Skico shelves expansion for this winter
The Aspen Skiing Co. won’t add skiable terrain on Burnt Mountain next winter, according to company officials.A plan to add terrain east of the existing Long Shot trail has been shelved for at least one year because of complications involving designated roadless areas within the White River National Forest, according to Victor Gerdin, mountain planner with the Skico.The Skico intended to clear some trees off of about 200 acres of Burnt Mountain to expand the “semi-backcountry experience” created by Long Shot. That’s an ungroomed trail that takes skiers and riders through thick woods and open glades along the edge of the resort. The Skico’s plan required expansion of a traverse that leads skiers and riders out of the woods and into the lift-serviced part of Snowmass.The Skico decided not to pursue the plan this summer after the U.S. Forest Service ruled more study was required before the Skico could thin trees on 75 acres within the project area, including part of the traverse.About 75 acres of inventoried roadless area overlap with the Snowmass Ski Area permit boundary – the area the Forest Service previously deemed appropriate for skiing.Ironically, Skico and Forest Service officials say that overlap exists because of a snafu in the federal agency’s mapping process. Gerdin said the Skico voluntarily offered a few years ago to remove about 75 acres within its ski area permit boundary because it was elk habitat. In return, the Forest Service added 75 acres elsewhere on Burnt Mountain to the permit boundary.After that swap occurred, the Forest Service was supposed to adjust the boundary of an inventoried roadless area to match the readjusted ski area permit boundary. The mapping change never happened, Gerdin said. Dan Hormaechea, planning director with the White River National Forest, acknowledged the Forest Service’s oversight in the mapping.It is uncertain if the Forest Service is going to undertake the process necessary to make the change.Meanwhile, a different process could change the status of the roadless area. The Colorado ski industry successfully lobbied the state roadless task force to recommend that 8,000 acres lose their roadless distinction because they are within ski area permit boundaries. Gov. Bill Owens will review the task force recommendation, then forward it to the federal government.Gerdin said the Skico is monitoring that process but suspects it could take years to resolve.Even if the roadless issue is resolved, the Skico still faces somewhat of a public relations tussle over its Burnt Mountain plan. A group of backcountry skiing enthusiasts wants to prevent the company from using more of Burnt Mountain and preserve their more low-key experience.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com.