Forest Service approves Skico’s proposed expansion of Snowmass snowmaking system | AspenTimes.com

Forest Service approves Skico’s proposed expansion of Snowmass snowmaking system

A mid-mountain snowmaking expansion at Snowmass Ski Area was approved by the U.S. Forest Service on Monday.

The White River National Forest supervisor's office announced that it issued a draft decision notice approving the expansion of the Snowmass snowmaking system by 33 additional acres primarily in the Alpine Springs section. The agency performed an Environmental Assessment on the proposal.

The expanded system will cover the Lodgepole and Lunkerville trails as well as Adam's Avenue, which serves as a skier and rider highway from the top of the Elk Camp Gondola to the Snowmass Village Mall.

Currently, there is snowmaking capability on 256 acres at Snowmass, which spans 3,332 acres.

It's the second snowmaking expansion approved for Aspen Skiing Co. in the past three weeks. The forest supervisor's office approved a 53-acre expansion of the snowmaking system at Aspen Mountain last month.

Both draft decision notices are subject to the Forest Service's formal objection process, where a party that submitted comments earlier in the process can object to the Forest Service's direction.

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In addition to Aspen Mountain and Snowmass, the Forest Service is reviewing proposals for expanded snowmaking at Beaver Creek, Vail Mountain and Copper Mountain.

White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams told The Aspen Times in November that last season's lack of snow convinced ski areas to enhance their snowmaking systems sooner than later.

"I think the priority for them changed last season," he said.

Aspen Skiing Co. officials have acknowledged that expanded snowmaking on upper slopes is a necessary move in a warming planet, where skiing might be limited at mountain bases.

The Forest Service's Environmental Assessment on the Snowmass snowmaking project said it is needed to provide reliable and consistent snow coverage on the targeted runs.

"Inconsistent snow conditions occur on trails within the Alpine Springs area during the early and late parts of the ski season, as well as years with below average natural snowfall," the Forest Service wrote in review materials.

Two primary issues considered in the review were water supply and consequences for wetlands during construction of snowmaking pipeline.

The review looked at the potential for expanded snowmaking to deplete water from the Colorado River and affect fish such as the greenback cutthroat trout.

It would take an estimated 24.75 acre-feet of water to cover 33 acres of ski terrain, the study said. Skico's existing water rights are "sufficient" to expand the snowmaking system, the study said. Skico uses water from Ziegler Reservoir, which is fed by Snowmass Creek.

Adding snowmaking to 33 acres would result in the loss of about 6.2 acre-feet from the Colorado River watershed.

"This depletion was previously authorized in a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's 1995 Biological Opinion," the Forest Service review materials said.

The agency also examined how construction of 2.1 miles of pipeline would affect the landscape. It concluded there was the potential for direct, short-term alterations of wetlands.

The Forest Service said numerous Best Management Practices must be employed to avoid dewatering those areas.

The draft decision notice also grants approval to a 600-square-foot storage shed and 600-square-foot operations kiosk connected to the tubing hill at Elk Camp Meadows.

If approved, Skico wants to pursue the projects in summer 2019.

The EA, draft decision notice and supporting documents can be found at http://www.fs.usda.gov.

Individuals and entities who provided timely, specific written comments during an earlier scoping period have standing to file an objection, if desired. Objections must be filed within 45 days.

scondon@aspentimes.com

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