Steamboat Parks and Rec Commission holds steady on commercial use policies for Emerald Mountain

Mountain biker Tom Shope, who is from Berthoud, rides on the Lupine Trail on Emerald Mountain in Steamboat Springs.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Despite requests to alter them, the Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation Commission maintained the terms of the city’s policy for organized recreational uses of Emerald Mountain on Wednesday, Oct. 12. 

The city’s policy places restrictions on three categories of uses on Emerald Mountain — events, programed uses, and lessons, clinics and tours.

The lessons, clinics and tours category is new this year. In the spring, the city put out a request for qualifications process for outfitters seeking to perform commercial tours on Emerald Mountain.

Over the course of a season, commercial outfitters are allowed to bring up to 200 people onto the Emerald Mountain Trails, and the maximum group size for commercial lessons, clinics and tours on Emerald Mountain, including the guide, is five.

That was a conservative number, according to Craig Robinson, the city’s parks, open space and trails manager. 

“We did have very low limits on the lessons, clinics and tours because it was a new program,” Robinson said. “We wanted to make sure that we unveiled this program very slowly.”

Eric Deering, the director of operations for Steamboat Powdercats, requested the maximum group size be increased. 

“The limited size of the individual events is proving to be a little bit of a stumbling block,” Deering said. “That’s why we’ve kind of pulled back this summer.” 

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Steamboat Powdercats was one of two outfitters granted permission to operate clinics, lessons and tours on Emerald this year, but backed out because of staffing challenges and uncertainty within the company over whether mountain biking would be profitable, according to Deering. 

While Steamboat Powdercats has traditionally operated as a backcountry ski outfitter, the company is still interested in performing mountain bike tours and still plans on using its permit for fat biking tours in the winter. 

While Deering doesn’t foresee the five-person cap as an obstacle for fat biking tours, he would like to see a higher group limit to offer backcountry ski clinics and avalanche rescue seminars.

“Is there a way to, say, do fewer events but perhaps increase that per-day cap to, say, eight or 10 participants while still remaining under the 200 seasonal limit?” Deering asked the commission. “That is a little bit more industry standard.”

Deering said a standard avalanche rescue clinic has eight to 10 participants and typically lasts six to eight hours. The city’s restrictions, however, cap lessons, clinics and tours at four hours.  

Diane Brower, a Steamboat resident, offered her comments to the commission.

“I think that a lot of people feel this way about Emerald Mountain — that it’s a fairly intact natural environment,” Brower said. “And I don’t think it’s our place to think of how we might use it to for our own entertainment or recreational activities.” 

Members of the Parks and Recreation commission said they were open to increasing the group sizes for lessons, clinics and tours, but want to be patient before amending such a new policy. 

“I don’t really feel super comfortable changing anything until we have a year of data to look at,” said Ben Berend, a member of the parks and recreation commission. 

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