Our view: Ski area signals start of improvements

At issue:

Steamboat Ski Area is seeking federal approval for list of improvements at the mountain.

Our view:

The move forward on the proposed plans signals Ski Corp. executives’ desire to upgrade the skier experience and compete with other ski areas.

The news last week that Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. was moving forward with the process of securing approval from the U.S. Forest Service for improvements at Steamboat Ski Area is a welcome development that signals the start of plans that ultimately will produce major upgrades at the ski area.

Our view:

The move forward on the proposed plans signals Ski Corp. executives’ desire to upgrade the skier experience and compete with other ski areas.

The first step for getting the improvements started will involve the completion of an environmental impact study, which could take 2 1/2 years to complete, according to Ski Corp. Vice President of Mountain Operations Doug Allen. And once the study is completed, the Forest Service would have to adopt it, and then, the ski area would have five years to make the upgrades.

Proposed improvements, which were outlined in the ski area’s 2011 master plan, include two new lifts, an additional gondola and the development of new terrain.

One of the improvements that we think is key calls for ski school operations to be moved from the congested base area to the Rough Rider and Bashor Bowl areas. That project would involve a new gondola at the base area that would transport beginner skiers to a new Rough Rider learning center, which would be served by a new restaurant in addition to a new lift.

Ski Corp. has always known that one of the ski area’s liabilities is the way all skiers funnel off the mountain into one confined base area. Building a new gondola to ferry ski school students to a new teaching area in Bashor Bowl is a wise move to get those beginner skiers out of the busy base area. It will improve egress for advanced skiers while giving new skiers a more secure feeling as they learn the sport.

Even though Ski Corp. executives were quick to point out that the improvements are still conceptual and years away from becoming a reality, we see their desire to seek an environmental impact study as a big step forward.

According to the master plan, the projects are “proposed to improve the quality of guest services, increase operational efficiencies and enhance the recreation experience for all skier ability levels.”

The study itself is costly with Ski Corp. expected to pay in excess of $500,000 to have it done. But that kind of investment, coupled with current plans to build a mountain coaster and miniature golf course on the mountain, signal to us that ski area leaders are serious about making the improvements.

As Vail Resorts continues to expand and leverage its Epic Pass, the importance of Steamboat offering something new increases. We are encouraged that Ski Corp. is positioning itself to improve the ski area, which in turn will elevate the visitor experience, hopefully resulting in more skiers and more visitors.

And if the ski area’s parent company Intrawest decides to bankroll the plan, it would represent the largest investment made at the ski mountain in recent history.

The public will have the opportunity to weigh in on the proposed plan during an open house from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday at the Steamboat Springs Community Center. We encourage community members to attend and show their support for continued improvements at Steamboat Ski Area.

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