A couple dozen people wearing windbreakers and hiking boots gathered at a pullout below Arapahoe Basin Ski Area on Thursday morning. Over the course of the day, they made their way to the base area, up two sets of chairlifts, trudged over rocks and hills, through patches of snow and along the ridge top near the ski area’s operational boundary.
The tour was designed to give the public a clear picture of A-Basin’s proposed expansions, which include a zip line, increased storage for snowmaking, the removal and replacement of old lifts and, notably, the incorporation of a new lift and added terrain.
The Beavers expansion would incorporate about 434 acres of terrain with 282 lift-served acres and 152 hike-back acres. The project would expand A-Basin’s territory beyond its current boundaries, but would stay within the U.S. Forest Service’s special-use permit.
A-Basin staff was on hand to answer the public’s questions during Thursday’s field tour. Representatives from SE Group, a third-party consultant hired by the Forest Service, were also at the event. They will be completing an environmental impact statement.
“We are still collecting data and input, so it’s a great time for you to ask questions, contribute to the process and make this the best proposal it can be,” SE Group senior project manager Jason Marks told the group Thursday morning.
The Forest Service helped organize the field visit in an effort to get the public involved early in the approval process, Marks said. But the government shutdown prevented Forest Service staff from being part of the event.
“Originally this date was set up with the Forest Service to share the project with you and give you a chance to ask questions about the process,” Alan Henceroth, A-Basin’s vice president and chief operating officer, said. “But unfortunately the Forest Service can’t be here because of the furlough.”
Henceroth took the lead on the tour and gave participants a PowerPoint presentation.
He said the proposed ski area expansion would add to the experience for intermediate, advanced and expert skiers and riders.
“We aren’t going to turn this into a big giant ski area,” said Henceroth. “What we are really trying to do is improve on what we are already doing — and that is our skiing.”
The proposed expansion not only incorporates an area of backcountry skiing that many experts are already using, it also makes the mountain more accessible to a larger segment of the population.
“We really want to improve our blue skiing experience. That is very important to us,” Henceroth said.
A 4,200-foot-long Beavers chairlift (with a 1,500-foot vertical climb) would provide access to two additional blue runs and increase access to black-diamond tree-skiing trails. The expansion would also incorporate double-black-diamond hiking and skinning terrain.
“We don’t think these blue trails take away anything from the black and double-black experience, but it really adds an outstanding element to the A-Basin experience,” Henceroth said.
Project managers said the ski area expansion would also improve public safety by incorporating “a full-blown avalanche system mitigation” in popular, but deadly, backcountry skiing areas.
“Beavers has a very dark history,” Henceroth said.
Since 1982 there have been six avalanche fatalities in Beavers. One fatality occurred in Beaver Bowl, the other five in double-black terrain known as the Steep Gullies, he said.
By incorporating this terrain into the ski area, it would give staff the ability to monitor its safety, do explosive work, develop rescue plans and close the area altogether, when necessary, Henceroth said.
Summit County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier attended Thursday’s event.
“I’m just really interested in the expansion,” she said. “I saw a general plan when they presented their master plan and I wanted to see it in more detail.”
Steigelmeyer said it was insightful to see a presentation illustrating how skiers could move throughout the park with the incorporation of the expanded terrain.
Henceroth said the project would provide guests with more room to ski and board, but he didn’t expect the project to increase traffic beyond a few hundred skiers.
“We don’t think our big days are going to get a whole lot bigger than they are now,” Henceroth said. “What we are really trying to do is backfill those days that are really quiet.”
Independent environmental consultant Rocky Smith raised questions about developing the land.
“We’re concerned about going into a roadless area — although it’s not officially considered a roadless area under the Colorado roadless rule — and putting lifts and lot of people in there,” he said. “We would like to see it stay as it is. There is also a possible issue with lynx. We will be watching (the project) very closely.”
Henceroth said he knows there is going to be a thorough analysis made on the proposal and its potential impacts on lynx habitat.
“We do have forethought and we are trying to think about what the issues are going to be,” he said.
There’s no clear time line for the ski area’s proposals. Henceroth said he hopes to have the environmental review process complete in 2014. Then, the expansion itself would take about two years to complete, he said.
“It’s still a few years out.”