Timetable for ski area projects uncertain

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Of all the projects listed in the update to the Steamboat Ski Area's master plan, nothing is more urgent than replacing the "antiquated" Burgess Creek double chairlift.

"I have a letter from the Forest Service in my file that gives us permission to replace it next summer provided we can come up with the funding," said Doug Allen, Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. Senior Director of Mountain Operations. "If it keeps snowing, and people keep skiing," the project could go forward next summer.

However, the case of the Burgess Creek chairlift is singular when compared to the many improvements envisioned in the amended master plan. Those projects range from replacing four small chairlifts at the base of the mountain with one, six-place detachable quad chairlift, to building a new restaurant in Sunshine Bowl.

An enabling environmental assessment already is complete for Burgess Creek, which is 34 years old and serves a key role in moving hungry skiers to the restaurants at Thunderhead during the noon hour. The nearby Tower trail has been altered to accommodate a new triple chairlift, and Allen has done some of the necessary engineering.

Other projects, such as replacing the Sunshine chairlift with a detachable quad, are further out in the five- to seven-year term of the revised master plan, Allen said. The plan was unveiled before the Steamboat Springs City Council on Jan. 6. It is not so much a firm Ski Corp. plan as it is a way to alert the Forest Service to what the future may hold, Allen added.

"If we decided we were going to do the Sunshine lift, for example," Allen said, "if we had Forest Service approval, it would still be two years out, so we've go to be well ahead of the game."

Some of the projects contained in the amended plan also were in the 1993 plan and have been carried over. Many are conceptual in nature. Allen said Phase Two of the plan calls for increasing the capacity of the existing Thunderhead Express chairlift from 2,400 skiers per hour to 2,800. However, the engineering needed to accomplish that goal has not been undertaken, and Allen said he doesn't know whether it could be accomplished by simply adding more chairs, or whether it would be necessary to increase the speed of the lift.

Another conceptual plan calls for relocating the NASTAR race-course out of the Bashor area to create more room for expansion of the terrain park. The master plan indicates NASTAR could be moved to Lower Concentration. And, Allen said, Lower Concentration has the right gradient to host the race course. But no firm decision has been made to move the race-course to that trail. It could easily end up somewhere else.

The scope of work in the plan is spread out over five phases. The phases imply more than just priorities, Allen said. The projects in Phase Two, for example, are there because Allen and Ski Corp. President Chris Diamond thought it would be feasible to accomplish them in one or two years. They are grouped to be manageable in terms of completing an environmental impact statement, Allen said.

Tackling a single EIS for the entire master plan would result in a document that would need to last for seven to 10 years, Allen said. Experience has taught the ski industry that changing technology would render a portion of one massive EIS moot, wasting energy and money.

Instead of that approach, Steamboat will pursue an EIS for each phase.

Phase Two includes removing the Headwall and two Christie chairlifts to be replaced with a single "six-pack" chairlift that would run to the top of the Christie Summit, with an intermediate stop near the top of Headwall.

The network of smaller chairlifts at the bottom of the mountain has evolved, Allen said, and the result is clutter where skiers leave the mountain at the end of the day.

"That's one thing we really suffer from at the base," Allen said. "Those chairs take up a great deal of space, creating unused triangles" of available snow. "My goal is to open it up. It would give us a lot of opportunity to do a lot of things."

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