Guest Column: Lift One plan’s benefits to ski area are numerous
Almost two days after a snowstorm last week, I skied a favorite line between Henry’s and Super 8. It’s tight, steep, every turn counts and, as usual, it was mostly untouched. Aspen Mountain holds all sorts of stashes like that. It’s why Ajax skis so much bigger and so much more interestingly than its acreage might suggest.
One reason that line gets overlooked is because it’s accessed by a 47-year-old fixed-grip double chair: Lift 1A. I wondered about that as I skied it. Will adding a modern, higher-capacity lift as part of the Lift One corridor project mean more tracks in my favorite places? What will the new lift — and the whole corridor plan — do to the experience of skiing that special side of the mountain?
It’ll change it. You can’t argue that. And since choices in Aspen are so often framed in terms of their downsides, much of the conversation has gone that way. But as I think it through, I see a lot of upsides: The new lift will give better access to the Dumps and the whole west side. It’ll make doing laps over there a first-choice option. Come springtime, that’s where I would start—carving corn turns on Fifth Avenue and Silver Rush, and then watch from a patio at the new Gorsuch Haus or the Skier’s Chalet Steakhouse as Aspen Mountain’s army of experts rip down Corkscrew and Slalom Hill.
People develop personal attachments to the way they ski a mountain, particularly Ajax. 1A has long been that treasure you hit later in the day. But could drawing skiers over there earlier have effects elsewhere? Maybe an extra Walsh’s-to-Jackpot lap on a powder morning or another pass through the Dumps as skiers are more balanced between the Silver Queen Gondola and the new lift. I expect we’ll see a new moment of pause at Rubey Park as people get off the buses and make the call. Two portals at the base is rare in the ski world and in this case they’ll force a reassessment of what to ski when by even 2,000-day Ajax regulars.
Of course, the most basic skier upside of the 1A proposal is obvious. Ski area planning 101 says you bring the lift to the bottom. This goes farther: It brings the lift all the way to town. At SkiCo, we have obsessed over making sure the plan meets our requirements for ski area operations, World Cup-scale events, skier safety and flow. We would never agree to a base reconfiguration that ignores the skier experience or undermines our ability to host ski racing in the future.
At 60 feet wide at its narrowest point, the proposed ski return leading to the new lift is comparable to the bottom of the Little Nell run as it funnels into the right side of the gondola, which is 58 feet at its narrowest. Simply put, the skiing works. And while losing the last few turns on Norway is not ideal, it’s necessary to make the project work. The overall tradeoff for more balanced usage of the west side of the mountain offsets that small terrain loss.
The proposal honors our skiing past in a way that seems fitting for a town as history-obsessed as Aspen. Frankly, the current state of the original Lift 1 artifacts should embarrass all of us. They’ll be front and center now, more accessible to the public and a reference point for a ski museum brought to life by the Aspen Historical Society. That’s just one aspect of a revitalized base area that will include dining, après, and skier services. The new development will bring vitality to a side of the mountain that has been too sleepy for too long, and it’s what would justify SkiCo adding lift capacity to that side of the mountain.
I’m not ignoring the fact that the plan comes with two sizable buildings. But with the Hotel Lenado and the Mountain House having joined the list of the lodges we’ve lost over the past few decades — totaling hundreds of lost beds — I welcome Gorsuch Haus and Lift One Lodge. They’re in a location where bed base belongs and where they’ll have the least impact compared to adding them elsewhere: walking distance to both transit and all of the amenities in the core.
On balance, the upsides really do outweigh the downsides here. I’ve seen lots of ideas for the revitalization of the base of 1A, and this is the best plan I’ve encountered. Let’s not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Please join me in supporting the Lift One corridor proposal at the ballot box.
Mike Kaplan is the president and CEO of the Aspen Skiing Co.
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