Feds approve Burnt Mountain expansion plan
The U.S. Forest Service ruled yesterday that the Aspen Skiing Co.’s proposal to use more of Burnt Mountain doesn’t pose significant impacts and doesn’t require an extensive environmental review.Aspen District Ranger Bill Westbrook approved the Skico’s plan to add about 500 acres of “semi-backcountry skiing” on Burnt Mountain east of the Long Shot trail.The decision also clears the way for the Skico to build a new six-passenger, high-speed chairlift from the base of Fanny Hill to the top of Sam’s Knob, and replace the antiquated Sheer Bliss lift with a modern model.All three proposals were previously approved by the federal agency in the Snowmass Ski Area master plan and its amendments, so this decision was largely a formality.However, the Skico’s desire to use more of Burnt Mountain still sparked controversy. When the Forest Service collected public comments about the plan, a handful of people objected that the project would ruin the backcountry feel of Burnt Mountain.No lifts serve that part of the ski area. Skiers and riders must hike a short distance from Elk Camp to ski there. Other parts of the mountain, deeper in the woods, are popular with backcountry skiers and riders.The Skico has cleared one trail, Long Shot. The additional terrain would be east of that trail. A traverse will take users back to the Two Creeks lift.One critic of the plan to use more of Burnt Mountain said clearing another trail and partially clearing other terrain “will just result in the area turning into a long mogul field.”The Forest Service said it supported greater utilization of Burnt Mountain, which is within the ski area boundary. The agency said it adds a different type of terrain at Snowmass.”While the skiing terrain in the Burnt Mountain POD will never truly be ‘backcountry’ terrain, such as the many acres of skiing in the Aspen area outside of ski area boundaries, it does have the potential to provide a ‘semi-backcountry’ type of experience that involves a short hike, as well as a predominant ‘un-groomed’ and ‘natural’ snow condition,” the Forest Service said.”The Long Shot trail is so popular and receives so much use that it occasionally is groomed to cover bare spots so that it can be skied for the entire season. This situation would be alleviated to some extent with the addition of another cleared ski trail, which would result in lower skier densities on just one trail,” the agency continued.The Forest Service also received comments raising concerns about the project’s impact on wildlife. The Colorado Division of Wildlife noted that Burnt Mountain is within an elk migration corridor.The Forest Service responded by saying the comment was not “substantive” and did not have a bearing on the decision to be made. The federal agency noted that the Skico didn’t propose to use Burnt Mountain in the fall, when elk migrate through the area, or in spring, when it is used for elk calving. Trail use on Burnt Mountain is typically restricted until the third week of June.Westbrook’s decision said he will require the Skico to hire an adequate number of seasonal employees or pay for extra forest ranger patrols to make sure the restriction is honored.Skico planner Victor Gerdin said the new Sam’s Knob chairlift will be built this year. The Sheer Bliss lift replacement and the Burnt Mountain work could come as early as 2006, pending business next winter and capital improvement funds, he said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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