Steamboat Ski Area Vice President of Mountain Operations Doug Allen, right, briefs U.S. Congressman John Salazar, left, on Wednesday about the hurdles the ski area has encountered while trying to manage the pine beetle infestation.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Steamboat Ski Area Vice President of Mountain Operations Doug Allen, right, briefs U.S. Congressman John Salazar, left, on Wednesday about the hurdles the ski area has encountered while trying to manage the pine beetle infestation.

Logging to resume at Steamboat Ski Area

Trail closures expected; US Rep. Salazar discusses permit process

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Closure updates

Updated information about trail closures and detours at the Steamboat Ski Area will be available at trailheads and by calling 970-879-7300 or 970-879-6111.

— Mobilization will begin next week for logging operations that could stretch to the end of October and will cause some trail closures and detours on Mount Werner.

After waiting since June to receive a U.S. Forest Service timber permit that would allow the second phase of logging operations at Steamboat Ski Area, Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. officials received the permit Thursday allowing the work to move forward.

Doug Allen, Ski Corp.’s vice president of mountain operations, said contractor Rogue Resources will conduct this fall’s logging work. The logging will remove lodgepole pines killed by bark beetles on about 37 acres at the ski area. Allen said at about 200 trees per acre, this fall’s operation could remove as many as 8,000 trees — thereby opening up some new areas for skiing this winter.

Logging will occur on the lower Thunderhead Express lift line, Allen said, along with the nearby Rough Rider Basin and Lower Concentration trail areas. An extensive area near the base of the Burgess Creek lift also is slated for logging, as are north-facing slopes above the Bashor lift and other pockets of lodgepoles.

“It will look a lot different when it’s done, … You’ll be surprised,” Allen said about the affected areas. “It’ll be interesting to manage it because we’re actually going into some areas where we don’t have snowmaking. … It will open up some skiing, for sure.”

But the logging could close some mountain biking in late summer and fall. A Ski Corp. news release issued Thursday stated that sections of the Zig Zag and Valley View mountain bike trails would be closed to the public during logging, with detours to other trails. No closures or detours are planned for the Thunderhead hiking trail, the release stated.

Ski Corp. also reported that of the ski area’s nearly 3,000 acres, only about 250 have been affected by the bark beetle epidemic.

Permit process

Coincidentally, the permit arrived a day after U.S. Rep. John Sala­zar, D-Colo., toured Mount Wer­­­ner and heard frustrations with a slow timber permit process.

Chris Diamond, Ski Corp.’s president and chief operating officer, quickly pointed out that those frustrations did not involve the local U.S. Forest Service office or its staff, but rather the federal process they had to follow.

Allen said U.S. Forest Service regulations treated the removal of timber from public lands on Mount Werner like a timber sale.

Forest Service crews “marked and measured every tree,” Allen said, and charged Ski Corp. about $2,200 for 37 acres of dead lodgepole.

Allen said the cost for taxpayers is more concerning than the cost for Ski Corp.

“I’m concerned that they’re not even recouping the cost of measuring the trees and drawing up the contract,” Allen said. “We took the advantage with Rep. Salazar to just kind of express that we are a ski area, and we’re being good stewards of the forest and having to go through this process … may not fit the situation.”

Diamond said getting permits quickly helps the ski area ensure public safety on the slopes.

“It’s an issue of, basically, Congress recognizing that they have to somehow deal with this,” Diamond said. “I think the challenge is that the rules for making decisions about logging and entering into logging contracts never contemplated a situation like we have with the lodgepole epidemic.”

Salazar, a San Luis Valley Democrat in his third term representing the 3rd Congressional District, has had a hand in securing significant funds for regional bark beetle mitigation, including about $1 million in stimulus funds for logging that’s occurred this year on Mount Werner, in the Spring Creek area and on Emerald Mountain. Salazar is running for re-election against state Rep. Scott Tipton, a Republican businessman from Cortez.

Allen said that while this fall’s timber permit is in place, he hopes the process can be changed in the future.

“We’ll be doing this for years. This is Phase 2 of at least four or five (logging) phases that we’ll be working with,” Allen said. “Our hope would be that the next time we do this, we wouldn’t have to go through this process.”

Diamond said he thought Salazar was receptive to Ski Corp.’s concerns.

“It’s a question of what, if anything, can get accomplished in Washington these days,” Diamond said. “But he certainly understands the challenge that we face.”

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