More bowl skiing proposed at Keystone
KEYSTONE – With cat skiing operations at Keystone’s Erickson and Bergman bowls deemed a success by the resort and U.S. Forest Service, the resort is looking to open an additional 278 acres for cat skiing and hike-to access, possibly as soon as this winter.”Everybody we’ve talked to says they want a little steeper and north-facing terrain,” said Chuck Tolton, Keystone’s director of mountain operations. The new terrain, which the resort is calling Independence Bowl, is on the upper reaches of the north aspect of Keystone Mountain (south of Erickson Bowl), as well as on the west and southwest aspects of Bear and Independence mountains.The proposed skiing and snowcat activities would be within Keystone’s permitted area, mostly in alpine terrain above tree line at about 11,000 feet. Snowcats would pick up guests and take them to the new terrain.Tolton said the high demand for the cat services to Bergman, Erickson, North and South bowls shows there is plenty of need for this type of ski experience. He estimated that the area would offer slightly more vertical than Bergman Bowl.Tolton said he doesn’t foresee proposing any lift construction in the bowl skiing areas, at least for the next five to seven years.”We just don’t see the business for that type of development,” he said.Instead, Tolton said he senses a demand for what he called a “backcountry light” ski experience – hike-to access in terrain that offers a generally ungroomed skiing surface and sense of solitude and adventure.A large forested section of Jones Gulch below Independence Bowl is designated a “forested wildlife movement corridor,” important for lynx and other species that rely on dense timber. Federal biologists have said that information gleaned from the state’s lynx reintroduction program shows that lynx have been using Jones Gulch in recent years, though the tracking data doesn’t give an accurate sense of how important the area might be for the rare cats. Attorneys for Vail Resorts, which owns Keystone, argued the forested landscape designation could hinder future ski area activities. The map released for the proposed expansion steers clear of the important wildlife area, Tolton said. Colorado Wild, the Durango-based Forest Service and ski industry watchdog group, will scrutinize the proposal, said Ryan Bidwell, the group’s executive director.”Jones Gulch has been a critical area … and we’ll want to evaluate this within a cumulative perspective,” Bidwell said, referring to other proposed ski development in the general area, including the proposed lift-served expansion in A-Basin’s Montezuma Bowl.Dillon District Ranger Rick Newton said early discussions with biologists suggest there is not a lot of concern over impacts to lynx. Part of the agency’s evaluation of the proposal includes a lynx “checklist,” with eight to 10 conditions that must be scrutinized.”We’re staying above tree line so for the most part, the environmental issues are mostly benign,” Newton said.