Ski area plans new chairlift

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Steamboat Ski Area officials envision building new lifts, a restaurant atop Sunshine Peak and improvements for beginning skiers and snowboarders. But first, the public gets a say about the potential environmental consequences of those changes.

The clock began ticking Tuesday on the public's 30-day opportunity to comment about the ski area's new five-year master plan. Most of the ski area's facilities are on the Routt National Forest, so the plan is under public review.

Go to www.fs.fed.us/r2/... and click on the "Special uses and permits" link. The Steamboat Ski Area will be at the top of the list. Click on the "Formal comment period" link to reach a document describing the revised master plan that is called the pre-EA mailing.

Write to Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests at: 925 Weiss Drive, Steamboat Springs, CO 80487-9315

For more information, call Janet Faller at 870-2174.

The plan envisions a new six-pack chairlift at the base of Headwall ski run, more potential for on-mountain dining and realignment of several existing trails, among many other improvements. If built, the cumulative result would be an increase in the ski area's "comfortable carrying capacity" by about 8 percent over its current capacity of 12,340 skiers a day, said Janet Faller, snow ranger with the Hahn's Peak/Bears Ears Ranger District. Faller said the carrying capacity is calculated using a complex formula, and the U.S. Forest Service expects the ski area to exceed its technical carrying capacity a certain number of days every season.

People and groups interested in the new master plan have until Dec. 22 to comment in writing about the ski area's amended master development plan.

The public comment period is part of the review of the plan under the National Environmental Policy Act. Only people who make "substantive" comments during the 30-day period will have standing to administratively appeal the decision on the plan, which will be made by Deputy Forest Supervisor Diane Chung.

Faller said people interested in commenting should review the plan summary on the Internet, then focus their comments on proposed actions contained in the plan and the range of alternatives described.

Although the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. anticipates many capital projects in the plan, their inclusion is not the same thing as the ski area making a firm decision to undertake individual construction projects. Ski area President Chris Diamond has said that step would depend on annual capital budgets gaining approval from Steamboat's parent company, American Skiing Co.

One of the most dramatic changes anticipated in the amended master plan calls for replacing four small chairlifts at the base of the mountain with one, six-person detachable chairlift. Potentially, Headwall, South Face and both Christie chairlifts could be replaced by the "six-pack" lift. One of the Christie lifts could be left to serve competition venues on the See Me and Vertigo ski trails.

During a public information meeting in January 2004, Vice President of Mountain Oper--ations Doug Allen said the six-pack chairlift would address two high priorities at the ski area.

Allen and his colleagues said they thought the ski area needs to streamline the number of chairlifts skiers must ride to avoid long gondola lines during peak holiday weeks. The six-pack would accomplish that by replacing the need for skiers and snowboarders to ride two slower chairs to get to the Christie Summit and move on to the Thunderhead Express.

Replacing the older lifts would free the Headwall slope from a gaggle of chairlift towers, opening up more room for beginner slopes. Headwall would be substantially regraded to make it friendlier to beginners. The goal is to improve the retention of new skiers and snowboarders, Allen said.

The revised master plan envisions a modest expansion of the dining facilities at the Four Points Hut and construction of another small dining facility, similar to the one at Four Points, at the top of the Sunshine Chairlift.

The plan doesn't ignore summer operations on the mountain -- it includes plans to develop additional mountain biking and hiking trails.

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