Keystone snowcat tours begin this month |

Keystone snowcat tours begin this month

Christine McManus
Backcountry Skiers Alliance board member and Summit County Avalanche Office forecaster Mike Zobbe stands Saturday at the northern rim of Little Bowl, which, along with Erickson Bowl in the distance at right, is proposed for Keystone cat skiing and sightseeing operations. The access gate for the terrain is proposed for a high point near Keystone Mountain, center, near the shadow line. Bear Mountain is at left, with Jones Gulch below.

Keystone announced the final U.S. Forest Service approval Tuesday of Keystone Adventure Tours – a venture that opens 861 acres of high alpine terrain for skiing, snowboarding and sightseeing.

Tours should begin running this month.

The bowls are behind the Outback and have been traversed, in part, by anybody whose participated in Keystone’s annual Hawaii-themed snowshoe race.

The surrounding area, including Jones Gulch, is known as lynx habitat to wildlife biologists.

Dillon District Ranger Rick Newton said most of the skiing and snowcat tours will be above the trees where the elusive big cat likes to hang out.

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“Keystone Adventure Tours is the perfect way to introduce the traditional resort skier to a controlled and guided backcountry experience, inside the boundary of our resort,” said Chuck Tolton, Keystone’s director of mountain operations.

“Through our pilot program last year, we identified a large demand for an experience of this nature. By working with the community and the Forest Service, we are now able to fulfill that demand,” Tolten said.

On a tour of the area Jan. 24, Tolten assured backcountry skiers they could still use the area, or go through it, on their way deeper into the backcountry. At times, access could be held up by avalanche blasting, but Tolten encouraged backcountry users to check in with the ski patrol before leaving.

Terrain additions allows Keystone to claim 2,722 acres and 3,128 vertical feet of skiing although the latter will not be top to bottom skiing in one shot.

Keystone chief operating officer Roger McCarthy called the catskiing approval a “critical” juncture in the turnaround of the resort.

“This is a quantum leap forward for Keystone’s positioning and how its operated,” McCarthy said. He credited Tolten and the U.S. Forest Service for grinding through the details of winning the permit.

Once the February and March storm cycles hit, McCarthy predicted “amazing skiing” in the bowls.

Keystone will operate two snowcats offering a variety of daily, weather-dependent tours, including guided, half-day ski tours, shuttles to Outback Ridge, scenic tours and specialty programs.

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