The Aspen Skiing Co. has withdrawn plans for a Nordic ski jumping venue on the Tiehack side of Buttermilk Ski Area, as a new mountain master plan approaches its first public hearing.
The jumps had been part of the amended Buttermilk Mountain Master Plan, which the SkiCo submitted to Pitkin County for approval in March. The jump venue proposal was removed last week.
County development officials have been evaluating the base area redevelopment proposal since March, while soliciting input from neighbors and other agencies in the area. The county planning and zoning commission will hold the first public hearing on the plan on June 26. It requires final approval from the county commissioners.
The SkiCo is not proposing a full-scale base village development or new lodging at the mountain’s base.
“In the past, they’ve presented master plans that had many more elements to them,” said senior county planner Suzanne Wolff, who is going on a site visit at Buttermilk on behalf of the county this week. “All of that’s off the table.”
A prior master plan, submitted in 1999, had included new residential, commercial and hotel developments for Buttermilk. The current plan includes none of that, but does have a remodel of Bumps Restaurant, a 7,400-square-foot replacement for the temporary Powder Pandas structure, and a new day lodge in place of the current Four Mountain Sports building.
The SkiCo informed county officials on Thursday that the Tiehack jump area would no longer be part of the master plan proposal.
SkiCo is still asking for ski-jumping to be acknowledged as a form of skiing, allowable under the area’s recreational zoning, but is not asking for approvals of any jumps. The Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club (AVSC) had spearheaded the jump development, as it was included in the plan in March.
“[A]lthough we may in the future revisit this plan element, we do not presently have mutual agreement with AVSC regarding the location, funding, timing, implementation and operation of a Nordic jumping venue,” SkiCo planner Dave Corbin wrote to the county last week.
A new ski lift, serving only the terrain park and superpipe on the lower portion of the mountain’s main area, is included in the plan. The master plan includes evening lighting for the new lift, though the SkiCo did not submit specifications on the new lights.
The SkiCo lights up the pipe and base area during the Winter X Games, with a temporary, industrial lighting structure. Wolff said part of the approvals process for the new master plan will likely include a demonstration of the proposed evening park lights.
“We all know how bright the X Games lights are and that’s not something we want all the time,” Wolff said.
The county has asked for comments from the city of Aspen on the plan, along with neighbors and several referral agencies, like the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA), the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority (APCHA) and Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW).
City code enforcement officer Jim Pomeroy asked for a more detailed proposal regarding the superpipe lighting.
“We probably do not want to see a permanent ‘X Games’ sort of lighting situation,” he wrote to the county. “Therefore, we would request quite a bit more information before we could give a final recommendation on this part of the plan.”
County zoning officer Susan Pearson wrote in a memorandum that she has concerns about the stability of the mountain’s slopes, and increasing mud slides and debris flows there in recent years, noting the mountain could become more unstable with additional manmade snow, which the SkiCo is proposing in the master plan.
The U.S. Forest Service already has approved plans for additional snowmaking at the top of the mountain, which is on Forest Service land.
RFTA planner David Johnson suggested a new pedestrian overpass from Buttermilk to the bus stop on the other side of Highway 82, to combat congestion of skiers and highway traffic — especially during the X Games.
“The amount of transit and pedestrian traffic has undoubtedly increased at Buttermilk, notably with the advent of the X Games, and will continue with the proposed transportation improvements,” Johnson wrote to the county. “RFTA wishes to see safe and attractive pedestrian connections between the Buttermilk Ski Area and the [bus-rapid transit] station, and across [Highway] 82, for skiers, employees and visitors.”
He suggested that the SkiCo should share the cost of building a new pedestrian crossing with RFTA and local governments.
APCHA recommended approval of the master plan, requesting an employee audit of the ski area two years after its completion. If the number of employees grows over 133 full-timers, the agency would require SkiCo to provide more employee housing or to otherwise mitigate those employees’ housing impacts.
The plan is not meant to increase volume of skiers on the mountain or dramatically change uses, but focuses instead on improving the guest experience there.
“A key element of the proposed redevelopment plan for Buttermilk base area is to create an attractive experience for visitors by improving the physical layout, functionality and convenience of the buildings at the base area,” the proposal reads.