SkiCo working to boost cell phone coverage at ski areas

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Cell service is available in many, but not all spots on the Aspen Skiing Co.'s four mountains. This spot, on Bell Mountain, has pretty good service.

Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Cell service is available in many, but not all spots on the Aspen Skiing Co.'s four mountains. This spot, on Bell Mountain, has pretty good service.

Aspen Skiing Co. is working on a comprehensive plan to install cell phone antennas and data service equipment at various locations on its four ski areas and related base areas, according to David Corbin, SkiCo’s vice president of planning.

“That process probably will be two years in the making from now until implementation, because we’ve got a fairly complicated plan to put in place,” Corbin said. “We likewise will have to go through permitting with the city, in the county, with the Forest Service and with the Town of Snowmass Village for the various components” of the plan.

SkiCo is working closely with American Tower Corp. to develop its comprehensive plan and hopes to have it complete in six to 12 months.

“If there is one area where we get customer comments or complaints, it’s really on the subject of ‘Can I get more cell service on the mountain, or at such-and-such a restaurant?” Corbin said. “We hear constantly, ‘Give me more connection while I am here on vacation.’”

Corbin outlined the company’s plans to the Pitkin County commissioners on Wednesday.

In turn, the commissioners encouraged SkiCo to work closely with county staff on its efforts to find a way to fill in cell-service dead spots in the upper valley, such as the Maroon Bells parking area or up toward Independence Pass, for public safety reasons.

“I think it would be great if we continue to see involvement with Pitkin County at so many levels as you develop your master plan,” said Commissioner Rachel Richards, who added that better cell service would bring up the quality of the resort as a whole.

County staffers also are talking with American Tower Corp. about the best ways to improve mobile communications throughout the county, including in the narrow Crystal River valley above Carbondale.

SkiCo was primarily in front of the commissioners seeking permission to leave cell phone and wireless equipment in place at the base of the Buttermilk ski area that was originally put up on a temporary basis for the X Games in January.

The equipment was supposed to be taken down by Feb. 9, but SkiCo applied to leave it up.

On Wednesday, the commissioners quickly and unanimously granted SkiCo and SpectraSite Communications, LLC, an affiliate of American Tower, permission to leave the equipment in place.

The county approved a new ski area master plan for Buttermilk in November and “communication transmission sites” are an approved use in the plan.

The cell-phone antennas on the roof of the rental building are 21.5 inches tall and are hidden from view behind 2-foot-tall square frames covered in green canvas.

As a result, it appears as if there are only two dark green boxes on two corners of the roof of the dark green building.

“It is really not very noticeable,” Lance Clarke, the county’s assistant director of community development told the commissioners.

Corbin said SkiCo intends to re-develop the rental building at the base of Buttermilk within two to five years and by then, the current cell-phone antennas on the roof will likely no longer be needed.

Editor’s note: This story was done in collaboration with the Aspen Daily News, which published it on Thursday, March 27, 2013.

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