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Ruthie’s huts, mountain biking axed from Aspen Mountain master plan

Paul Conrad/The Aspen TimesAP | The Aspen Times

Overnight cabins near Ruthie’s Restaurant and gondola-served mountain biking will not be part of the new master plan for Aspen Mountain.

Pitkin County commissioners shot down the two ideas Wednesday while expressing skepticism about nighttime use of a reopened Ruthie’s Restaurant, expansion of Buckhorn Cabin and plans that could turn the top of the mountain into an amusement park.

“It’s not really needed to have resort cabins on the mountain,” Commissioner George Newman said. “It takes away from what the ski mountain really is.

“It’s the urbanization of the mountain.”

In fact, all four commissioners said they were not in favor of the Aspen Skiing Co.’s proposal to build one or two overnight huts upslope from Ruthie’s Restaurant that would have accommodated between eight and 20 visitors each. Commissioner Patti Clapper has recused herself from discussions about the master plan because her son-in-law works on Aspen Mountain.

“Cabins don’t seem to work there,” Board Chairman Greg Poschman said. “The cabins are a non-starter at Ruthie’s.”

Poschman did say, however, that Ruthie’s Restaurant — which closed about 10 years ago — should open again.

“I’d love to see Ruthie’s open again during the day,” he said.

Skico, however, is also asking for nighttime use of a reopened Ruthie’s, which didn’t generate as much enthusiasm among board members.

Newman at first said he was opposed to any nighttime use of the restaurant because light pollution from the facility can be seen from town. However, after Poschman and Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury said they would support limited use of Ruthie’s at night for special events — such as F.I.S. races or a holiday dinner — Newman said he could compromise on the issue.

What he doesn’t want to see at Ruthie’s is nightly dinner service, Newman said.

McNicholas Kury suggested a maximum of six events a year at Ruthie’s.

As part of the master plan, Skico also has proposed a two-year trial period in which the gondola would be used to transport mountain bikes to the top of Aspen Mountain for summer downhilling.

But Newman and Poschman said they were concerned about the possibility of safety issues with other users, including people on four-wheelers and hikers. Problems are likely to come up without mountain biking-only trails similar to those at Snowmass, Newman said.

“I’m very nervous that conflicts could arise,” Poschman said. “I’m not sure if I’ll ever be comfortable with it.”

While Aspen Mountain has a few mountain bike trails that have been constructed over the years, most bikers would likely ride county roads like Summer Road, Midnight Mine or Little Annie, said Suzanne Wolff, Pitkin County assistant community development director.

McNicholas Kury said the board could re-address the mountain biking issue when and if Skico comes up with dedicated mountain biking trails.

As for the expansion of Buckhorn Cabin — a popular picnic and party spot nearly every Saturday and Sunday during ski season — commissioners asked Skico officials to rein in their plans a bit.

The master plan calls for demolishing the current 300-square-foot cabin and replacing it with a 1,000-square-foot building with bathrooms and a 2,000-square-foot deck built nearly on the ridgeline.

Poschman noted that Buckhorn’s current small size borders on inconsequential.

“It’s presently so undersized, it’s useless for any kind of shelter,” he said.

Newman suggested making the cabin 500 square feet, though Poschman thought that might not be big enough to include the bathrooms.

Mostly, Poschman said he’d like to see the building pulled back from the ridgeline and situated better.

David Corbin, Skico senior vice president, said he’d come back with a resized and resituated plan for Buckhorn.

Skico also wanted designated “rights” to construct minor structures near the gondola like bungee trampolines, climbing walls, ropes courses, challenge courses and other activities geared toward children and teens. The company also wants to reserve the right to build an alpine slide, water slides, zip lines and offer horseback riding, mountain boarding and other more significant activities under the county’s “special review” process. That means commissioners would have the ability to approve or deny those uses.

Aspen Mountain is not Snowmass, Newman said, and doesn’t have a lot of room for such activities.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate for Aspen Mountain,” he said. “You’re turning the top of Aspen Mountain into Disneyland.”

Newman suggested making all uses involving the construction of a new structures subject to special review. Corbin, however, said he’d like to come back with better details on how the low-impact uses they’re proposing would be built and situated.

Finally, there’s the issue of public access at the top of the mountain.

Skico wants to relocate Richmond Hill Road out of new ski terrain in that area called Pandora. That would require the county to give up its current right-of-way for the road and accept a new right-of-way, Corbin said. Public access to Richmond Ridge would remain, though the road would be fenced — possibly with permanent fencing — to keep mechanized traffic from skiers, he said.

The realignment is acceptable to the county’s engineering department, Corbin said.

It was not acceptable, however, to two members of the public who spoke to commissioners Wednesday.

Claude Salter, who owns a cabin on the backside of Aspen Mountain, urged commissioners to make Skico come up with a specific road plan that ensures public access.

Marcella Larsen, another Aspen Mountain property owner, said the new road is long and contributes to the urbanization of the top of the mountain. Instead of moving the road, Larsen suggested moving the top of the proposed new Pandora lift from Richmond Ridge to a point below it.

Her plan preserves public access and minimizes disturbances, Larsen said.

Commissioners will continue discussion of the Aspen Mountain master plan June 26.

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