Steamboat Ski Area working toward improvements
Steamboat Springs — Steamboat Ski Area has entered the lengthy process of getting federal approval for improvements that include two new lifts, an additional gondola and further development within the existing permitted boundary.
The improvements are outlined in the ski area’s 2011 master plan.
“Master plan is a conceptual plan,” Doug Allen said. “It doesn’t give you permission to take on the project.”
Allen, who is vice president of mountain operations, said the environmental impact statement could take up to two and a half years to complete.
“You have to be forward thinking in ski area development,” Allen said. “If you want to build this ski lift five years from now, you better start working on it now.”
Allen said that after the study is completed and adopted by the Forest Service, the ski area has a five-year window to make the improvements.
Experts in botany, geology and archeology are expected to begin working on the study as early as next week.
The ski area will ultimately pay for the study, which U.S. Forest Service District Ranger Chad Stewart said could cost in excess of $500,000.
There are multiple periods of time when the public will be invited to comment on the projects and the study. An open house will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. Aug. 25 at the Steamboat Springs Community Center.
Allen and Stewart both stressed the ski area is not seeking approval to expand beyond their existing permitted boundary. There is a website for the project at tinyurl.com/h9mp2jd.
The two main areas the ski area wants to improve are Pioneer Ridge and Bashor Bowl/Rough Rider. Allen said these projects were chosen for the study because they would have the most immediate impact on improving the skier experience.
Pioneer Ridge, which adjoins the area served by the Pony Express lift, is already accessed by expert skiers through gates.
“The problem is it’s not intuitive in that area how to get back to the ski area,” Allen said. “The natural fall line is to Fish Creek Canyon.”
Ski patrol frequently rescues skiers who are not familiar with the area.
The ski area wants to install a lift to service 355 acres at Pioneer Ridge. A bridge and skiway would be built to guide skiers back to the BC Ski Way trail.
Improvements at the adjacent Pony Express area would include snowmaking and a new trail to bring skiers to the Storm Peak Express lift.
The second main project area aims to create more beginner terrain and relocate ski school operations to the Rough Rider and Bashor Bowl areas on private land owned by the ski area. Ski school operations are currently headquartered at the base area.
“Now, they all collect at the bottom of the hill, and it’s very congested, and it clogs our lift system,” Allen said.
A new gondola at the base area would shoot beginner skiers to the Rough Rider Learning Center. A new restaurant would be built, and a new lift would replace the existing Bashor lift. The plan calls for removing the Mavericks Superpipe currently located in the Bashor area.
The ski area’s wish list is long, and the combined improvements would represent the biggest investment in recent history. Ultimately, the ski area’s parent company Intrawest would decide whether to make the investment.
“Competition is fierce, and our biggest competitors are becoming more formidable,” Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. President and Chief Operating Officer Rob Perlman said. “That helps us in our ability to convince our parent company that we need to continue to invest in Steamboat.”
Other items on the capital improvement list include an expansion of Four Points Lodge, which Routt County officials approved in 2015.
The ski area’s existing 30-year-old gondola is also due for replacement. Despite the age, Allen said the gondola operated for 2,800 hours last season and was only down because of mechanical problems for three hours.
“It’s a rock, and it’s been very well maintained,” Allen said.
Perlman said they are in constant discussions about the best timing for replacement.
“We’re going to take our time and make sure when we make the decision, it’s the right decision at the appropriate time,” he said.
Perlman noted the ski area is currently making a significant investment in a new miniature golf course and mountain coaster. Those are expected to open sometime next year.
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In an effort to make Steamboat Springs Transit buses safer and more accessible, solar-powered lighting in bus shelters and a GPS-triggered automatic voice system that will announce stops in English and Spanish are being implemented.