Many Crested Butte community members puzzled at the Snodgrass Mountain decision

Posted By: The Ski Channel on March 24, 2010 9:32 am

For the last few months we’ve been covering the story of Crested Butte Mountain Resort’s desire to expand lifts onto neighboring Snodgrass Mountain, and the Forest Service’s rejection of their application. This issue has gone back and forth it seems for months, between appeals, counter-appeals, petitions etc. One of the main issues to community members right now is a lack of understanding.

Many Crested Butte residents do not understand why at one point, USDA Forest Supervisor Charles Richmond told the resort he would entertain the idea of expansion…and then all of a sudden, he changed his mind and dismissed the claim without sending it through the National Environmental Policy Act review (the proper avenue).

Nancy Bentson Essex is chair of the Coalition for Lifts on Snodgrass, Inc. in Crested Butte. She wrote an editorial commenting on this issue:

“The editorial board of The Denver Post is too quick to accept information from Forest Service regional forester Rick Cables and conclude the agency was justified in rejecting the proposal of the Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR) to expand onto Snodgrass Mountain.

Cables said “his agency hasn’t changed its process.” Instead, he says, Colorado has changed and in the last 10 years the state’s population has grown by more than 1 million, concerns about climate change have heated up, baby boomers are beginning to exit the slopes and many other uses of federal lands have become popular.

There is good reason to think that the Forest Service has not treated CBMR or the surrounding community fairly. The current owners of CBMR have been in discussions with the Forest Service about the expansion for five years, and it was only recently that Cables made public arguments that the ski resort should not expand. Certainly, the Forest Service did not inform CBMR or our community that it had made such a policy decision.

Snodgrass Mountain is designated for lift-served skiing in the Forest Service Master Plan. In January 2009, USDA Forest Supervisor Charles Richmond told CBMR it had made a convincing case for the proposed expansion and that he was prepared to entertain an application for expansion. Clearly, when the Forest Service denied the CBMR application in November, it did an about-face. Also clearly, the Forest Service has followed a process in this case that is very different from that applied to other ski resorts in past decades, particularly by rejecting the expansion application without even letting it go through National Environmental Policy Act review. Other ski resorts are alarmed and say Richmond’s decision to reject the application was arbitrary and capricious. They are probably even more alarmed after learning that Cables is making secret decisions about which ski resorts should thrive and which should not.

Curiously, Richmond did not cite the factors listed by Cables when he denied the CBMR application. He did express concern about erosion on Snodgrass and a lack of public support, but he did not have good basis for these concerns.

There are many in this community who wonder about the real reason for Richmond’s about-face.”