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Publications - Occasional Papers

Quality Skiing at Aspen, Colorado: A Study in Recreational Carrying Capacity

INSTAAR Occasional Paper 14

1975, 134 pp. 3 plates. (cost: $5)

Methods and guidelines are developed to determine the optimal use of ski slopes and their social carrying capacity. Emphasis is placed on the effects of crowding on users’ attitudes and behavior.

The three ski areas operated by the Aspen Skiing Corporation in Aspen, Colorado, served as the study area. From the findings of a standardized interview, users’ characteristics, motivations, satisfactions, and their evaluations of use were obtained. By placing a varied number of skiers on specific slopes, users’ behavior has been observed under all types of density situations.

Results indicate that skiers’ evaluations of use vary according to certain user characteristics, location, time, and weather and snow conditions. If the individual is under the age of thirty, has a high technical skiing ability, participates in other winter sports, or had parents that skied at any time, he feels congestion more acutely than skiers not in this group. Skiers sense more congestion on more difficult terrain and during the last two hours of the skiing day. Skiers are also aware that there is significantly lower use on Saturdays, during the first hour of the skiing day, and under some adverse snow and weather conditions.

Results also indicate that skiers feel that use on the ski slopes is within an optimal range except at Aspen Mountain during mid-February where users sense a crowded situation. However, in the near future, skiers may feel congestion at more places and for greater lengths of time, since analysis of present user characteristics and actual use trends confirm prospects for continued growth of the skiing population. In addition; the analysis of users’ behavior confirms the hypothesis that skiers avoid skiing crowded slopes.

The study concludes with recommendations for maintaining the optimum level of carrying capacity characteristic of Aspen. Incorporated into the recommendations are the conflicting constraints of community attitudes and policies on growth, U.S. Forest Service policy, and the ski slope operators’ views on growth and on restriction of use. The present method of restricting use by monetary means is reviewed in accordance with the historical view of use on public lands. Finally, specific research recommendations on recreational carrying capacity are suggested.

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