Forest Service Upholds Aspen Policy

The Forest Service supervisor of the White River National Forest has decided to continue approving the snowboard ban on Aspen Mountain.

Supervisor Martha Ketelle issued a press release earlier this summer saying, “The Forest Service concurs with the decision made by Aspen Skiing Company (SkiCo) regarding mountain operations.”

Ketelle and members of her staff had indicated earlier that they might not approve the ski area's required annual operating plan if SkiCo didn't put forward a strong rationale for the ban. The agency called SkiCo and asked for a meeting on the topic.

Safety and operational concerns were not considered a sufficient rationale for the ban, the Forest Service said, because Aspen Mountain is open to all riders when it's the only one of the four Aspen/Snowmass ski areas open–typically early or late in the season.

Ketelle had received two recent letters from local riders complaining about the ban and one of the riders was threatening to file a lawsuit over the ban.

The release came the day after a meeting with SkiCo CEO Pat O'Donnell, COO John Norton, and SkiCo in-house counsel Dave Bellack.

In the Forest Service release, Ketelle gave some indication what was discussed at the meeting.

She wrote: “The overall management of the four mountains by SkiCo offers an outstanding experience to both skiers and snowboarders. SkiCo focuses on terrain opportunities and special events for snowboarding at three of its mountains.

“Its policy is to allow both skiing and snowboarding at all times on at least one of the four mountains. On an acreage basis, 88 percent of the terrain on the four mountains is open to snowboards. Letters and comments received by SkiCo substitute sic a significant user group that prefers a 'skier-only' experience. Aspen Mountain has a high-use rate throughout the season without the addition of snowboarders; this contributes to the decision to continue to allow skiing only.”

The Aspen Times reported after the announcement that CEO Pat O'Donnell said the no-rider policy may not be forever and will still be reviewed on an annual basis.

“We never said this ban would be forever,” he told the Times' John Colson. “The market changes. I've just got to take it one season at a time.”–Brent Gardner Smith