five trails comprising about 50 acres. The current snowmaking system covers 172 acres below an elevation of 10,600 feet. It stops at the Silver Bell, Tourtelotte Park and Ruthie’s trails.

The new system would extend up to the Sundeck at an elevation of 11,212 feet. It would add the Silver Bell, One and Two Leaf, Dipsy Doodle, Buckhorn and North American trails.

The upper terrain is usually covered with adequate snowfall to allow for opening on Thanksgiving, the application said. But this season proved the coverage isn’t guaranteed.

The existing snowmaking system typically uses 50 million gallons of water, with most of it supplied by Aspen’s domestic supply. The expansion would require another 10 million gallons of water, Skico estimated.

Skico wants to add a new pump station and storage ponds for the expanded system so that snowmaking can occur concurrently with the existing system.

Skico is holding a public outreach session Wednesday that is separate from the Forest Service review. The outreach meeting will feature a presentation and Q&A period. It will be held at the Limelight Hotel at 5:30 p.m.

The Forest Service process later this spring will include an opportunity for the public to submit comments.


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