Pitkin County Commissioners face a major decision on Aug. 25 to add 153 acres of great advanced and intermediate skis to the upper eastern portion of Aspen Mountain. This adjacent prohibited area called Pandora’s was included in the master plan of Aspen Skiing Co., but the applicant decided to remove it to address concerns expressed by the commissioners. The balance of the master plan was approved in 2019.
The benefits Pandora will bring reminds me of the improvements to Aspen Highlands after opening the bowl and building the Temerity Elevator. The elevator improved circulation. The bowl gave the Highlands practically the highest elevation and steepest skiing within any ski area boundary in America, but the Temerity lift got skiers up to the top quickly. He reduced speed races up and down. Pandora’s high-speed elevator will do the same for Ajax. Skiers who ski at Walsh’s would no longer have to struggle to climb the pole to climb the âCouchâ, but could log in to ride the new chairlift. It will distribute the skiers better across the mountain. It will make skiing in Aspen a better experience.
Given that Ajax and the summit are already zoned for ski area use, it would seem logical to extend the existing Ski-Rec zoning boundary to Pandora, as this adjacent section is already skied, especially by locals, but without the security aspects that would bring it within limits. Creating the rural and remote area in Pitkin County was a brilliant idea and helped prevent the boundaries of wilderness habitat throughout the county from being overly developed with large houses. However, Rural and Remote was never designed to prevent ski expansion.
With the continuing dramatic changes caused by climate change, having more ski slopes higher up on Ajax is becoming increasingly critical. Climate change is the problem in question. I mentioned in the mid-1990s at a public meeting that already winter had lost one to two weeks in the fall and one to two weeks in the spring. The inclusion of Pandora in the Skico license makes perfect sense and tackles climate change head-on. This does not solve this major problem. However, the higher the mountain, the better. Plus, this addition is on the northeast side! Temperatures are cooler at the top and will hold snow for longer. The quality of the snow is always better at altitude. Water is not a problem here either. After having melted in the spring, all this snow ends up falling back into the streams. Coping with climate change and adapting to it are the major challenges of the moment.
Skiing is the engine of the winter economy in our resort town and our community. I would bet most locals didn’t move to Aspen just for the Victorian architecture, the village feeling, the idea of ââAspen, the arts, the sciences and the unique, local collection of supporters, athletes , intellectuals, artists, musicians and our range of characters. They also moved here for the incredible array of great ski trails across the four mountains, cross country skiing, and unlimited outdoor recreational activities all year round. Most of us profit from this ski economy.
Pandora’s Forest needs to be cleared up to make it safer, should a fire ever break out there. This inconspicuous forest is laden with felled and dead trees and clearing the forest floor will remove much of this rubbish. The Forest Service agrees; it approved the environmental assessment.
Having a wide variety of terrains and adding new courses is key to our continued success. This will be a key factor for regular visitors and in welcoming the growing population of our valley. Some locals, who oppose this expansion, adore having Pandora as their own almost secret âhiding placeâ. Let’s improve the variety and quality of skiing on Ajax for all Aspen Mountain skiers. This proposed expansion will create a more interesting and better ski.
For all of these reasons, I urge everyone to show your support by writing a letter to the Pitkin County Council of Commissioners, introducing yourself and speaking at the August 25 public hearing, and letting your friends know. of this necessary addition to our unique ski mountain. If you need more information, you can get it through the citizens’ group, Friends of Pandora’s at http://www.friendsofpandoras.com. Encourage the Stewards to bring Pandora’s to the Aspen Mountain licensed ski area. I believe this is in Aspen’s best long term interest!
Bill Stirling was Mayor of Aspen from 1983 to 1991 and remains a political activist on local and national issues. He is now a full time broker with Douglas Elliman.