Steamboat Resort planning first terrain expansion in more than 20 years |

Steamboat Resort planning first terrain expansion in more than 20 years

By Derek Maiolo
Steamboat Pilot & Today
Molly Moriarty, a resident of Washington, D.C, reads a trail map at Steamboat Resort on Tuesday, March 10. The resort will offer 355 acres of new in-bound terrain next winter after announcing an expansion into the Pioneer Ridge area. Work is slated to begin after the resort closes in April.
John F. Russell / Steamboat Pilot & Today

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Next winter, skiers and riders will have 355 more acres of inbounds terrain to explore at Steamboat Resort. 

The expansion, announced in a news release Tuesday, marks the first time in more than 20 years that the ski area has extended the resort boundary. It will make Steamboat Resort the third-largest in Colorado, according to officials.  

The project will extend the northern boundary of the resort in an area known as Pioneer Ridge. The terrain has become a popular destination for backcountry skiers, many of whom use the resort’s chairlifts to reach the backcountry gates near the top of the Pony Express lift.

The terrain expansion is part of a $223 million capital investment from Alterra Mountain Co., to improve its 15 resorts in North America. Steamboat has several other improvement projects in the works, such as adding more chairs to Pony Express.

Pioneer Ridge, currently, is part of the resort’s special use permit area under lease from the U.S. Forest Service, but it is not part of the operational boundary and, therefore, is not groomed or maintained. Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. President and Chief Operating Officer Rob Perlman said expanding operations into the area meets a need that guests have long expressed for steeper, more advanced terrain within the resort’s boundaries.

In 2018, the Forest Service approved the expansion project following the completion of a 300-page environmental impact study, which evaluated a multitude of potential consequences from the expansion, ranging from recreation to wildlife. Between 50 to 500 skiers and riders access Pioneer Ridge each day during the winter season, according to the environmental impact study.

Two of the most popular areas currently used for backcountry skiing, referred to as Golf Course Fields and Outer Outlaw, would become inbounds skiing terrain under the expansion. This would displace an estimated 25 to 250 backcountry skiers who likely would travel further into more remote areas, such as Fish Creek Canyon, according to the impact study. 

Then there are the people who access Pioneer Ridge by accident. This year, multiple people have been rescued from the Pioneer Ridge area after unwittingly exiting the ski area boundary and getting into backcountry terrain.

The proposed 355-acre expansion in the Pioneer Ridge area of Steamboat Resort.
Courtesy U.S. Forest Service

“Skiers inexperienced with the terrain and egress routes often find themselves hiking considerable distances to return to Steamboat’s inbounds terrain network, or in areas of large cliff bands that may be beyond their skiing ability level,” the study explained.

Part of the expansion project includes replacing the yurt at the top of Pony Express with a Steamboat Ski Patrol duty station, which will make it easier for patrollers to respond to emergencies and direct less-experienced guests away from Pioneer Ridge.

Of particular concern to wildlife activists is how the expansion project might damage natural habitat, specifically for moose, elk and raptors. Larry Desjardin, president of Keep Routt Wild, acknowledged his group has not done a detailed study of the Pioneer Ridge expansion, but he still has concerns. Based on what he has learned of the project, Desjardin said efforts must be prioritized to mitigate impacts on wildlife, particularly during any construction.

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