Backcountry skiers fight Aspen expansion
SNOWMASS ” A coalition of backcountry skiers and environmentalists refuses to surrender Burnt Mountain without a fight.
This week the coalition appealed a U.S. Forest Service decision that allows the Aspen Skiing Co. to expand activity on Burnt Mountain. White River National Forest Supervisor Maribeth Gustafson approved the Skico project as an amendment to the ski area’s master plan in February.
The Skico wants to thin trees on about 500 acres of Burnt Mountain and add roughly 200 acres of skiable terrain that would provide a “semi-backcountry experience.” It might pursue the project this summer and might some day add a chairlift to serve the terrain.
Donald Duerr, director of the Wyoming-based Ark Initiative, prepared the appeal. A 217-page document lays out the arguments, which often go into excruciating detail. One other environmental organization, eight individuals from the Roaring Fork Valley and two people from Florida are also appellants.
They want the regional forester’s office to overturn Gustafson’s decision and block the expansion. They contend the expansion will ruin the character of a roadless area and have a detrimental effect on endangered and threatened species such as lynx.
All top Forest Service officials in the Roaring Fork Valley were attending a “leadership team” meeting Wednesday in Redstone and couldn’t be reached for comment. Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle said no one in the company had received the appeal yet, so he couldn’t comment.
The appellants charged the Forest Service with favoring recreation over resource protection.
“The Snowmass Ski Area is contributing to the impairment of ecosystems needed by at least five imperiled species, and the supervisor’s decision effectively elevates providing more nonessential recreational ski trails ” on a forest already fragmented by hundreds of miles of developed ski trails ” over the need to halt and reverse these species’ trend toward extinction,” the appeal said.
The appeal also argues cutting more ski trails will harm the chances of designating that area as wilderness, which provides special protections.
Gustafson’s record of decision on the Skico project contends the expansion has no effect on roadless lands.
Scott Schlesinger, a part-time Snowmass Village resident who helped lead the appeal, said he cannot comprehend the Skico’s motives for expanding into the gentle terrain of Burnt Mountain. Skiers and riders who seek a tranquil experience outside the ski area flock there because it doesn’t pose the risks of many backcountry areas, he said.
“What Burnt Mountain is right now is the last little piece of heaven,” Schlesinger said. “They ought to leave it alone.”
He challenged the company’s assertion that it is a green leader in the ski industry.
“What could be more green than marketing [Burnt Mountain] for what it is?” he said. “Why cut it up?”