CITIZEN’S GROUP SUPPORTS EXPANDING SKI TERRAIN ON ASPEN MOUNTAIN.
While Aspen Highlands has added Highland Bowl and Deep Temerity and Snowmass has regularly added terrain throughout the decades, Aspen Mountain hasn’t expanded its skiing since 1985, when it added Walsh’s run and the Silver Queen Gondola.
So, when Aspen Skiing Company (SkiCo) seeks approval to rezone land to add 153 acres of skiing to Ajax’s existing 675 acres and build a brand-new chairlift, people get excited. The 22% terrain increase would not only add new intermediate glades and groomed runs but also lengthen existing steep favorites like Walsh’s, Kristi and Hyrup’s, and it would also eliminate the hike out the cat road.
While the U.S. Forest Service has approved the plan, not everyone is sold on the idea, citing development and environmental concerns. Property owners on the backside of Aspen Mountain and backcountry skiers and snowboarders who currently use the out-of-bounds terrain might want to preserve their exclusive experience.
An independent citizen’s group, Friends of Pandora’s, formed early in the summer of 2021 to help gather support for the expansion. It’s led by Aspen resident Bruce Etkin, a skier and chairman of Colorado-based Etkin Johnson Real Estate Partners, and an 18-member citizen-advisory committee, including longtime locals and skiers and snowboarders like Dave Stapleton, Chris Klug, Bill Stirling, Dana Laughren and Mike Maple.
“The most reliable, best snow is at the top of the mountain, and facing north,” says Maple, whose family moved to Aspen in 1968. “There really isn’t very much of it, and it all funnels down to one lift. The experience could be much better. This will dramatically improve the circulation and improve skiing for the community.”
Advocates of the expansion say the terrain is far from pristine backcountry, pointing to centuries-old mining cuts, a powerline running diagonally across the terrain and existing skier traffic. They also defend the impact the lift construction, road cutting and tree thinning will have and its wildfire mitigation benefits. Supporters also tout the ways in which the expansion would democratize access to the area and create economic sustainability for Aspen Mountain.
FOP asks its supporters to sign an online petition or make their opinion publicly known through letters to the editor, letters to Pitkin County commissioners and public speaking opportunities. Maple’s son, Wiley, a former World Cup and Olympic ski racer, addressed climate change in his letter to both Aspen daily papers: “The proposed Pandora’s expansion will provide great skiing on high-altitude terrain with more reliable natural snow conditions as the climate crisis continues to affect snowfall. Without this terrain, SkiCo will have to expand energy-intensive snowmaking to ensure reliable skiing conditions.”
At press date, SkiCo needs three votes in the second reading Oct. 13 to win approval.
Photography by: PHOTO BY MATT POWER AND TYLER WILKINSON-RAY/COURTESY OF ASPEN SKIING COMPANY