Lift 1A

Skiers load Lift 1A on Aspen Mountain on Wednesday. The future of the lift is in the hands of a working group including the city of Aspen, a third party consultant, two developers and the Aspen Skiing Co.

A working group seeking to devise new infrastructure for the Aspen Mountain portal at Lift 1A must settle on a short list of options to be studied in further detail before the project can move forward.

As part of that process, the city and a consulting firm that designs ski-lift systems are asking the Aspen Skiing Co. and two hotel developers with plans for land to be impacted to determine what qualitative issues might prevent them from getting on board with any of the specific options.

Those options — whittled down after SE Group presented nine initial scenarios last fall — appear to consist of a single-stage lift extending to Dean Street, an additional 500 feet down the hill from current loading terminal; a single-stage lift going roughly to Gilbert Street, which is about halfway between the current base and Dean Street; or a multi-stage alignment that loads at Dean with a stop at the planned Gorsuch Haus at the top of the South Aspen Street hill, where the existing lift loads.

Each scenario presents challenges. For example, some have questioned whether the quality of the skiing experience for the last 500 feet, as well as operational challenges related to snowmaking and grooming, would be a deal breaker for a lift that extends to Dean Street. Others feel this is not a sufficient reason to not bring the lift down the hill, as the surrounding parcels are blanketed by new hotel development.

The lift-to-Gilbert scenario may be a half measure that politically satisfies no one and requires a major redesign and potential loss of square footage for the Lift One Lodge.

A two-stage lift requires packing more loading and unloading infrastructure into an already challenging circulation picture, but has the advantage of allowing repeat skiers to avoid going through a narrow park to get back to the lift, alleviating operational challenges.

An alternate version of that scenario could be a single-stage “pulse gondola,” similar to the “Skittles” in Snowmass, running from Dean Street to Gorsuch Haus, where riders would get off, click in and ride a new lift up the mountain. While this could provide a year-round connection helping to get pedestrians up the hill, it would require skiers to change their mode of transportation after a short initial ride.

The neighborhood could end up with a new lift in roughly the same spot as the current lift, which was the original proposal brought forward by Gorsuch Haus developers, who are looking to build an 81-key lodge on land currently owned by the SkiCo at the base of the mountain. However, Aspen City Council has required at least a thorough study of other options that would bring the new lift closer to town before its members are likely to approve the hotel development application. Some council members appear dead set on a lower lift to earn their “yes” vote.

To conduct that study, the city last spring brought in the SE Group, whose work so far has been funded by a combination of developer and taxpayer dollars. The city is looking to put together a new contract with SE Group, with costs shared by the developers, but it first wants everyone on the same page as to the scope of the next round of work.

SE Group determined that it could be physically possible to run a new lift down to Dean Street in-between the two Lift One Lodge buildings, approved in 2011 but still unbuilt, that would straddle Lift One Park. However, to do so would require a variance from the state’s tramway board. Chris Cushing, an SE Group principal who is working on the project, said he reached out to the state chairlift regulators recently and came away feeling good about the possibility of being able to secure the variance, but added that there are no guarantees and the board cannot make a determination until an application is filed.

Even with the variance, under the current Lift One Lodge plan, there would be, at most, a 50-foot-wide corridor between its two buildings. Aspen Skiing Co. has expressed reservations as to whether that would meet its skier-experience standards. But would Lift One Lodge be willing to alter its building plans to accommodate a larger skiway?

Jenifer Phelan, the city’s deputy planning director, said she wants any red lines placed on the table up front, for the sake of transparency and not wasting time and money.

Since the late-October work session reviewing SE’s initial work, Phelan said there has been one meeting attended by representatives of all the stakeholders. She is awaiting additional feedback qualitative issues before a planned work session update with city council on Jan. 16.

Funicular off the table

A representative of the Gorsuch Haus developers said that since the October public meeting, they have officially abandoned the notion of a “funicular” concept, which was presented as a further option that could be studied. A funicular is similar to a cable car used for uphill transport.

“Based on the conversations at stakeholder meetings and our studies, the larger group looking at Lift 1A options feels that a funicular is not in the best interest of the neighborhood because its surface design would interrupt any pedestrian movement across the park in an east-west direction,” says a Gorsuch Haus statement. “Also, the funicular option isn’t attractive because it would require significant infrastructure at the pedestrian level.”

Gorsuch Haus developers believe that an “elevated pulse gondola” should be included in the next round of study, “as it could provide a low-impact pedestrian connection from Dean Street to an upper lift location without disrupting circulation in Willoughby Park, Lift One Park and the ski out to Dean Street,” the statement says.

The Gorsuch Haus team is also anxious to proceed with its land use review, which has been tabled since March.

“We are hoping [the next report is produced] in a timely fashion so we can get a great hotel built,” spokesman Allyn Harvey said.

Lift One Lodge representative Michael Brown deferred comment on the pending lift study to city staff.

The Lift One Lodge approved plans include moving the Skiers Chalet building down to Willoughby Park and converting it into a ski museum facility run by the Aspen Historical Society. Phelan said she is seeking clarification on how feasible that plan is and what the historical society wants to do with the building. Perhaps it could double as a skier services and ticketing office and a history museum, she said.