Ski Corp. unveils changes

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Replacing four lifts at the bottom of Mount Werner with one six-seat chairlift was at the top of the list of projects the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. presented to the City Council on Tuesday.

Ski Corp. President Chris Diamond came before the council to discuss projects proposed as part of the ski area's master plan update. The U.S. Forest Service requires the plan to be updated every five to seven years.

Ski area representatives talked about improving lifts, changing terrain to accommodate beginning skiers, expanding snowmaking and remodeling the gondola base area.

The council was the first group to hear the conceptual ideas for the master plan amendment as the ski area begins its public outreach program. Over the next two months, Ski Corp. plans to meet with seven more groups to gain feedback on the amendment.

One of the largest elements of the plan is a proposal to remove the Headwall, Christie II and III and Southface lifts and replace them with a "six pack," detachable lift to the top of where the Christie lifts run. Detachable lifts are faster than lifts permanently attached to the cable.

The new lift would help ease traffic going into the gondola on busy days or when the gondola is closed because of wind. It also would address the cluttered appearance of the bottom of the ski area, Diamond said.

The new lift would allow skiers and riders to get off at a midway point, about where the Southface lift ends, or continue to the top of the Christie lift area.

Doug Allen, Ski Corp.'s senior director of mountain operations, said it takes 9 minutes to ride up to Thunderhead Lodge via the gondola, while the alternative way of reaching the lodge -- going up Headwall, down to the Christie lifts, up Christie and down to Thunderhead Express -- could take as long as 40 minutes.

Diamond said Ski Corp. is considering whether one of the Christie lifts should remain to accommodate ski races.

Ski Corp. also is considering grading the bottom of the ski area to accommodate teaching areas, which would save the company from using manmade snow to create teachable terrain.

The proposed master plan amendments also include creating an easier run around what Allen called Tomahawk's "steep, scary part." Tomahawk is an intermediate run that skiers and snowboarders often progress to after leaving the lower part of the mountain.

The run would go around the top of Tomahawk and connect back to High Noon, allowing skiers and riders to avoid the Sunshine chair lift and ski directly to Rendezvous Saddle. The Sunshine lift also may be upgraded to a high-speed, detachable quad chair under the master plan amendments.

The amendment includes plans to civilize the ski area's Pioneer Ridge expansion by widening the Longhorn and Middle Rib runs and adding snowmaking to Longhorn and Crux. Eventually, the ski area plans to have summer grooming for Middle Rib and Fool's Gold, which would facilitate winter grooming.

"(Pioneer Ridge) was designed as a more natural skiing area with less grooming, less snowmaking. We learned several years later that is not what people wanted," Allen said.

Snowmaking operations are also proposed for Lower High Noon, Daybreak and the top of Tomahawk. Although Steamboat is known for its snow, Diamond said making snow adds the moisture needed to keep runs snow-covered in heavily traveled and wind-blown areas.

Diamond also talked about improvements to the base of the gondola. More than $250,000 already has been spent on architectural drawings of upgrades to the outside of the storefronts and Ski Corp. buildings in Gondola Square.

City Councilman Ken Brenner asked Diamond if Ski Corp. has looked at how much the proposed improvements would cost. Diamond said the company does not have a solid number. Earlier in the meeting, he said the industry seems to be shifting away from a downward slide in skier days.

The ski area operates largely on land managed by the Forest Service, under a special use permit. In 1993, the master plan was adopted; an amendment was approved in 1996. Once an amendment is approved, it lays the foundation for on-mountain development in the next five to seven years, Ski Corp. officials said.

Federal regulations require the amendment to undergo public review through the National Environmental Policy Act.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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