“We need to be very clear this is only a concept”
After getting shut down on a proposed lift-served ski expansion to Snodgrass Mountain, Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR) officials shifted their expansion focus to the main mountain. And they think they may have found something worth pursuing.
“We still believe we need more intermediate and advanced terrain to satisfy today’s customers, but we are in the midst of redoing the resort Master Plan,” explained CBMR director of planning John Sale. “We think we have some terrain on the east side of Crested Butte Mountain that would expand the experience of visitors and locals. We are excited about this possibility. Right now we call it Teocalli Park and Teocalli Drainage.”
The terrain sits on the east flank of the mountain above Brush Creek Road. It would originate from the Wolf’s Lair area of Teocalli Bowl. In order to turn concept into reality, the resort would ask the Forest Service to adjust the current ski area permit boundaries, realign or upgrade the current North Face Lift, add two new chairlifts to service the runs and glade some trees from the new terrain.
Sale led several hiking tours of the terrain for local community leaders and CBMR employees this past summer. He says the feedback has all been pretty positive.
“We need to be very clear that this is only a concept at this time. If the community and the Forest Service agree that this concept is a good idea, then we will include it in the Master Plan that we are preparing for next summer,” Sale said. “We want to get some more public input this winter on the concepts and impacts of those concepts and we hope to submit the new Master Plan in early summer of 2012.”
Inclusion in a conceptual master plan is far different from making a specific proposal. The Forest Service would “accept” the Master Plan but that does not include project specific approvals. If a formal plan for expansion into that area were proposed, that plan would fall under NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) scrutiny.
Sale said the terrain could be divided into several parts.
The upper part of the gulch that starts below Wolf’s Lair is open and littered with huge, car-sized boulders. As one descends the gully, the trees thicken up but the gully gets wider. There would be the need for some tree glading and trail clearing. Sale envisions several somewhat narrow ski runs down the gut. A north-facing ridge could allow for some great powder drops of up to 1,000 feet with a 30-degree slope. Again, glading would likely be necessary.
“After the discussion over Snodgrass, we heard from the Forest Service and the community so we went back to the main mountain to look for more terrain,” said Sale. “This provides one of those opportunities for the resort. It would cater more to the strong intermediate or advanced skier. It would add about 500 acres to the area with about 300 new acres of skiable terrain. Some of that is in the Fifth and Sixth Bowl areas. This new pod would be similar in size to the Paradise pod but narrower and steeper. It would have a backcountry feel with some good tree skiing. It would be sort of a lift-accessed backcountry experience.
“We think it would reflect the Crested Butte image and brand,” Sale continued. “It doesn’t fulfill the need for intermediate/advanced terrain but it would expand the experience for the visitor who was a strong skier. It could give people another day or two of experience. It feels bigger than it is and people would explore the terrain.”
To accommodate the concept, the eastern boundaries of the permit area would need to be moved and expanded. The North Face lift could stay where it is but would have to be upgraded to accommodate more traffic. The resort executives are considering shifting that lift so it starts farther below Rachel’s Run but ends in the same place.
Another idea is to throw in a lift that starts at the bottom of the North Face runs and services the Extreme Limits terrain. That would travel above Rambo and be about 4,000 feet long.
No matter what, to get to the new terrain would entail a ski to the bottom of Wolf’s Lair on a new intermediate trail or two. From there, riders would take a left and ski in the upper Teocalli Park area.
A new lift would start at the bottom of that park area and take people back up to the top of the North Face lift terminal. That would be about the same distance in length as the East River Lift.
To ski the 30 percent pitch of the gully, riders would continue east and end at another lift located about 600 feet above the Brush Creek ditch road that hugs the mountain. That lift would be about 5,600 feet long, or slightly longer than Paradise Lift.
The ridgeline on the skiers’ right faces north and could provide several 45 percent chutes for skiing. On the skiers’ left, a bony ridge would have less formalized trails but some exploratory potential. Fifth and Sixth Bowl could be accessed from that ridge.
“It’s not big, wide open skiing but it would provide some fun, narrow trails with tree islands,” described Sale. “We are trying to create a Crested Butte experience. It would be patrolled and controlled but it has a great backcountry feel.”
The gully at its narrowest is about 600 feet wide. At its widest, it is about 1,200 feet. Sale said the area gets early morning sun throughout the season and in the spring, a ridge blocks the sun and would help protect snow quality.
Sale said the idea of having a backcountry gate that would allow more adventurous skiers to use the lifts to access terrain outside the resort’s boundary is possible. “That is something we would consider but would be addressed in a formal review process. We would want to get community and Forest Service feedback on that aspect.”
The resort is also including a few other smaller expansions in the Master Plan. Sale said they could get two or three additional trails around and below the Teocalli chairlift with some glading and a lift extension. But the meat of the new Master Plan is definitely the Teocalli Park and Teocalli Drainage expansion.
“This is a five-year Master Plan and we are looking at both winter and some summer trail expansions. Where Snodgrass still fits in the plan is undecided right now,” said Sale. “The Teocalli expansion is probably at least a five-year deal since it would have to go through the NEPA review process. But everyone needs to remember that this is a concept. It’s not a proposal. Concepts are fun because you can play around on Google Earth and try a lot of things. But we think this one has some really good potential.”
CBMR hopes to officially submit the revised Master Plan to the Forest Service sometime next June.