Debate continues to rage around a proposed expansion on Aspen Mountain.
The U.S. Forest Service in 2019 greenlit the proposal by Aspen Skiing Co., which has long sought development on the mountain's east side above 10,000 feet in an area known as Pandora's. The idea is to add 153 acres of lift-served terrain, reached via a new high-speed quad chair.
Company executives have said the plan would grant intermediate and expert types a tree-skiing experience hard to come by on Aspen Mountain, one of four hubs making up Aspen Snowmass. They've also said the project would be the ski area's first sizable expansion in 40 years, and they've compared the potential legacy of Pandora's to the legendary Highland Bowl and Hanging Valley Wall at neighboring mountains.
The project "will improve the experience of guests," White River National Forest supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams wrote in his decision, "in conjunction with the state environmental impacts."
But locals have countered that point, saying timber-thinning and construction would harm animal habitat and infringe on a proud law aimed at preventing development in the surrounding wilds.
Approval would represent an "incremental nibble" toward the loss of Pitkin County's Rural and Remote Zone, created in 1994, one resident recently wrote to officials. Another called the concept "totally unnecessary."
Wrote another: "LEAVE THE BACKCOUNTRY ALONE!"
The Forest Service's 2019 approval was followed by the county planning commission's thumbs-up. Then the controversial decision was tabled by county commissioners.
Last month, The Aspen Times quoted Aspen Skiing Co. president and CEO Mike Kaplan urging leaders to move the project along. "Aspen Mountain has to change and evolve to remain relevant," he said.
A local calling himself a fourth-generation Aspenite agreed in his letter to county government.
"I and we have been skiing the same runs since the 1950s," he wrote while also adding: "I know how much Skico has put into the thought and doing the right thing in their development of being green and the most minimal impact on the environment. Aspen needs to keep up with the times and offer something new."
The expansion would increase Aspen Mountain's 475 acres of "traditional," groomable terrain by 17% (82 more acres) and boost "minimally maintained terrain" by 32% (71 more acres). Pandora's is considered "side country" of the ski area, drawing zero to 100 self-powered visitors daily, according to the Forest Service assessment.