USFS accepts ski resort’s proposal for expansion

NEPA review process begins

By Alissa Johnson

Last week, Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR) received official notice that the U.S. Forest Service has accepted its proposal for a 500-acre expansion into Teocalli Drainage. The notice initiates an environmental review of the project through the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), which could take up to two years before a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is released.

“This is a really exciting step for us,” said Erica Mueller, CBMR’s director of innovations and relations. “It’s cool to be looking toward the future and moving in a good direction as a resort and as a community, but it will take time.”

The proposal, submitted to the Forest Service this spring, includes expansions for intermediate and advanced skiing and riding, mountain biking, and an adjustment to the resort’s Special Use Permit Boundary so it can expand to the back of Crested Butte Mountain.

The North Face Lift would be replaced with a chairlift (exact type to be determined) and two new lifts would go in: one that is currently referred to as Teo Park Lift to provide access out from the bottom of Teo I and Teo II, and one that would run the length of Teocalli Drainage and be roughly as long as the Paradise Lift.

In conjunction with the new lifts, new intermediate and advanced ski trails and glades would also be constructed. New snowmaking capabilities on other parts of the mountain are also included in the proposal and would enable the resort to improve snow coverage on existing runs like Rachel’s off the North Face Lift, Black Eagle in the East River area, and Championship to allow for racing.

Director of planning John Sale explained that there is no snowmaking proposed within the expansion area. All new snowmaking would occur on 32 acres of existing trails, and natural snow coverage would fill in Teocalli Drainage.

“The prevailing winds off the Headwall take snow and dump it into Teo,” Sale explained. Based on observations over recent years, he expects snow coverage to be more than sufficient.

Sale also explained that the resort is able to add snowmaking because it cleaned up the master list of snowmaking areas when it updated its Master Development Plan in 2013.

By removing 32 acres where snowmaking no longer occurs, the resort gained 32 acres of snowmaking “credit” with the Forest Service.

For summer, the proposal includes 15 miles of new singletrack trail within the Evolution Bike Park, but the idea to include a via ferrata—a type of climbing route protected by a steel cable—will go through a separate review process at a later date. The idea is to put one near the Guide’s Ridge, but since that type of review hasn’t been done before, the resort and the Forest Service decided to look at it separately.

Now that the proposal has been accepted by the Forest Service, resort planners are wasting no time in beginning the environmental review. On Tuesday, July 21, Sale was already heading into the Teocalli Drainage with representatives from SE Group, a third-party contractor retained by the Forest Service. The company specializes in ski area expansions and resort planning, including navigating the NEPA process.

“We’re going to spend the next two years collecting data before we write a draft EIS,” Sale said.

CBMR and SE Group will start by mapping out the exact alignment of the proposed lifts and ski trails, and then will survey everything from plants and soils to hydrology and wildlife. Some of that research started in May, when the SE Group surveyed bird species like owls and goshawks during the time of year when they might be nesting in the area.

Once a draft EIS is completed and released, the public comment period will begin as outlined by NEPA. In the meantime, Mueller said that CBMR will start meeting with municipalities in the next month or two. The resort will also develop a website prior to the public input process outlining the proposal in detail.

When all is said and done, it may take up to two years to release a draft EIS, meaning that it will be some time before the resort begins actual development. As Sale emphasized, “There have been no approvals.” The Forest Service’s acceptance letter simply initiates a more thorough review process. Development itself would take place in a phased approach pending final approval of the proposal.

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