BLM is chilly to ski hill in Basalt
A proposal for a community ski hill in Basalt has run into a hurdle as formidable as warm temperatures and rain in March.
The idea has received a chilly – although informal – reception from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
“The BLM has told the Basalt snow sports organization to basically – pffttt,” Basalt Mayor Rick Stevens told the Town Council this week. “We’ve hit a little bit of a roadblock.”
Community residents have been exploring the idea of establishing a ski and sledding hill behind Basalt High School. The proposal features a 700-foot lift and a slope with 150 vertical feet. It would include a half-pipe for snowboard riders and freestyle skiers, practice racing gates, tubing runs, a skating pond and links to nearby cross-country ski trails.
Snowmaking would be necessary to keep the area usable for a worthwhile amount of time.
An ad hoc committee of citizens who support the idea have started raising money for a survey and title search of the land. It is believed that some amount of public land administered by the BLM would be needed to make the idea work.
Anne Huebner, field manager of the BLM’s Glenwood Springs office, stressed she hasn’t seen any formal proposal for use of public land for the ski hill. If she does, she will express several concerns, she said.
“We would not get in the ski business in this area very lightly,” she said. “We would have to have an awful lot of questions answered.”
Her first concern is appropriateness of use of public lands. “How does it serve the American public?” asked Huebner.
She said the idea has been pitched as a way to provide Basalt youth with something productive to do. “Is something like that really going to keep them off the street?” Huebner asked.
She also expressed concerns about the economic feasibility of the project and the use of water for snowmaking. Snowmaking at ski areas within the public lands of the White River National Forest has been controversial, she noted.
The BLM would have to consider whether a public skiing facility should be established on public lands when viable alternatives already exist at the Aspen Skiing Co.’s four ski areas, as well as at Sunlight Mountain Resort near Glenwood Springs.
The existing ski areas offer “great” programs for youth at reasonable prices, Huebner said. She noted that small mom-and-pop ski areas have been driven out of business in recent years and find it difficult to survive.
Proponents have said the Basalt ski hill’s ambition isn’t to compete with the Skico, but to give kids an alternative they could use during the week, when traveling to Aspen or Snowmass isn’t feasible. The ski hill would be a low-key operation, probably run by a nonprofit organization or folded into the town’s recreation program.
Town officials have suggested they may apply political pressure to get the BLM’s cooperation. Huebner said she needs more specifics before she take an official position.
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