Snowcat skiing in works for Coal Basin | AspenTimes.com

Snowcat skiing in works for Coal Basin

Joel Stonington
Aspen, CO Colorado

REDSTONE ” The U.S. Forest Service and the owners of the Redstone Inn are drawing up preliminary plans for snowcat skiing in Coal Basin, with hopes to operate by the 2008-09 ski season.

With an area larger than Vail Ski Area, Coal Basin was brought into the public domain as one of the largest land trades in Forest Service history. In earlier Forest Service master plans, Coal Basin was slated to be a ski area, but that was taken out in the most recent master plan.

“Due to input from folks in Redstone, we put in an allowance for limited motorized use, with the thought that it might facilitate powder cat skiing,” Forest Service spokesman Jim Stark said.

Debbie Strom, general manager and partner of the Redstone Inn, said she has been working on the idea for more than a decade. Stark began the Pine Creek Cookhouse and ran it for three years back in the early 1970s before moving to Redstone.

“We’re in a unique situation ,having different revenue stream at the Redstone Inn, so we don’t need it to be a huge money-maker,” said Strom. “For us, it would put us on the winter sports map, which could be vital for Redstone and our economic viability. We can’t be any busier in the summer, but we couldn’t be any quieter in the winter.”

Coal Basin is already a somewhat popular spot for backcountry skiing, but the three-mile hike into the base area makes it a long day. Strom pictures a yurt base area where people could ride in on the cat for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and backcountry access.

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Stark has made some trips into the area and said the backcountry skiing is excellent, good enough that he said the helicopter skiing would probably be great. Though people have pitched the idea in past years, Stark said it’s not a possibility today.

“The Redstone Inn folks are not interested in helicopter skiing,” Stark said. “They feel it wouldn’t have much support from the locals. You say helicopters and people wake up pretty quick. One or two snowcats and it’s probably not as big a deal.”

Even the snowcat skiing is a good long way from happening. Stark said they have not even gotten to the environmental analysis and process for public input, though if a viable business plan is submitted, those would be the next steps.

For now, Strom is focused on bringing tourist dollars into Redstone during the winter. She said it isn’t all that important making money on the skiing so long as people are visiting and beginning to see the advantages of winter in Redstone.

“We would start very small and move forward with baby steps,” Strom said. “I see it as being low-key, a little more primitive, not slick Aspen.”