Keystone Resort submits plan to bring lift-served skiing to high-Alpine bowls

Plan would provide lift access to more than 500 acres across Bergman, Erickson bowls

A snowcat transports skiers and snowboarders to Keystone Resort's Bergman Bowl
Summit Daily file

DILLON — If Keystone Resort’s latest expansion plan comes to fruition, there will be hundreds more acres of high-Alpine, lift-served bowl skiing in Summit County.

On Friday morning, Keystone Resort announced it had submitted a proposal to the U.S. Forest Service to provide lift-served skiing in the resort’s Bergman and Erickson bowls. The pair of bowls currently are accessible only via hiking and the resort’s cat skiing program.

“This is just the very, very beginning of the process … but we really wanted to be transparent with the community and let them know we’re working with the Forest Service to take these steps,” Keystone spokeswoman Loryn Roberson said.

In a news release, she said the winter-only proposal would included a new lift in Bergman Bowl, which would provide access to more than 500 acres of terrain in the Bergman and Erickson bowls. Keystone’s proposal also includes new snowmaking, trails and a warming hut in Bergman Bowl.

The proposal, Roberson said, aligns with the resort’s master development plan, which was accepted by the Forest Service in 2009.

Keystone most recently replaced the Montezuma lift in winter 2017-18, but the last time the resort added a new lift was in 1997, when the Ranger lift was installed, Roberson said. The last major lift-served terrain expansion was the Outback in 1991.

Keystone Vice President and General Manager Jody Churich was quoted in the release as saying the project would be transformational for the resort, allowing guests to spread out across the resort and better use existing terrain above tree line. Churich said the plan also would open up a bowl skiing experience that would appeal to a wide variety of ability levels, from novice to expert.

Keystone Resort currently offers 3,149 acres of skiable terrain, more than 1,700 of which are hike-to or snowcat access in the Independence, Bergman, Erickson, North and South bowls.

Roberson said the snowcat shuttle service to Bergman and Erickson bowls will continue until a lift is built. The Keystone Adventure Tours guided cat skiing program will remain unchanged in the Independence Bowl area.

“We’re excited to submit the (proposal), but of course we know we have a long road ahead of us before we actually see anything come to fruition,” Roberson said.

All proposals are subject to the Forest Service’s approval. Roberson said the resort is working closely with the Forest Service on the project, which she said will be designed to minimize environmental impacts. Roberson said the Forest Service will outline next steps in the timeline and approval process.

Dillon District Ranger Bill Jackson said Friday that the Forest Service had been working with Keystone on the plan, including a visit to the area in the summer to do a “through inventory” and try to anticipate any hydrology, wildlife or wetlands impacts.

“The resort, they’ve been contemplating this for a number of years,” Jackson said. “It’s been in part of their vision as a resort to put some lift-served skiing in those back bowls.”

That advance work helped shape the proposal that was submitted Friday, he said.

Jackson said the Forest Service now has 60 days to review the proposal. If it’s accepted as is, it becomes a formal application, and then the National Environmental Policy Act process begins. That includes a public comment period as well as efforts to “further eliminate or mitigate any resource impacts” and is expected to take about 6 months to a year, Jackson said.

“One thing going for this project is there’s been public use back there, with snow cat skiing … and it’s been open to hike-to skiing and boarding for a long time, so it’s an area that sees human use,” Jackson said. “So that makes a big difference in looking at impacts, particularly wildlife impacts.”

The area already is within the resort’s operating boundary, which makes the process easier, Jackson said.

If the Forest Service approves the application, Keystone still would need funding for the project from parent company Vail Resorts.

Nicole Miller contributed to this report.

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