A-Basin proposal could double terrain | AspenTimes.com

A-Basin proposal could double terrain

Bob BerwynSummit County correspondent

SUMMIT COUNTY – Although it skis much bigger than its designated 487 acres, many describe Arapahoe Basin as Summit County’s smallest ski area. But the Legend might soon be taking a giant step up the ladder, sizewise, with a now-formal proposal to expand lift-served skiing on 325 acres in Montezuma Bowl, on the back side of the area’s existing terrain.As currently envisioned, the plan would nearly double A-Basin’s skiable terrain, adding 175 acres of intermediate terrain and 149 acres of advanced and expert terrain, most likely served with a fixed-grip double or triple chair.”We think this project will address some of the congested areas we have, and it will add some fantastic skiing and riding,” said A-Basin general manager Alan Henceroth. “There’s some good stuff in Montezuma Bowl for different levels of skiers and riders, some big double-black-diamonds and some great blue cruisers,” Henceroth said, describing the potential terrain in the proposed expansion area.

The White River National Forest issued a scoping notice for the proposal Nov. 17 and will accept public comments through Jan. 6 in the first phase of evaluating the proposal. The analysis will involve a full Environmental Impact Statement, said White River National Forest supervisor Maribeth Gustafson.The proposal also calls for replacing the existing Exhibition chair with a detachable quad in a slightly modified alignment, as well as an expansion and improvements to the ski area parking lots. Relocating the top terminal of the Exhibition lift would create the space needed to build a 4,00-square-foot Midway Lodge, previously approved under A-Basin’s 1999 master plan.The proposed changes are tied to an amendment of A-Basin’s existing master development plan, said U.S. Forest Service District Ranger Rick Newton. According to Newton, the agency will approve the master plan amendments within the next few weeks, clearing the way for site-specific evaluations of the proposed parking and lift changes.A-Basin officials have been discussing the Montezuma Bowl plan for the past two years, holding preliminary talks with other federal agencies, Montezuma residents and the Snake River planning commission. Ski area experts have also been conducting snow studies in Montezuma Bowl for the past couple of years to determine the best location for a lift and trails.

Newton said those early discussions suggest the proposal can be fine-tuned and implemented with only minimal impacts to natural resources, including wetlands and wildlife. The bottom terminal of the new lift would be situated around 11,350 feet, staying above a forested landscape movement corridor important for lynx and other wildlife. Skiers and boarders willing to hike back up to the base of the lift could use some of the terrain below that terminal, according to the scoping notice.According to maps released with the scoping notice, some tree clearing would be required in Montezuma Bowl, along the lift corridor, and to create “collector trails” to funnel skiers toward the bottom lift terminal.According to the Forest Service scoping notice, the Montezuma Bowl expansion would help disperse skier traffic throughout the area, leading to a more “well-rounded recreational experience.” The scoping notice suggests A-Basin is “out of balance” with its skier-rider market, and that the new terrain would help restore that balance.The expansion is also expected to help meet the anticipated increase in skier demand over the next few years. With the Front Range population growing, the Forest Service projects that skier visitation in Colorado will increase by 800,000 by 2010, and cited a 33 percent increase in skier visits at A-Basin during the past three years as evidence for that growth.

Montezuma Bowl is designated as potential lift-served terrain under the White River National Forest plan, but has long been a favored venue for lift-accessed backcountry skiing and riding. Backcountry enthusiasts often use a car shuttle to ski and ride the terrain, leaving one vehicle parked along Montezuma Road and then using the area’s existing lifts to reach the top of Montezuma Bowl.Backcountry enthusiasts appealed that section of the forest plan, citing a cumulative loss of easily accessible and lift-accessed backcountry skiing in Summit County from a variety of factors, including snowcat skiing at Keystone and a new lift to the top of Peak 8 in Breckenridge.The appeal was denied, but Newton, a backcountry enthusiast himself, said he is sensitive to those concerns. Before approving the cat skiing operation at Keystone, for example, he invited backcountry skiers to help shape the proposal and held a winter tour of the area.Similarly, Newton acknowledged that the Montezuma Bowl plan will have an impact on backcountry use. But he said some backcountry skiing opportunities will be preserved in the general area. That could potentially involve relocating the existing backcountry access point near the top of the Norway lift, he said, explaining that one possibility is to add a second access point somewhere along the ridge. One of the new access points would be aimed at providing access more to the west of the new lift-served terrain in Montezuma Bowl, down along the ridge leading toward the Beavers and points beyond, while the second access point could provide a gateway to terrain east of Montezuma Bowl, including Thurman Gulch.But backcountry access issues are unlikely to crop up as significant issues as the proposal progresses through planning, at least based on informal input the ski area has received so far, Henceroth said.”People have overwhelmingly told us they’re excited about this and that they want us to do it,” Henceroth said. “I’m curious to see what the public response will be in the scoping,” he concluded.An increase in parking capacity at A-Basin is necessary to meet existing demand and the new demand that could result from the terrain expansion, Newton said. The ski area could create 331 new spots by widening and regrading several of the existing lots, upping parking by 23 percent, according to the scoping notice. In conjunction with the parking improvements, the ski area would create a series of sediment detention ponds along the west edge of the parking areas, parallel to the highway, to help address an erosion control issue around the ski area base that has the potential to result in some unwanted discharges into the pristine waters of the North Fork, among the cleanest Snake River tributaries.At the same time, the Forest Service and ski area hope to increase the safety of pedestrian highway crossings from the parking lots to the lifts, with better sight distances, reduced vehicle speeds, more signs, flashing lights and defined crosswalks. A proposed underpass approved in the area’s existing master plan, will also be reassessed.

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