Photo by Tom Ross
Construction crews at the Steamboat Ski Area are completing utility work and re-grading of the Stampede, Lil' Rodeo, Preview and North Headwall trails. Topsoil is being redistributed in preparation for sowing native grasses. At the same time, officials are consulting on the best way to manage dying stands of lodgepole pines that have turned some of the ski slopes orange.
Elsewhere on the lower ski slopes, Allen said, heavy equipment is completing the re-grading of the Stampede, Lil' Rodeo, Preview and North Headwall trails that was interrupted early last winter. Crews are redistributing topsoil in preparation for seeding with native grasses.
Steamboat Springs The dying lodgepole pine trees that have added a distinct band of orange and red to the lower slopes of the Steamboat Ski Area attracted a brain trust this week.
Doug Allen, vice president of mountain operations for Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp., said he met with representatives of the U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board to discuss a long-range plan for management of the dying lodgepoles. They are infested with pine beetles.
Specifically, the group took a close look at dying trees on a slope known as Rough Rider Basin and along the Thunderhead Express chairlift. They also scrutinized the condition of dying pines bordering the Right-O-Way trail.
"We'll be dealing with the effects of the devastation for the next 20 years. So I think everyone has to understand that, yes, we're reacting to the problem, but it will be a long-term prescription for managing the situation, as well," Allen said.
Kent Foster, recreation program manager with the Hahn's Peak/Bears Ears Ranger District of the Forest Service, said the meeting presented an opportunity for a philosophical discussion. Attendees talked about how to protect the public, manage forest health, meet the ski area's goals and even how to keep the portion of the forest on the ski area aesthetically pleasing in the future.
"It was a think tank," Foster said of the meeting. "Steamboat really has a lot more options than other ski areas."
That's because a significant portion of the beleaguered lodgepoles are in mixed stands of timber along with spruce, fir and aspen trees. One consideration, Foster said, is whether it is desirable to encourage recruitment of aspen trees, for example, in stands where the dying lodgepole eventually will fall down.
"Research suggests that 90 percent of the dying lodgepole will fall to the forest floor within 15 years," Foster said.
Rough Rider Basin, served by a small surface lift, currently is maintained as a place for young children to play on skis out of the traffic flow of mature skiers swooping down off Lower Concentration toward Bashor and Maverick's Super Pipe.
The Forest Service's Janet Faller, who administers the ski area's permit, would work closely with Allen's staff to identify trees that need to come down this year and those that can remain in place for another year or longer, Foster said.
It's a tricky process, he said, because removing trees can have unintended consequences. Frequently, a stand of lodgepole offers protection from the wind. Removing one or two trees can cause an unraveling of the stand. That was the case at the Hinman Campground, which the Forest Service logged last year to remove suspect trees. About 70 trees were left standing, and many of them blew down this spring, Foster said.
Another consideration is whether wholesale removal of dying trees could create the perception of new skiable terrain that could lead the public into unsafe areas, Foster said.
"It's a real head-scratcher," he said.
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