Until the Silver Queen gondola was installed at the base of Aspen Mountain in 1986, the primary way to access the steep glades and lengthy groomers above town had been a few blocks away at the south end of Aspen Street. For four decades, this was the hub of a ski area that grew into one of the most famous in the world. Lift 1, a single chair installed in 1946, was said to be the longest on the planet, ascending 2,550 vertical feet. People stayed and partied at the Skier's Chalet, Aspen's first ski-in/ski-out property that had been built right at the base of the lift.
The old single was eventually replaced by a double—Lift 1A—in 1971. And by the time the gondola came around, this area of Aspen settled into a reminder of the town's funky, counterculture past. Lift 1A is slow, rarely crowded, and even peaceful as it glides up over mogul fields and aspen trees. Young and old skiers alike stitch lines through the trees and sneak through hidden stashes. The locals living in the Skier's Chalet—converted to low-rent apartments nearly a decade ago—give off a slightly different vibe than the fur-clad, Gucci-wearing skiers sunning themselves on the deck at the Ajax Tavern, next to the gondola.
“The development of this area of town has always been imminent…but you can bet that we'll be enjoying the last of the glory days with earnest, and Aspen's freaky side will never truly be snuffed out. We'll just have to find a new spot to party."
Though it has long been suspected that this area would someday be redeveloped into what has become a predictable outcome at most big ski resorts (i.e. sky’s the limit on luxury and expense), those wheels were set in motion this week. First, the Aspen Times reports that FIS is demanding Aspen Ski Company to replace Lift 1A prior to the World Cup Finals, slated to be held here in March 2017. And second, from the same newspaper, the historic Skier's Chalet was sold to a new owner for $22 million.
"It will undoubtedly be a sad day when these Aspen relics are gone for good," says Pat Sewell, a Chalet tenant since 2008. "The Skier's Chalet and the old 1A chair represent the last vestiges of Aspen's funky side. The development of this area of town has always been imminent…but you can bet that we'll be enjoying the last of the glory days with earnest, and Aspen's freaky side will never truly be snuffed out. We'll just have to find a new spot to party."
It's unknown at this time what plans the new owners have for the property. But the previous owners had rights from the town to build a large hotel, free-market units, underground parking, as well as affordable housing. But whether it's FIS dictating a new lift or developers turning the page on history, it's safe to say that Aspen's original base area will soon be changed forever.