Come November 6th, Aspen residents will vote for Governor, U.S. House, and likely whether a ski lift should return to the original base of Aspen Mountain. SE Group and the City of Aspen today posted 61 pages of study on the new Lift One with a focus on where to site the bottom terminal, a question which has lingered since 1972. Goals include retaining the historic structures of the first Lift One, threading the needle between two new developments, and improving skier flow. An aggressive proposed timeline begins Tuesday with review by the City Council that could culminate with a new gondola-chair combination lift spinning by late 2019. That would be 48 years after a shortened SLI-Riblet double dubbed 1A eliminated easy access for much of the town to Shadow Mountain.
The current lift starts about four towers higher than the 1946 single chair did and, like its predecessor, has reached the end of its useful life following decades of service. The International Ski Federation makes no secret the obsolete machine is a big reason why Aspen does not host World Cup skiing as often as some of its peers.
But things are finally looking up – or actually down. SE Group analyzed nine chondola, chairlift, surface lift and funicular options and ones dubbed Option 1 and Option 7 were identified for detailed study that commenced in February. An A and B variation were added to alternative number 7, leaving four scenarios in play to bring the lift back into town. Option 1, shown above, would put the bottom terminal level with Gilbert Street between the old Lift 1 terminal and the “new” one. Because of space constraints with Aspen Skiing Company’s preferred Telemix (chondola in Poma parlance), the lift would likely be a straight gondola or possibly a detachable chairlift. Skier access from above would be excellent but the public would have a 40-foot vertical climb to get to the load point from town. Furthermore, the developer of the proposed Lift One Lodge would have to give up an entire building worth of units. The historic lift terminal and remaining towers from the first Lift One could be retained, which is an important community objective. This is deemed a viable, but not best option.
That brings us to Option 7, which would allow SkiCo.’s wished-for chondola with six place chairs and eight place cabins. The Leitner-Poma lift would load just uphill of the original Lift 1, providing direct lift access from town and for returning skiers. Lift One Lodge and Gorsuch Haus developers could retain much of their proposed square footage. The downsides are the required removal of all three American Steel & Wire towers, a variance for clearance needed from the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board, and a longer runout for repeat skiers. “Assuming there is an acceptable solution to removal of the historic lift towers, the significance of the advantages identified in this assessment outweigh the significance of the disadvantages,” the report notes.
7a adds a mid-station that would be up to 170 feet long with the cool possibility of loading and unloading in both directions near where 1A loads today. But it would be expensive, require a bunch of earth work/retaining walls and create a barrier for skiers and pedestrians. The study recommends removing 7a from further consideration. I guess we may have to wait a little longer for the first LPA mid-station.
Option 7b moves the bottom terminal even closer to Dean Street in place of the olive green single chair station, once the gateway to the longest and fastest chairlift in the world. From 1946 to 1971, the lift scaled more than 8,500 feet with a beastly 2,560′ vertical. It even had footrests, safety bars and canvas blankets with a capacity of 275 skiers per hour. “Lift No. 1 introduced masses of people to the joys, thrills, and fears of skiing,” Friday’s study proclaims before recommending a Telemix not supplant what’s left of an icon.
A public open house will be held this Tuesday at noon before the Aspen City Council dives in that evening. There will be at least three more hearings over the summer as developers for the Gorsuch Haus and Lift One Lodge projects will need to make changes to their respective proposals to accommodate Option 7. The public also must consent to allow the big new ski lift in a public park.