Buttermilk gate

A gate on West Buttermilk Road, which reads “private driveway,” now closes to public traffic at 5 p.m. on most evenings and at 7:30 p.m. for special events. The road above this point is completely restricted during the non-ski season.

The popularity of uphilling on full moon nights and increased usage of West Buttermilk Road was behind a new agreement to close a section of the road at 5 p.m. on most winter evenings and 7:30 p.m. for special events like moonlight hikes.

The Aspen Skiing Co. and four property owners are partners in the agreement that was implemented this season. It came at the urging of the homeowners, according to Jeff Hanle, director of public relations for Aspen Skiing Co.

The land where a gate has been in place for about a decade is private property, said Jim Korpela, COO of the Romero Group, which manages and maintains most of the water and roads for the Buttermilk Metropolitan District.

There are four homeowners who live above the gate, the place where the district property ends, Korpela said. This section of road is only open during the ski season though it’s an historic access point to the ski area.

Hanle said SkiCo appreciates the access these homeowners allow the public.

“We have an easement on their property and they’ve been extremely helpful and cooperative in letting our guests access the mountain. But it’s become a bit of an onslaught on full moon nights” and evenings surrounding the full moon,” Hanle said Monday.

“It’s just gotten busier and busier later in the evening. And it was impacting the neighborhood,” he added.

Hanle said Buttermilk mountain manager Travis Benson was better apprised of the details behind the agreement. Benson could not be reached Monday.

County gets an earful

A letter to the editor in Monday’s Aspen Daily News by Denise Handrich of Basalt questioning the new policy prompted many “concerned citizens” to reach out to two Pitkin County commissioners, Patti Clapper and Greg Poschman.

Some constituents wondered about the timing and asked, “Why now? This was the first time I heard about it,” Clapper said Monday.

She said Handrich’s letter was also a hot topic of discussion during Monday’s dedication of Pitkin County’s new ambulance facility and with director Gabe Muething.

“If they’re closing the gate that the ambulance uses they need to know,” Clapper said.

Hanle said the 5 p.m. closure does not impact vehicles that are already inside the gate, which would be allowed to pass through with unfettered access from the uphill side.

Handrich said it’s troubling that new restrictions are being imposed, especially since the road has been used for this purpose for generations.

“They’re trying to create this private gated community between us and our public lands,” she said. “I go to the parking lot for the full moon hike up and it’s always filled.”

In her letter to the editor, Handrich wrote, “This has been a cherished activity for many locals, including me, for decades.”

Hanle said there are two other parking lots that the public may use on full moon nights or evenings that surround the full moon to reach Buttermilk’s summit.

Handrich said that the West Buttermilk access point is a more gentle ascent, something that the Romero Group’s Korpela noted. “It’s a pretty darn nice hike at night,” he said.

Korpela also said he didn’t know of the new time restrictions of 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. until Monday and said that decision was made outside his purview.

Brian Pettet, Pitkin County Public Works director, could not be reached Monday to comment on West Buttermilk Road’s history of public and private ownership.

The county’s open space and trails director, Gary Tennenbaum, wrote Monday in an email that, “I don't think this will affect the cross country ski parking along West Buttermilk Road, but if it does we would get involved.

“If it is just to access West Buttermilk that does not have much to do with OST and we would let the county BOCC and community development deal with it,” Tennenbaum added.

Greg Poschman, BOCC chair, said Handrich’s “letter in the paper was the first I heard about this” but said he too had inquiries from several constituents after its publication.

Madeleine Osberger is a Contributing Editor for Aspen Daily News. She can be reached at madski@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @Madski99