Aspen wonders about environmental backlash |

Aspen wonders about environmental backlash

ASPEN – Aspen Skiing Co. officials say they don’t understand why some critics feel their plan to expand backcountry terrain at Snowmass tarnishes their environmentally friendly reputation.The company is awaiting a decision from the U.S. Forest Service that would allow it to use about 500 more acres on Burnt Mountain on Snowmass’s east flank.Some critics don’t want their private backcountry ski stash disturbed. Others say the land should be left alone for the sake of wildlife.”This is very surprising to us that there would be a strong environmental reaction,” said Bill Kane, the ski company’s vice president of planning and development. “We really felt we were doing the best job for skiers and the environment.”Kane said the Aspen has surrendered rights to build what is referred to as the East Burnt Mountain chairlift. The company felt that construction of that lift would create too much environmental damage.As an alternative, the company wants to widen and clear an existing traverse that is currently used by backcountry skiers. Improving that traverse would allow skiers and riders to use more of Burnt Mountain to the east of the Long Shot Trail.Burnt Mountain doesn’t have any chairlifts. Skiers and riders undertake a short hike from the Elk Camp part of Snowmass to get to the Long Shot Trail.The Forest Service ruled in 1994 the resort could build the east and west Burnt Mountain chairlifts as well as a surface lift from Elk Camp.Two years ago the ski company voluntarily surrendered land from its ski area permit boundary with the U.S. Forest Service that essentially makes the East Burnt Mountain chairlift impractical, Kane said. The company is awaiting a decision from Aspen District Ranger Bill Westbrook that allows the Burnt Mountain work. The decision is largely just a formality because the work was approved by a 1994 Burnt Mountain Environmental Impact Statement.But the Forest Service received numerous comments from the public earlier this year complaining about the Burnt Mountain plan.One watchdog that’s been around for the entire Burnt Mountain debate is the Wilderness Workshop. Executive Director Sloan Shoemaker said he was aware Aspen waived its right to the East Burnt Mountain lift.”I’m the first one to give them credit,” Shoemaker said. “They’re light years ahead of the rest of the ski industry.”While Wilderness Workshop isn’t opposing the company’s plan to widen the traverse and use more of Burnt Mountain for a quasi-backcountry experience, Shoemaker wants the company to waive rights to the West Burnt Mountain lift as well, he said. Building that lift would fragment wildlife habitat and ruin the backcountry quality of the skiing terrain, Shoemaker said.”I frankly think putting a lift in there will destroy the very quality they’re trying to preserve,” he said.Vail, Colorado

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