Vail Mountain receives draft approval from Forest Service for upper elevation snowmaking expansion | AspenTimes.com

Vail Mountain receives draft approval from Forest Service for upper elevation snowmaking expansion

John LaConte
Vail Daily

VAIL — Vail Mountain is seeking some upward mobility for its snowmaking system, and the U.S. Forest Service seems ready to help out with a raise.

The resort plans to invest heavily in moving its snowmaking capabilities to higher elevations on the mountain, in an effort to enhance the reliability and consistency of the skiing surface, and on Wednesday, the Forest Service issued draft approval of the plan.

The draft approval cited Vail Mountain’s 2018 master development plan, where a few operational concerns were outlined, including below-average natural snowfall, high snow wear areas, critical circulation routes and areas with high wind and/or solar exposure.

“Currently, Vail cannot ensure high-quality conditions during the early- and mid-season, nor reliable conditions through mid-April,” wrote Scott Fitzwilliams, forest supervisor for the White River National Forest, in a draft decision issued Wednesday, Dec. 19. “There is a need to install snowmaking … to provide consistent, reliable snow conditions throughout the winter season for guest experiences and operational concerns, to stay competitive in the industry and to improve snowmaking infrastructure efficiency.”

Fitzwilliams’ selected alternative, which he issued draft approval for on Wednesday, includes 262 acres of new snowmaking coverage, 32.5 miles of snowmaking pipeline and 14 new valve stations.

With runs surrounding chairs 2, 3, 4, 7 and 11 all on the list, you can see where Vail is imagining the future of early season skiing exists — and it’s a couple thousand vertical feet higher than your normal white ribbon on Born Free.

Under the new plan, Vail’s total snowmaking coverage will jump to approximately 789 acres, about 25 percent of the total skiable terrain.

Fitzwilliams said he recognizes the scale and scope of the project is unique to the White River National Forest.

As a result, “extra scrutiny and measures to preserve the integrity of the human and biological environment are required,” he wrote. “Commensurate with the scale and scope of this project, I expect implementation to be phased over several years.”

45-DAY OBJECTION PERIOD

The publication of Fitzwilliams’ draft decision on Wednesday kicks off a 45-day objection period, where individuals who submit timely and specific written comments during the scoping period will have eligibility to file an objection.

A final decision will be issued following the objection period.

“The ability to expand snowmaking infrastructure in areas of Vail Mountain with higher elevations, colder temperatures and connectivity to areas that typically hold good natural snow would be transformational for the early-season experience for skiers and snowboarders, even in years where conditions are less favorable than we’ve seen across Colorado this season,” said Pat Campbell, president of Vail Resorts’ mountain division.

EARLIER OPENING

A spokesperson for Vail Mountain said the resort is withholding any more comment until the final decision is released, but in a release issued on Monday, Vail Resorts said the plans will use “state-of-the-art, energy-efficient snowmaking technology and infrastructure upgrades,” in order to “help to drive an earlier, more predictable opening date and help maintain high-quality conditions.”

The release also said the snowmaking expansion would help Vail Mountain move opening up a week, ensuring a pre-Thanksgiving opening each year.

The plan would be to “open the Mountain Top Express Lift (No. 4) first with access via Gondola One, followed by the Avanti Express Lift (No. 2) for access out of and back to both Lionshead and Vail Village,” according to the release.

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The Environmental Assessment, Draft Decision Notice and supporting documentation are available for review online at http://www.fs.usda.gov, and hard copies are available for review at the Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District located at 24747 U.S. Highway 24, Minturn, CO 81645. An interactive story map highlighting the Proposed Action is also available at http://www.goo.gl/7ApPdT.

TRAILS TO RECEIVE INITIAL APPROVAL FOR SNOWMAKING

• Lower Lost Boy

• Flap Jack

• Owl Roost

• Hunky Dory

• Northwoods

• Cubs Way

• Lions Way

• Timberline Catwalk

• Village Catwalk

• Lodgepole

• Upper Ramshorn

• Lionshead Catwalk

• Upper Born Free

• Upper Swingsville Ridge

• Top of Upper Born Free

• Whippersnapper

• Riva Ridge Upper

• Pickeroon Connector

• Lower Highline

• Cold Feet

• Upper Eagles Nest Ridge

• Mid Ledges

• Upper Lost Boy

• Lower Eagles Nest Ridge

• Practice Parkway

• Pickeroon

• Upper The Meadows

• Northface Catwalk

• Upper Ouzo

• Swingsville

• Upper Gitalong Road

• Over Easy

• Lower The Meadows

• Lower Swingsville Ridge

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