Aspen Mountain gets Forest Service approval on 180-acre terrain expansion
The Aspen Times
ASPEN — The U.S. Forest Service has approved Aspen Mountain’s proposed 180-acre Pandora terrain expansion after concluding the “benefits outweigh the potential costs.”
Forest Service supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams wrote in a draft decision released Wednesday that adding the acreage on the upper east side of the mountain will create the diversity of terrain that skiers and riders crave. Constructing a new detachable quad chairlift to serve that terrain will improve skier circulation on the mountain, he said.
“Overall, I feel my decision will improve the experience of guests to the forest within the Aspen Mountain special-use permit area in conjunction with the state environmental impacts,” Fitzwilliams wrote.
Documents associated with the Pandora application and review are available for download on the White River National Forest website.
Aspen Skiing Co. has long eyed expansion into the Pandora terrain, which will add about 79 acres of traditional ski trails and 101 acres of tree skiing. Most of the existing tree skiing is through islands of 10 or fewer acres between cleared trails.
Developing the terrain will come at a cost, the assessment acknowledged. Clearing trails and building a chairlift will eliminate the backcountry skiing feel that currently exists. The area is considered “side-country,” which means it is out of bounds but can be accessed by a lift.
In addition to backcountry users, the terrain is used by Aspen Mountain Powder Tours, which is owned by Aspen. The study estimates as many as 100 people recreate in the area daily and puts the “Comfortable Carrying Capacity” — a planning tool used to determine the optimum level of utilization for a resort — of the terrain at about 600 people.
The draft decision now faces a 45-day period where individuals or groups who submitted comments earlier in the review can file objections. No new parties can file objections. If no objections are filed, the decision becomes final. If objections are filed, the Forest Service will attempt to resolve them administratively.
Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop submitted earlier comments about impacts to elk and other wildlife. The conservation group and Colorado Parks and Wildlife sought a seasonal closure of the Pandora terrain during spring.
The Forest Service environmental assessment said a field survey found no evidence of elk calving in or adjacent to the Pandora terrain, but it said another survey will be conducted in summer. If evidence of calving is found, a closure will be considered. The assessment also noted that Aspen isn’t planning summer activities in the Pandora area. If it changes direction, further environmental review will be necessary.
David Corbin, Aspen’s senior vice president of planning and development, said the approvals could be in hand by spring at the soonest.
Aspen would strive to cut the Pandora trails next summer and then construct the chairlift in summer 2020. The earliest lift-served skiing could be a reality in Pandora is the 2020-21 season, he said.
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