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Keystone plans new trails, lifts

Bob Berwyn
Summit County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
Mark Fox/Summit DailySummit County building inspector Tim Boucher, center, is flanked by Scott Yule, left, and Erik Roslund as they work in the gondola terminal at the base of Keystone's River Run Wednesday, performing load tests and inspections on the new gondola.
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KEYSTONE, Colo. ” The new River Run gondola is just the first step in a slew of mountain projects planned for Keystone, Vail Resorts executives said this week at a meeting of the Keystone Citizens League.

The resort plans to add:

– A new lift from the Ski Tip area up the east side of the mountain;

– New lifts in Bergmann Bowl and Independence Bowl replacing current cat-skiing operations;

– A replacement of the Wayback chair;

– New trails on the front side, as well as on North Peak and the Outback.

Keystone last updated its master plan with the U.S. Forest Service in the mid-1980s, so the resort now is ready to lay out conceptual lay plans for new lifts and trails, said Doug Lovell, head of mountain operations.

The improvements listed are for a projected 10-year span, though Lovell said it’s not likely the resort implement all the projects.

“Hopefully, we’ll implement the first projects in the summer of 2010,” Lovell said.

A Ski Tip lift was in the works several years ago, touted as a new portal for the resort close to a planned satellite parking area along Montezuma Road.

But critics said the chair was primarily designed to serve a small high-end residential development, and that development in that part of the resort could encroach on an important wildlife-movement corridor. The resort ultimately withdrew the proposal.

“There are valid concepts for improvements,” Lovell said, explaining the projects need would need approval from the Forest Service after site-specific studies and environmental analyses.

High on the list of priorities are improvements to front-side trails, Lovell said.

The new gondola, set to open Nov. 7, will double the uphill capacity from the River Run base, so Keystone will consider adding a Spring Dipper bypass to create more green terrain and a better skier flow on the east side of the mountain.

A Schoolmarm bypass would allow intermediate-level skiers to access favored front-side cruisers like Wild Irishman and Paymaster without mingling with beginners on Schoolmarm, Lovell said.

Eventually, the resort wants to replace the Argentine Chair, incorporating a midway unloading station and new trail access from the top down the backside of the mountain. Lovell said. That could help ease congestion on Mozart, the primary access trail to the backside.

A new lift in Bergman Bowl would give Keystone some above-treeline skiing and open up new terrain for people who are intimidated by North Peak and the Outback, according to Lovell.

The Bergman Bowl project would also include new trails extending down to the Outpost area, Lovell said.

A lift in Independence Bowl is also on the conceptual drawing board, replacing the resort’s snowcat operation in that area.

Various other improvements are also being considered for Keystone’s backside, including more chairs on the existing Outback lift to up capacity, a surface lift to the Windows area (not a high priority, according to Lovell) and new trails and glading.

A comprehensive vegetation-management plan is also part of the picture.

“We’re always hearing people ask: ‘What are you going to do about the pine beetle?'” said Keystone vice president and chief operating officer Pat Campbell. “We literally counted every tree on the mountain last summer.”

The goal is not only to determine what to do with beetle-killed trees, but how to plan for reforestation and encourage regrowth. That includes trying to figure out how to manage north-facing slopes, where stands of mature spruce trees are threatened by a new insect invasion, Campbell said.

About 170 new residential units are planned for the base area around River Run as part of the proposal.

“The new gondola sets a benchmark for Keystone. As a real-estate guy, it increases the value of the real estate sitting next to it,” said Alex Iskenderian, vice president of development for Vail Resorts.

But the timing is up in the air, pending economic developments, Iskenderian acknowledged.

“When are we going to get into sales and marketing? We need to make sure we get it right, with this economy,” Iskenderian said.

The first phase of the One River Run project is still on track, with 95 percent of the design work complete and county site-plan approvals in place, Iskenderian said. Some infrastructure work was done in conjunction with the gondola project, he added.

The first phase of the development on what is now the 4.8-acre Hunki Dori parking lot would include about 66 units managed as a high-end Rock Resorts brand property, along with resort support services like ski school and rentals.

In what could be a test of the market, Vail Resorts may roll out some sales and marketing materials as soon as this winter, Iskenderian said, asking the Keystone Citizens League to “help … build the hype.”

On the Mountain House side, Iskenderian said that, when Vail Resorts sought county approval for a redistribution of existing development rights, the company got more than it bargained for.

“We were asking for what I thought were minor adjustments to the master plan. The county said, while you’re here, let’s talk about affordable housing. I hoped we could avoid that discussion, because we have a solid affordable-housing plan,” Iskenderian said, slapping a fist into his palm for emphasis.

“It slowed the (approval) process, but we will be getting back to the county soon,” Iskenderian said.

bberwyn@summitdaily.com


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