Forest Service seeks comments on Skico’s plan to expand Aspen Mountain terrain, snowmaking

Scott Condon-The Aspen Times

The public is getting its chance to comment on Aspen Skiing Co.'s proposal to add the Pandora terrain to Aspen Mountain and enlarge the snowmaking system at the mountaintop.

The U.S. Forest Service announced Wednesday it will hold a public open house to discuss the project Wednesday. The agency is urging interested parties to educate themselves about the proposal and submit comments by June 15.

Skico proposed adding 148 acres of terrain in the Pandora area on the eastern, upper half of the mountain. That terrain is located to skier's right of the Walsh's run.

The proposal is for 77 acres on 15 traditional ski trails and 71 acres of gladed trails. It would be a mix of intermediate and expert terrain. The proposal would allow the extension of the existing Walsh's, Hyrup's and Kristi trails, three popular expert runs.

A chairlift would be added to serve the terrain, but Skico hasn't determined yet if it should be a fixed-grip or detachable lift. The upper terminal would be south of the upper Silver Queen Gondola terminal.

Skico's application said expanding into Pandora would add tree skiing that is in high demand among customers but in short supply at Aspen Mountain.

"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."

The Forest Service acknowledged Skico's proposal addresses three issues the agency feels need to be addressed at Aspen Mountain.

"There is a need for enhanced terrain variety, skier circulation and snowmaking coverage that would collectively address the skier recreation experience at Aspen Mountain," said a letter from White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams to interested parties.

The proposal would add "minimally maintained, lift-served, undeveloped terrain and additional traditional alpine trails," Fitzwilliams noted.

Circulation on the east side of the ski area would be enhanced by a new chairlift and terrain, he added, and "reliable and consistent snow coverage" is needed on the upper mountain. One preliminary finding by the Forest Service is that the east side of the ski area is under-utilized. That side of the mountain is served by the Gent's Ridge chairlift, known as the "couch" because the ride is so slow.

One of the issues identified by the Forest Service for further review is how the Skico plan "may alter the existing recreation experience on National Forest Service lands outside of the Aspen Mountain special-use-permit boundary."

Adding the Pandora terrain to the existing operational boundary would eliminate use of those slopes by backcountry skiers who access them via snowmobiles or with climbing skins.

"This would alter the recreation experience for users currently utilizing portions of Richmond Ridge outside of the existing operational boundary," the Forest Service said.

Developing the Pandora terrain also could affect the scenery, according to a preliminary finding. The project would require "vegetation removal" on about 40 acres of national forest and 37 acres of private lands, according to the Forest Service.

The proposal addresses concerns about a changing climate and challenges in getting terrain open at Thanksgiving time.

Skico officials said at the end of the season that enhancing the snowmaking system at Aspen Mountain became a higher priority after the company struggled to open terrain this season because of warm temperatures and a lack of natural snow in November and December.

The proposal would add snowmaking to 53 acres on six trails at the top of the mountain. The system would require a pumping station, 18,000 feet of underground pipeline and two ponds that could store 10 million gallons of water.

The Forest Service is offering several methods for people to educate themselves about the proposal. The agency and contractor leading the review created an interactive website that walks viewers through the plan and the Forest Service's preliminary findings. That can be accessed at tinyurl.com/y9ujpblg.

The Forest Service's project website can be found at http://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=53847.

The public open house will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Limelight Hotel's Monarch Room. Forest Service and Skico employees will be on hand to answer questions. The agency is urging interested parties to submit comments by June 15.

The Forest Service has determined that the project warrants an environmental assessment rather than a more exhaustive environmental impact statement. All the components are part of the Aspen Mountain Master Development Plan that the Forest Service reviewed and accepted earlier this year. Each individual component must be reviewed and approved prior to construction.

Aspen Mountain is unusual among ski areas because it is a mosaic of public and private lands. So many mining claims from the silver era remained in private hands and were acquired by Skico. Aspen Mountain is a mix of 63 percent private and 37 percent public, according to the Forest Service.

Most of the public land that Skico wants to add is already within its special-use permit from the Forest Service. However, about 21 acres — which includes portions of trails and the chairlift route — are outside the boundary and would require a forest plan adjustment to alter the boundary. Skico is proposing to remove an equal amount of terrain from the special use permit.

Skico hopes to acquire approvals in time to start construction in summer 2019, the Forest Service said.

Skico: No skiing on Aspen Mountain during Memorial Day weekend

Scott Condon-The Aspen Times

Lift-served skiing on Aspen Mountain has been ruled out when the Silver Queen Gondola fires up for the summer season May 26, Aspen Skiing Co. spokesman Jeff Hanle said Wednesday.

"Unfortunately we confirmed (Tuesday) that there will be no skiing on Memorial Day when we open for the season," Hanle said in a text response to an inquiry from The Aspen Times. "The warm weather has dashed our hopes."

Skico closed for the winter as scheduled April 15 but left open the possibility of resuming skiing on the mountaintop on Memorial Day weekend if conditions allowed. However, it's been warm and dry throughout May, so conditions didn't allow. The mountain cam at the Sundeck restaurant on the mountaintop shows patchy and dirty snow.

Aspen Mountain had enough snow to open for Memoriaal Day weekend 2017. That was the sixth time since 2008 that the lifts were able to spin on the holiday known as the unofficial start to summer.

Even without skiing this year, there will be plenty to do on Aspen Mountain, including hiking, outdoor music, disc golf and a kids' play area.

The Silver Queen Gondola will open for weekends only May 26 to 28, June 2 and 3 and June 9 and 10. The gondola, Sundeck and other facilities will open for daily service starting June 16. The hours of operation are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The Elk Camp Gondola and Elk Camp Chairlift at Snowmass will fire up June 22.

CDOT has big plans for I-70 Corridor

Meghan Lopez-The Denver Chanel (KMGH TV)

The Colorado Department of Transportation has begun to lay out its plans for several proposed projects across the state.

They are part of CDOT’s Transportation Infrastructure Week. On Tuesday, CDOT officials unveiled plans for I-70 near Floyd Hill.

The proposal includes expanding I-70 westbound from two to three lanes. The stretch of the highway that runs between Floyd Hill and US 6 would also be reconfigured to simplify the bridges and curves in
this area, add walls and increase the line of sight for drivers.

CDOT also wants to smooth out the grade of the highway to make it more gradual.

Beyond the changes to I-70, officials outlined a plan to add new frontage roads and a new entrance ramp from US 6 onto the highway for drivers.

CDOT spokesperson Stacia Sellers says all of these changes are necessary in this area, “Because right now on I-70 you’re seeing speeds drop down. They start out at 55 or 60 mph, and then during
those peak travel times on weekends or on holidays is dropping to about 28 to 30 mph.

The total cost of this project is $550 million or more, depending on a study of the plan.

“We would like to have this happen as soon as possible when we finish the study. But right now we have funding limitations,” Sellers said.

All of these changes are part of an ambitious Statewide Transportation Improvement Program, also known as STIP. This program was federally mandated and requires states to take a critical look at
their infrastructure needs.

“We just have those funding limitations and we can’t move forward until we have the money to do so,” Sellers said.

On Thursday, CDOT will hold a meeting to talk about its funding needs.

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