Environmental and water concerns top list of worries
The message from members of the public attending a Crested Butte Town Council hearing at the Center for the Arts on Monday, March 24 was clear: they don’t want to see lift-served skiing expanded onto Snodgrass Mountain.
Nearly 150 people attended the town hall-style meeting hosted by the Crested Butte Town Council. Crested Butte mayor Alan Bernholtz opened the hearing by welcoming the public. He explained the purpose of the meeting was to gauge the public’s will on the Snodgrass issue and forward those thoughts onto the U.S. Forest Service.
“I really want to hear from the public about this issue,” he said. “We’d like to represent you as best as possible.”
The public’s comments focused on several areas: environmental degradation, potential water use of an expanded ski area, the geological stability of the mountain, the intrinsic value of nearby open spaces, and global warming. Members of the public also urged the ski resort and the community to consider how it could break the mold to create something that doesn’t use as many resources.
Plans to expand the ski area onto the 11,145-foot-high Snodgrass Mountain, adjacent to Mt. Crested Butte, have come and gone for more than two decades. Since 1982 Snodgrass Mountain has been proposed to be developed by Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR) into more intermediate skier terrain. The idea has been on the back burner due to financial trouble and community opposition.
Plans for Snodgrass resurfaced in 2005 when CBMR submitted a preliminary proposal to the Forest Service for consideration before it officially entered the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process, which would determine impacts of the development.
The Forest Service and CBMR agreed to explore potential “deal breakers” before the federal agency accepts the resort’s official application.
Crested Butte resident Lisa King started out the evening by noting that Snodgrass Mountain has a high concentration of wildlife and a unique ecosystem. “It can attract nature lovers to the area,” she said. King also noted that she thought the current resort could be improved before considering Snodgrass. “Keep Snodgrass wild,” she said.
Crested Butte resident Kiki Dotzler followed up her comments noting that the lands around Crested Butte and Snodgrass Mountain represent the “wild heart of the Rockies,” a phrase borrowed from visiting environmentalist Dave Foreman.
“I feel that developing this mountain would be a step backwards,” she said. “We should stop tearing down what we can protect and protect the wild heart of the Rockies.”
Crested Butte resident Bob Bernholtz agreed that the resort could do things to improve its ski product within its current boundaries and said the issue needed caution. “Once it’s there, it’s there,” he said.
Crested Butte resident Bo Stambaugh was the lone town resident who asked the community to consider a Snodgrass expansion. “We need to be environmentally sustainable, but we also need to consider the sustainability of our economy and our community,” he said. “If we continue to grow as we have, I don’t think working people like myself will be able to live here.” He pointed out that CBMR’s proposal is significantly scaled down from previous versions.
Crested Butte resident Xavier Fane said Snodgrass Mountain represents more than a piece of real estate—it has a spiritual value as well. To ignore that value “would be a crime,” he said.
Crested Butte resident Felicia Hermosillo said the town needed to consider how to reduce its use of resources—not plan to use more. “Let’s take a step back, conserve,” she said.
Crested Butte resident Gary Dotzler agreed. “The world is changing so fast, the planet is dying,” he said and urged people to act locally. He also added that Snodgrass Mountain can be used freely because it’s already in public lands. “Snodgrass is free,” he said. “We don’t have to spend a penny to preserve this.”
Crested Butte resident Erika Vohman pointed out that Snodgrass Mountain already generates income for the area in terms of attracting tourists who use it for horseback riding, mountain biking, hiking and looking at wildflowers. It’s also used by the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL), she said.
Resident Jay Pozner urged the town to consider how it could break the business mold of development to do something different. He pointed out Yvonne Chounard’s success with Patagonia. “He did all the things that they said he couldn’t,” he said.
Crested Butte resident Sue Navy said it wasn’t the first time she’s commented on the Snodgrass issue and she hoped CBMR would withdraw its proposal. “CBMR needs to decide that it’s in the best interest of the community to not do this issue,” she said. Navy went on to state, “I don’t believe any amount of mitigation could make up for the environmental degradation on this area,” she said.
Resident Wendy Brown, who identified herself as an employee of RMBL, was most concerned about increased traffic due to the proposal and water use on Snodgrass. She pointed out that the south-facing mountain would require a lot of snowmaking on an unstable slope. “It’s a ridiculous place for a ski area,” she said. “Isn’t Snodgrass the first thing to melt out each year?”
Crested Butte resident Jan Runge said she wanted to make some positive comments about what might be appropriate development in or near Snodgrass Mountain. She suggested building up an economy on the amazing wildflower fields on Snodgrass Mountain or building a world-renowned nature center. She also suggested more bike paths and an alternative sustainable community.
Crested Butte resident Mark Alling said he was on the fence on the Snodgrass issue, but his biggest concerns were snowmaking and water issues.
Crested Butte resident Margot Levy urged the community to look past “plain Vail-nilla” to consider how Crested Butte could set itself apart. She noted that the community branding study determined that the “differences” were what tourists appreciated about Crested Butte. She said it wasn’t time yet for a Snodgrass expansion. “For now, I would say ‘not yet,’” she said. “We don’t have to do this now. If we rush into something like this now, we can never go back.”
Crested Butte resident Vicki Shaw said she doesn’t believe an expansion onto Snodgrass Mountain can be done in an environmentally sensitive way when considering all the measures that would go into the expansion. She noted 200 acres of trees would be cut, surface and subsurface draining installed, wildlife displaced, new roads, removing eight million gallons of water from East River for snowmaking and increased energy use. “The cumulative impacts are huge,” she said.
Several non-Crested Butte residents joined in the conversation as well. Crested Butte South resident Sue Tyzzer said she was against Snodgrass expansion, noting that the number of people who could potentially benefit is small. “I think the way it is, is perfect,” she said.
County resident Nancy Wicks noted that putting a ski area on a south-facing slope was not appropriate. “Maybe they could put greenhouses there,” she ribbed.
Crested Butte resident Kari Roberts said CBMR has made the argument that the expansion will increase skier day numbers. “There’s been more than enough evidence that it’s not going to do that,” she said, asking the resort to study what will increase skier days.
High Country Citizens’ Alliance acting director Dan Morse said the non-profit organization had hired its own geologist to look at the Forest Service’s geology report. Based on those findings, HCCA is not supporting CBMR’s plans, he said. He also urged more open dialogue during the process.
Miguel Damien, a second homeowner, was in favor of expansion onto Snodgrass Mountain for economic reasons. “I don’t believe that the economics that have been brought up here are as trivial as they’ve been made out to be,” he said, pointing out that CBMR owners Tim and Diane Mueller have said they will invest in the community. “There’s no guarantee that they’re going to make oodles of money,” he said. “They think it’s good for the community.”
Crested Butte resident Michele Simpson said she was totally against using Snodgrass Mountain for “private, corporate financial gain.” She said, “The public should not and will not support it.”
Crested Butte property owner John Nichols said he believes that more ski terrain will motivate more people to visit. “We have a shortage of intermediate terrain,” he said. He pointed out that there are many areas to recreate and backcountry ski in Gunnison County. “There are hundreds of mountains—we’re focusing on this like it’s New York City and there’s nowhere else to go,” he said.
Area resident Art Mears was hired by RMBL to do a snow study of Snodgrass Mountain several years ago. He said his report is available to the public and points out that the number of artificial triggers for avalanches will increase if a Snodgrass expansion goes ahead.
Ryan Bidwell, director of Colorado Wild, which releases environmental report cards for ski areas throughout the mountain west, noted that CBMR has received low grades and ranks third from the bottom among Colorado and New Mexico ski resorts. “CBMR has lots of room for improvement in what they have now,” he said.
Meridian Lake resident Roger Cram reminded the Town Council of earlier financial times when the ski area was having difficulty. “I would hate to see this town without a ski area,” he said and urged the Town Council to consider the potential economic impact of an expansion with increased intermediate terrain.
Resident Bob Starr said the amount of intermediate terrain could be debated and pointed out a Rocky Mountain News that heralded CBMR’s existing intermediate terrain.
Crested Butte resident Chuck Shaw rounded out the comments by noting that ski area expansions have failed to bring in increased skier numbers. “Keep lifts out of Snodgrass,” he said.
Bernholtz ended the evening by thanking the attendees. He noted that 69 people had spoken; 49 people had said they were against expansion onto Snodgrass Mountain. Only one town resident was in support of the measure.
The Town Council will now begin drafting its letter to the U.S. Forest Service on the topic. That letter will be scheduled on a regular Town Council agenda in the coming weeks.