Forest Service seeking feedback on improvements slated for Steamboat Ski Area | SteamboatToday.com

Forest Service seeking feedback on improvements slated for Steamboat Ski Area

A barn along River Road has seen better days, but the window makes a perfect frame for the snow-covers ski runs of Steamboat Ski Area, which can be seen in the background.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Steamboat Ski Area is primed to make significant improvements by expanding terrain and adding lifts, and members of the public are again being asked to submit their feedback.

Getting permission to make improvements on land owned by the U.S. Forest Service is a lengthy and expensive process that ramped up in August 2016 with an open house outlining the ski area's vision, which is laid out in their 2011 master plan.

Now, the public has the opportunity to comment on the draft environmental impact statement.

The 390-page document, referred to as the draft EIS, is exhaustive and analyzes everything from the impacts on raptors to the emissions that will be created by increased vehicular traffic.

To decrease congestion at the base area, the ski area wants to move ski school operations up the mountain to the Bashor Bowl area. They also want to expand terrain in the Pioneer Ridge area.

"These are the two projects that we thought we could accomplish in a five- to 10-year time frame," said Jim Schneider, the ski area's vice president of skier services.

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The combined improvements would represent the biggest investment in recent history.

A new lift would be installed to service 355 acres at Pioneer Ridge that are currently accessed through backcountry gates. A bridge and skiway would be built to guide skiers back to the BC Ski Way trail.

Improvements at the adjacent Pony Express area would include snowmaking and a new trail to bring skiers to the Storm Peak Express lift.

The second main project area aims to create more beginner terrain and relocate ski school operations to the Rough Rider and Bashor Bowl areas.

A new gondola at the base area would take beginner skiers to the Rough Rider Learning Center. A new restaurant would be built, and a new lift would replace the existing Bashor lift. The plan calls for removing the Mavericks Superpipe currently located in the Bashor area.

The improvements have been on the ski area's wish list for years, and there is renewed optimism that the company's new owners will fund them.

"I feel like with the purchase, there is more emphasis to implement them than there was with the old owner," Forest Service District Ranger Chad Stewart said.

A final environmental impact statement is expected by July.

"Until the environmental impact statement is approved, we cannot commit to anything," Schneider said.

Snow Engineering based out Frisco was hired as the contractor to do the analysis.

"The ski area is paying for it, but the contractor is working for us," Stewart said.

The 45-day comment period for the draft EIS runs through March 5.

The Forest Service plans to publish the final EIS with a draft decision in May.

There will then be another 45-day objection period. Only those people who previously submitted comments have legal standing to file an objection.

The EIS process could be completed by July, which will then allow the ski area to move forward with construction plans.

Schneider said work could begin as early as the summer of 2019.

The draft EIS can be found at https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=48246.

Comments can be submitted electronically at https://cara.ecosystem-management.org/Public/CommentInput?Project=48246.

Written comments can also be mailed to Russell Bacon, c/o Erica Dickerman, Project Leader, 2468 Jackson Street, Laramie, WY, 82070.

When submitting comments, the Forest Service asks that people specify facts, concerns or issues, and supporting reasons for officials to consider.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland.