Snowmass expansion plans get endorsement |

Snowmass expansion plans get endorsement

Scott Condon

SNOWMASS – Proposals to build two new chairlifts and expand off-piste skiing at Snowmass Ski Area can be undertaken without dire consequences to the environment, according to a preliminary review by the U.S. Forest Service.A draft environmental analysis released by the federal agency said the new chairlifts would have little effect because they are replacing existing ones.The Forest Service also concluded that the amount of skiable terrain could be expanded on Burnt Mountain without major impacts on the elk herd that resides nearby in the winter. Steps can also be taken, the analysis stated, to reduce effects on “potential habitat” for Canadian lynx on Burnt Mountain.Environmentalists and interested citizens have until Jan. 28 to scrutinize the analysis. Once the Forest Service considers public comments, it will issue a final decision.The Aspen Skiing Co.’s highest priority among the projects under review is to build a new a six-passenger, high-speed lift.Along with the replacement lifts, the Skico wants to construct a traverse, or catwalk, that would allow greater use of eastern Burnt Mountain.Currently, skiers and riders can take a short hike up Burnt Mountain to Long Shot, an intermediate trail through glades that offers a semi-backcountry experience. Long Shot leads to the Two Creeks base chairlift.The Skico wants to add 400 to 500 acres of tree skiing east of Long Shot, Kane said. That terrain is already used by backcountry skiers and riders.The Forest Service review noted that earlier studies shows that the lift, which the Skico is willing to scrap, and other use of the national forest on Burnt Mountain, would lead to a 5 percent to 25 percent reduction in the population of what’s known as the Burnt Mountain elk herd.Since that study was completed in the early 1990s, the elk herd population has actually grown, according to the Forest Service. Part of the reason is development of Burnt Mountain has been slow. By eliminating the eastern Burnt Mountain chairlift, the population reduction might not be so drastic.The herd has also benefited from a closure of trails on Burnt Mountain during spring calving season. The use of more of the mountain for skiing would occur before calving season.Vail Colorado

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