New steep and deep at Keystone | VailDaily.com
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New steep and deep at Keystone

Bob Berwyn
Summit Daily/Bob Berwyn
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SUMMIT COUNTY – Powder seekers will get a chance to sample some fresh goods this coming winter, as Keystone last week won final approval for an expanded snowcat skiing operation, pending a 45-day appeal period. The U.S. Forest Service has endorsed Keystone’s proposal to add both guided and unguided bowl skiing in 278 acres of terrain in the upper Jones Gulch area, off Independence and Bear mountains.

The terrain, which is already part of Keystone’s permit area, is north and east of the skiable terrain in Bergman and Erickson bowls. Access to the new area would be via snowcat or hiking. Nearly all the skiing would be in open bowls above 11,400 feet, with some of the pitches approaching a 50 percent grade, just a bit steeper than much of the terrain in nearby North Bowl. Total snowcat skiing at Keystone would reach 858 acres with addition of the new stashes.’Cat skiing is planned for about three to five days per week, with the option to run more frequently when conditions are prime. At the lower boundary of the terrain, hiking skiers would need to climb back about 800 vertical feet along a distance of 3,100 feet back to the Upper Independence snowcat route. Hiking skiers may also be able to ride uphill in the snowcats for a nominal fee.

White River Forest Supervisor Maribeth Gustafson determined the expansion would not harm the environment. “The proposed action meets the purpose and need of diversifying recreational opportunities at Keystone by providing a greater variety of terrain and potentially increasing the number of operational days for guided snowcat and hike-to skiing available,” Gustafson said.

Some of the concerns raised earlier in the process included potential damage to lynx habitat. Jones Gulch has been identified as an important route for the rare cats. The new terrain is above the densely timbered areas in the heart of the gulch considered important for lynx.The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the proposal could have a slight effect on lynx, but that it’s not likely to harm the species.Keystone chief Chuck Tolton said previously that high demand for the resort’s existing snowcat service prompted the expansion plan. The new terrain includes more north- and west-facing terrain, promising better conditions and coverage than the more south-facing terrain in the existing bowls.

Pickup points for skiers and ‘boarders are designated at the Summit House on Dercum Mountain or at the Outpost on North Peak, and the snowcats would use the existing track along the ridgeline above Bergman Bowl to access the new area.Vail, Colorado


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