Loveland hopes to add cat skiing operation |

Loveland hopes to add cat skiing operation

SUMMIT COUNTY ” Local snow cat operations at Keystone and Copper could get some competition soon, as Loveland Ski Area eyes the Dry Gulch drainage for cat-served skiing and riding.

The basin just northeast of the ski area’s existing lift-served terrain has been in Loveland’s permit boundary for quite some time. It’s also a popular backcountry spot with relatively easy access for Front Range and Summit County residents.

A U.S. Forest Service master plan for Loveland dating to about 1997 identifies the area as suitable for guided skiing, said Deb Ekstrand, a winter sports ranger with the agency’s Clear Creek district.

“They haven’t done much since they put in Chair 9,” Ekstrand said, referring to a lift that added service to the area’s highest ridges in 1999. “They’ve had some tough seasons,” Ekstrand said, referring to the intense competition among resorts for a share of the critical Front Range skier market.

Ekstrand said the Forest Service authorized Loveland to take snow cats into the drainage this spring to explore the potential for a commercial operation. The master plan does not envision lift-served skiing in the drainage. Any activity, including cat skiing, would be subject to site-specific environmental studies. So far, the idea is in a very early phase, with no formal proposal on the table, she said.

Keystone has added and expanded cat-skiing in the past few years in response to customer demand for so-called “Backcountry Light” experiences. The Montezuma Bowl expansion also adds a similar dimension to Arapahoe Basin. All in all, Loveland has been feeling the pinch from consolidation and statewide season pass competition. A new attraction like cat-skiing could help the area draw skiers.

“It’s been in our permit area a while,” said Loveland’s marketing director John Sellers. “It’s something we’ve been looking at a little more closely this year,” he said. Sellers said the Dry Creek area could include as much as a 1,000 acres of new terrain. But he said the discussions were still at a very preliminary stage.

“At this point, we’re at a get up there and check it out stage. I’m not sure where the talks (with the Forest Service) are,” he said.

Even though it’s early in the process the idea of snow cat skiing in Dry Gulch has drawn attention on the web. The Backcountry Snowsports Alliance posted a recent item alerting members, and calling the area an important resource for non-motorized backcountry skiers. According to the backcountry group, the Colorado Mountain Club uses the drainage for numerous courses and trips each year.

A discussion thread on a Teton Gravity Research bulletin board also raised some of the pros and cons before devolving into name-calling and personal agendas, as so often happens on the web.

Sellers said the ski area has been monitoring some of the electronic discussions to get a feel for what Loveland visitors might think cat skiing in Dry Gulch.

Any formal proposal to the Forest Service would include public involvement, with opportunities for comment and feedback, Ekstrand concluded.

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