Officials have big plans in mind for Steamboat Ski Area |

Officials have big plans in mind for Steamboat Ski Area

Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. proposes additional gondola in 10-year master plan

Steamboat Ski Area snowboard school instructor Aaron Kinslow follows 11-year-old Lilian Do, of Houston, during a lesson Tuesday. The ski area is proposing to build a gondola that would access a new learning center at the Bashor Bowl.

— Should the money become available, Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. has proposed a long list of projects that include building four new ski lifts and replacing another four during the course of the next decade.

A recently released 179-page amendment to Steamboat Ski Area's 2004 master plan also calls for expanding terrain near the Sunshine Bowl and Pioneer Ridge, expanding restaurant facilities and establishing a new Rough Rider Learning Center. Ski school students would be shuttled via gondola from the base area to the new learning center near the bottom of the Thunderhead lift in the area known as Bashor Bowl. It is a new concept in the ski area's planning documents and one that would help clear up congestion at the base area and provide a better learning experience at the resort, which prides itself on being a family destination.

"I think that's the most important," Ski Corp. President Chris Diamond said Tuesday. "Of course, it's all predicated on seeing the business start to grow again, but I'm confident that it will. Consumer confidence was up today."

Tubing, sledding and other activities are being proposed for the learning center area.

"It will be just a special place for kids to go," Diamond said. "We're only limited by our imaginations."

Most of the ski area operates on public land and requires a special-use permit from the U.S. Forest Service. One of the requirements of the permit is that the ski area maintain a master plan that identifies future upgrades and expansion. This winter, the ski area will seek input from the public about the amendment to the plan, which it has been working on for two years. Individual projects mentioned in the plan would still have to be approved individually by the Forest Service.

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The conceptual development plan was created with Ecosign Mountain Resort Planners, of Whistler, British Columbia. It includes extensive research that provides details about the resort such as the number of rental units offered at individual lodging properties, the utilization of lifts, the number of skiers fed at mountain eateries and a lack of available restaurant seats.

"There is a very thorough inventory of who we are and what we have," said Doug Allen, vice president of mountain operations for Ski Corp.

It also provides some insight into how the ski area has ridden out the recession. For the first time since Intrawest took ownership of the ski area in 2007, the ski area's skier numbers have been made public. In the 2005-06 season and the 2006-07 season, skier visits topped 1 million. During the 2009-10 season, skier visits dropped to 882,911. They rebounded last year to 941,026.

"All of Colorado has a way to go to get back to the peak days of 2007-08," Diamond said.

Growth is key to going forward with the projects outlined in the new conceptual development plans.

Diamond said returning to 2007-08 skier numbers could take three or four years. He said there are no simple answers as to when the projects would be completed.

"They have to go though our own company's approval process, and that changes year to year depending on the economy," Diamond said. "You can only say that it has been identified as a priority, and then we go through annual and multiyear planning processes and argue our case against what's happening in the larger economy and the business success here."

While the new learning center might be the project Diamond is most excited about, increasing seating capacity at on-mountain eateries is the priority.

The plan states that current food services can accommodate only 6,538 skiers per day indoors and another 1,546 skiers outside when the weather is suitable. The ski area saw an average of about 10,625 skiers per day during its top 30 days last season, according to the planning documents. The average number of skiers per day for the entire 2010-11 season was 6,994.

Diamond said resort officials are in the process of securing the permits for an expansion of the Four Points hut, a project that was identified in the 2004 master plan. Construction could happen next summer to expand the facility to 3,000 square feet with 100 indoor seats.

"We're focusing on Four Points and hoping to move forward with that," Diamond said. "That's a big job."

New eateries are being proposed for Sunshine Peak, Tomahawk, the new learning center and a private, 100-seat club facility at the top of Christie Peak Express. There also is a desire to expand Rendezvous from 674 to 950 indoor seats.

Ski Corp. also hopes to expand its terrain in areas that already fall under the permit but have not been developed for skiing. One of those areas is adjacent to the Tomahawk trail in the Sunshine Bowl area. The Sunshine II lift would be built to service that terrain. The expansion of Pioneer Ridge serviced by the Pony Express lift was outlined in the 2004 master plan along with an additional lift, but it has not been implemented and the area still is considered underused. No new lift is proposed in the new plan. Instead, a skiway would be built on top of Pony Express to the new terrain north of the Middle Rib trail. A 325-foot bridge would be constructed over Burgess Creek at the bottom of the terrain leading to BC Ski Way.

"When the money does become available, it's important to note that these projects take years," Allen said.

Highlights from Ski Corp.'s 10-year master plan

■ New Rough Rider Learning Facility, cafe and gondola

■ New Sunshine Peak and Tomahawk eateries

■ Upgrade Elkhead and Thunderhead lifts to detachable six-passenger lifts

■ New trails In Sunshine II Zone adjacent to the Tomahawk trail. The area would be accessed by a new detachable quad chairlift.

■ New snowmaking

■ Pony Express lift capacity increase and trail renovations

■ Operating boundary changes with new skier bridge in Pioneer Ridge

■ Replacing the South Peak lift with a detachable quad lift

■ Bashor Bowl: New realigned lift, extended Rabbit Ears Terrain Park and Superpipe improvements

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