More steeps on Aspen Mountain?
ASPEN, Colorado ” The Aspen Skiing Co. plans to add a small amount of double-black diamond ski terrain on Aspen Mountain for next ski season.
The Skico wants to add the expert terrain in the Dakine Bowl area, just to the skier’s right of the existing Walsh’s terrain, according to Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle. The result of the move would be to move the rope boundary of Walsh’s to the south by about 50 meters, he said.
The targeted terrain is located between the existing Walsh’s trail and popular side-country area known as Pandora’s. This request to the U.S. Forest Service doesn’t include expansion into Pandora’s.
The move would add skiing on about 2.2 acres of national forest and nearly one-half acre of private land. Company officials are more excited about the type rather than the amount of skiing the move would make possible.
“The need for steep, gladed areas, such as is proposed, results from their increasing popularity with our guests and forest users,” said a letter from Skico planner Victor Gerdin to the Aspen Ranger District office of the Forest Service.
A second access to the area from within the ski area would be created farther up the One and Two Leaf trail from the existing entrance to Walsh’s, Hanle said. Currently, Dakine Bowl is accessed through a backcountry gate near the upper terminal of the Silver Queen Gondola or by ducking the rope at Walsh’s. Adding the terrain to the managed inventory will make it inviting to more people, Hanle said.
“It opens that terrain, which is good terrain, to more people,” he said.
The Skico applied to the Forest Service to thin trees to make the expansion possible, according to Jim Stark, winter sports administrator with the Forest Service. He is assessing how much review will be required.
But the Skico will be able to start cutting and removing dead and diseased fir trees later this month, Stark said. Ski areas are allowed to do a certain amount of tree removal during summers as part of their standard permits. The Forest Service actually prefers that work to be undertaken while snow covers the ground to limit disturbance, he said. If the Skico hits a threshold amount of dead trees removed or wants to thin live trees, the Forest Service will likely conduct a review under National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) guidelines, according to Stark. That would likely be a quick review that includes a 30-day period for the public to comment.
The Forest Service will analyze if that NEPA review is required. One criteria will be determining if the number of dead trees the Skico wants to remove triggers a study.
Stark said the majority of trees that will be thinned are subalpine fir. Pockets of trees in that area are diseased with Armillaria or root rot, he said. There also are some lodgepole pine trees in that area.
Dakine Bowl is within the Aspen Mountain ski area permit boundary. The master plan for the ski area contemplates expanding into the area. Dakine Bowl and adjacent terrain is outside the ski patrol boundary but it is still heavily skied as a “side-country” area ” attractive terrain that is adjacent to the ski area and easily accessible.
Stark said he saw first hand this winter that the Dakine Bowl area already gets significant use. “This didn’t look all that different from a ski trail,” he said, noting it was “bumped out” on the day he toured it.
Hanle also stressed the high level of use of the Dakine Bowl area. “It’s terrain that’s already skied and skied heavily,” he said.
And that likely means that some of the skiers and riders currently using it won’t be thrilled about sharing it. Making it part of the managed ski area will attract greater use.
Stark said word is filtering out among side-country skiers about the plan because the dead trees the company would like to remove have been flagged.
A similarly modest expansion at Snowmass Ski Area onto the side-country of Burnt Mountain sparked controversy and litigation. On the other hand, the expansion into Highland Bowl at Aspen Highlands was popular and widely praised.
At Aspen Mountain, the Skico’s long-term plan is to provide lift-served skiing to the area that includes Dakine Bowl, Pandora’s, Powerline and other terrain on the eastern side of the ski area. Hanle said it hasn’t been determined if the Gent’s Ridge chairlift would be realigned to serve that terrain or if a new chairlift would be installed. There is no timetable for that grander expansion, he said.
Stark said he expected additional information from the Skico this week that will determine how extensive of a review is required for the expansion into Dakine Bowl.