Ski area, Forest Service to host Oct. 3 field session to provide overview of planned improvements at Summit County’s oldest ski area
By Bob Berwyn
FRISCO — U.S. Forest Service officials say they’ve accepted Arapahoe Basin Ski Area’s proposal to begin implementing pieces of a master plan that was updated last winter, including a new lift in the Beavers area, a short surface lift to improve access to Montezuma Bowl, and increased water storage for snowmaking.
The new lift in the Beavers area, to the west of the ski area’s current operational boundary, would serve about 400 acres of terrain.
“Two or so trails would be cleared while the majority would be gladed. The proposal calls for a four-person lift that would gain 1,500’ in elevation,” said Forest Service snow ranger Shelly Grail. “The proposed reservoir expansion is still being fine-tuned. It’s final proposal location will be determined after more wetland delineation work and feedback from the Army Corps of Engineers,” Grail said.
The Forest Service will start the formal environmental studies for the proposal with a scoping period sometime in the next few weeks, but before that, the agency and the ski area will give the public a chance to get an overview of the plan with an Oct. 3 field session.
“I highly recommend this for anyone curious about the proposal,” said A-Basin’s Alan Henceroth. “The tour will take most of the day and will involve a fair bit of walking on rough terrain. We will also discuss our proposals for a new surface lift to Montezuma Bowl, increased snowmaking reservoir storage, and a zipline/challenge course. This tour is meant to give anyone interested a clearer understanding of the proposal,” Henceroth said.
In a public session held August 2012, Henceroth explained that the Beavers development would focus on minimal tree thinning, including removal of dead trees to create opportunities for “excellent tree skiing.” More info from the Aug. 2012 session is available here.
Henceroth said that A-Basin founder Max Dercum envisioned lift-served skiing in the Beavers several decades ago.
“We want to broaden our focus to include blue skiers, not just the experts. We want to lift-service varied terrain.” Henceroth said via Twitter.
As with any ski area expansion plan, there are environmental and social issues to be addressed.
“The key issues that we know of right now are impacts to wildlife with vegetation removal for the Beavers project and the social issues that often come up with projects that propose to develop terrain that is currently skied as backcountry.” Grail said. “We’ll learn more on October 3, and of course, through the scoping process. I guesstimate that we’ll scope the proposal sometime in late October/November,” she said via email.
“For Oct. 3, the plan is to first get an overview of the Beavers from Hwy. 6 and then head up to the Black Mountain Lodge for a presentation of the entire proposal. From there, we’ll ride Lenawee for a walk out to the ridge.” she said.
In its very early stages, the plan for expanding water storage includes two locations.
“One is in the same location (near the base area); the other is at the Summit. There’s more work to do on the final location for the proposal,” Grail said.
Henceroth said there’s already been a fair amount of preliminary field work.
“As you know completing an EIS, requires gathering a significant amount of data. We have had several specialists in the field, including archeologists, botanists, wildlife biologists, hydrologists and more. Also, over the last two winters, we have been conducting skier surveys in The Beavers to try and quantify usage out there,” he said via email.
Other than blips like last season’s low-snow winter, A-Basin has seen visitation grow steadily in the past 10 years. The ski area benefits from a ticket and marketing partnership with Vail Resorts and from owners willing to invest in improving the skiing experience.
A-Basin is owned by Dundee Resort Development, a U.S. subsidiary of the Canadian company, Dundee Realty, which, according to its website, provides real estate services – including property management and leasing – to more than 30 million square feet of office, industrial and retail properties across Canada.
Dundee has owned A-Basin since 1997 when A-Basin was in play as part of the merger between Vail Resorts and Ralston Corp. Since then, the company has invested millions in upgrading A-Basin, including new lifts and lodges and expanded parking, as well as snowmaking that helped put the ski area on par with its bigger resort neighbors in Summit County.
With the help of snowmaking, and because of its high elevation, A-Basin is often one of the first North American ski areas to open and the last to close.