Crested Butte Snodgrass Mountain debate comes down to demand versus sustainability

Posted By: The Ski Channel on March 16, 2010 9:18 am

Jason Blevins of the Denver Post reports:

Crested Butte Mountain Resort’s expansion troubles revolve around the issue of sustainability.

The Forest Service has said that in its quest for forest sustainability, it wants expansions to reflect demand. The ski industry says expansions can stir interest, draw new visitors — and sustain business.

Resort insiders, worried that the Forest Service will make it much harder to get expansions on public land approved, point to a single memo penned by a Forest Service official in 2005.

That memo, a ski-area needs assessment of Montana’s Lolo and Bitterroot national forest lands, was written by Ed Ryberg before he retired as the agency’s National Winter Sports Partnership Coordinator — the point man between resorts and their government landlord.

In his assessment, Ryberg pointed to global warming threatening skiing, declining trends in resort visitation and growth of population centers in the West. He concluded the Forest Service should focus its expansion approvals on hills closest to growing populations, like the Front Range, and leave the remote ski areas unchanged.

Rocky Mountain Regional Forester Rick Cables outlined that same expand-with-demand focus in the 2002 White River Forest Plan, which said growth in skiing is tied to population growth in the state and would be highest at the four Summit County resorts.

Ryberg is not a fan of Crested Butte Mountain Resort’s plan to add lifts on Snodgrass. In a December 2009 letter to Gunnison National Forest supervisor Charlie Richmond, Ryberg, as nothing more than a citizen, advised that the agency begin planning to remove Snodgrass from Crested Butte’s ski permit.

“The reason why Snodgrass has not been developed is because it is an inherently flawed plan. You ride in and out on two major lifts for merely 250 acres of skiing,” Ryberg told The Denver Post. “It’s between a proposed village and the main mountain, which looks to me like the rationale for developing there is real estate.”

Ryberg actually helped initiate the process Crested Butte Resort was going through as it sought to begin the formal National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, approval.

A decade ago, NEPA approval could take years, so the Forest Service began helping resorts craft proposals that would remove fatal flaws.

“It’s a larger dialogue about what is sustainable in the long run,” Cables said.

But discussion of sustainability should not exclude growing the sport, said Michael Berry, president of the 332-resort National Ski Areas Association.

“It is important to ensure that the agency does not apply the approach used in the Ryberg assessment in the context of resorts or regions across the country,” the association wrote in a rebuttal to Ryberg’s 2005 report.”