Keystone hopes to open hike-to terrain | AspenTimes.com

Keystone hopes to open hike-to terrain

Bob BerwynSummit County correspondent

SUMMIT COUNTY – Keystone is looking to open an additional 278 acres for cat skiing and hike-to access possibly as soon as this winter.”Everybody we’ve talked to says they want a little steeper and north-facing terrain,” said Chuck Tolton, Keystone’s director of mountain operations.As described in a Forest Service scoping notice, the new terrain, which the resort for now is calling Independence Bowl, would be on the upper reaches of the north aspect of Keystone Mountain (south of Erickson Bowl), as well as on the west and southwest aspects of Bear and Independence mountains, encompassing the head of the Jones Gulch drainage.The proposed skiing and snowcat activities would be within Keystone’s permitted area, mostly in alpine terrain above treeline around 11,000 feet. Snowcats would pick up guests at the Summit House or the Outpost and use established over-snow routes to access the new terrain.Tolton said the high demand for the existing cat services to Bergman, Erickson, North and South bowls shows there is plenty of need for this type of ski experience. He estimated the area would offer slightly more vertical than Bergman Bowl.Tolton said he doesn’t foresee proposing any lift construction in the bowl skiing areas, at least for the next five to seven years.”We just don’t see the business for that type of development,” he said.Instead, Tolton said he senses a demand for what he called a “backcountry-light” ski experience – hike-to access in terrain that offers a generally ungroomed skiing surface and sense of solitude and adventure.Approval this season?According to White River National Forest Supervisor Maribeth Gustafson, the agency anticipates making a decision on the plan as soon as next month under a categorical exclusion, a streamlined category of review that doesn’t require detailed environmental studies.That could change if environmental issues crop up, Newton said, referring to a lynx screening process that will determine the level of analysis to evaluate the proposal. Approving Independence Bowl cat skiing under a categorical exclusion is the fastest way for the agency and the resort to enable operations to begin this winter.If the project is deemed to have no effect on lynx, the Forest Service could quickly get a green light from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency charged with managing endangered and threatened species like lynx. If it doesn’t pass the screen, the Forest Service will hold informal consultations with the Fish and Wildlife Service, Newton said.