A new chairlift in the Pandora sidecountry zone on Aspen Mountain is inching closer to reality, as the Aspen Skiing Co. recently filed a court case seeking to solidify its ownership of mining claims in the area.
SkiCo’s long-term plans on Aspen Mountain include replacing the Gent’s Ridge chair with a lift that accesses terrain farther east on Richmond Ridge, past the Walsh’s run.
The new lift’s bottom terminal would be about 400 vertical feet below the egress trail that currently takes skiers out of Pandora and Walsh’s.
The SkiCo is the part owner of five mining claims in the area between the bottom of the Gent’s Ridge chairlift and the lower portion of what would be the Pandora chairlift, according to SkiCo spokesman Jeff Hanle. Last week, the company filed a “complaint for partition of real property” in Pitkin County District Court, which would see a judge separate the ownership interests in the mining claims and give each party clear title to its own portion of the land.
“We’re doing that so we can be prepared at some point in the future to go ahead with the expansion out there,” Hanle said.
SkiCo is the majority owner of all five mining claims, according to court documents. In one of the claims, known as Iron Silver, it has a 57 percent stake, while Jeffrey Shoaf of Aspen owns 43 percent. The other four claims are split 66.6 percent to 33.3 percent with Frank and Albert Loushin.
Hanle said SkiCo became part owner on the claims back in the ’60s or ’70s, when one of the Loushin brothers sold the stakes to the company.
“He needed some money and wanted to sell,” Hanle said.
Land ownership on Aspen Mountain and Richmond Ridge often goes back to a patchwork of mining claims and national forest. SkiCo acknowledged more than a year ago that it would have some work to do on title issues before it could go forward with the Pandora expansion.
The area is currently “sidecountry,” meaning it has backcountry characteristics but is accessed from the ski resort, and users can return to the resort at the bottom of the run. The ski patrol does not do any avalanche control work in the area.
SkiCo also is looking to take out the existing Bell Mountain chair and build a new lift from the top of Copper Bowl to the top of Bell. This “Back of Bell” chair would cover about 570 vertical feet in five minutes. The company also would extend its snowmaking infrastructure to the top of the mountain, as the guns and hoses only reach to the top of Deer Park today.
SkiCo is likely to package the mountain improvements — the Pandora chair, Back of Bell chair and snowmaking — and ask the Forest Service for environmental approval to complete all three. The first step in that process would be to draft a “scoping letter” that would kick off the public process, but Hanle said that will not be done until the partition case is completed.
“[The expansion] is not something that is right around the corner,” he said.