The public’s one and only chance to comment to the Forest Service as it reviews a proposal to expand ski terrain and snowmaking on Aspen Mountain is ongoing through June 15, with a public meeting planned next week.
The Aspen Skiing Co. would like to undertake a first-in-a-generation expansion of Aspen Mountain with a new, 1,200-vertical-foot detachable chairlift in the Pandora zone, off the upper east side of the current ski area operational boundary. It has submitted that project, which would create 148 acres of additional downhill trails and gladed terrain, along with a proposal to expand snowmaking on 53 acres of existing terrain at the top of the mountain, to the Forest Service, which is beginning its environmental review.
A public open house meeting is scheduled on Wednesday, May 23 from 5 p.m. – 7 p.m. at the Limelight Hotel, 355. S. Monarch St. in Aspen, in the Monarch Room. Forest Service and SkiCo representatives will be available to answer questions about the project.
Written comments on any portion of the project are encouraged to be submitted before June 15. Only those who submit comments during this period will be placed on the mailing list for future information regarding these projects.
The official Forest Service notice of proposed action for scoping and comment period on the project, available at https://www.fs.usda.gov/nfs/11558/www/nepa/109153_FSPLT3_4298833.pdf, lays out three primary purposes.
• Provide a mixture of additional undeveloped, minimally maintained lift-served terrain and additional traditionally cleared alpine trails to enhance the existing terrain variety and skiing experiences at Aspen Mountain.
• Improve skier circulation on the upper portion of the east side of the mountain.
• Provide reliable and consistent snow coverage on the upper mountain, especially during the early and late parts of the season, while minimizing additional runoff entering Spar Gulch and Keno Gulch.
On the first point, the scoping notice notes that Aspen Mountain currently has a relatively low ratio of “undeveloped” advanced and expert ability level terrain, with 224 acres out of 700 total falling into that category.
“As Aspen Mountain exists entirely below tree line, glades (both human-made and naturally occurring) are the only means Aspen Mountain has of offering undeveloped terrain. Aspen Mountain’s existing gladed terrain largely exists as tree islands between traditionally cleared runs, and the majority of glades are less than 10 acres in size,” the scoping notice says.
It continues, “There is a need for additional undeveloped lift-served terrain in the form of larger contiguous gladed areas that contain a variety of natural skiable features (such as rocks, cliff bands, gullies, and chutes) not currently present within Aspen Mountain’s existing gladed areas. Further, Aspen Mountain has a need for intermediate-level glades, which are not currently offered within the existing operational boundary. “
The new lift would serve 77 acres of traditional trails, including roughly a half dozen entirely new runs, plus extensions of existing trails on the upper east side including Walsh’s, Hyrup’s and Kristi. A 71-acre gladed section would sit on the eastern portion of the expansion area.
On the skier circulation point, the notice notes that “the upper portion of the east side of Aspen Mountain within the current operational boundary is presently underutilized, with several areas of uphill or flat terrain that diminish guest experience.” The new Pandora lift would solve this problem by allowing skiers on the existing Walsh’s, Hyrup’s and Kristi trails to continue down the fall line to the new Pandora lift, eliminating the slog out Lud’s Lane.
For snowmaking, Aspen Mountain’s current system stops roughly 600 vertical feet shy of the summit. This leaves a gap that prevents the gondola from being used in the early season where there isn’t sufficient natural snow cover.
“Snowmaking infrastructure on the upper mountain is needed to provide an effective connection from [the top of the mountain] to the lower slopes, allowing for top-to-bottom skiing throughout the season,” the notice says. “During seasons with minimal early season snowfall, top-to-bottom skiing can be delayed from the planned opening day, which reduces the available terrain offerings and places a financial burden on resort operations.
The snowmaking system would require two new water-storage ponds, to be located near the bottom of the Gent’s Ridge chair and Midnight runs, and a new 1,500-square-foot pump station. Those ponds would be used to help capture runoff in the spring.
Construction of the ski trails will require 40 acres of vegetation removal on Forest Service lands and 37 acres of vegetation removal on private lands.
Approximately 30 to 40 percent of tree basal area would be cleared from gladed areas; however, some areas are naturally gladed and would require little tree removal.
Grading and tree removal would also be necessary to construct an access road to the bottom terminal of the new Pandora chairlift.
Pending Forest Service approval, SkiCo anticipates that construction could begin on these project during the summer of 2019.
The Forest Service will consider the comments it receives as it compiles an environmental assessment. White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams will decide, based on that assessment, whether to issue a finding of no significant impact (FONSI) or require a more detailed Environmental Impact Statement. If it’s the former, the decision will stand for a 45-day objection period, during which only those who filed comments in the first round can appeal.
Commenters are asks to include name, address, telephone number and organization represented, if any and reference the “Aspen Mountain Pandora Development and Summit Snowmaking Projects.” Comments should include specific facts, concerns or issues, and supporting reasons why they should be considered.
Written comments must be submitted via mail, fax, electronically or in person (Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., excluding holidays) to: Scott Fitzwilliams, c/o T.J. Broom, Mountain Sports - Special Uses Program Lead, White River National Forest, Aspen – Sopris Ranger District, 620 Main Street, Carbondale, CO 81623.
Electronic comments including attachments can be submitted to: https://cara.ecosystem-management.org/Public//CommentInput?Project=53847