Sun Valley Co.’s push to expand skiing in the Cold Springs drainage cleared its last hurdles Monday, as both the U.S. Forest Service and the BLM signed off on a plan to install a new, extended chairlift—and open up 380 additional acres to inbounds skiing on Bald Mountain.
Sawtooth National Forest Supervisor Kit Mullen approved a “finding of no significant impact,” or FONSI, for the project, which would involve removing the current Cold Springs chairlift and replacing it with a high-speed quad farther down the canyon. Codie Martin, Shoshone Field Office manager for the BLM, signed his own record of decision and FONSI.
Both agencies manage land in the project’s footprint, though the Forest Service took the lead of the approval process.
From the BLM side, the public has 30 days to appeal the decision. After that, Sun Valley Co. can begin work.
The centerpiece of the project is replacing the existing fixed-grip Cold Springs double chair, the oldest chairlift on the mountain. The approved, 5,500-foot-long detachable quad will pick up riders about two-thirds of a mile farther down the drainage than the current lift, fed by an extension of Lower Broadway. From there, it rises 1,545 feet across the hillside, dropping off directly at Roundhouse, rather than at the base of the Christmas lift.
In all, the upgrade adds around 500 feet of vertical and doubles capacity, to about 2,400 people per hour, according to estimates in the Forest Service’s report.
“The approved Cold Springs chairlift will attract guests of all ability levels due to the variety of trails that feed into the area, and proximity to the central mid-mountain hub, including Roundhouse Gondola and Restaurant,” the report states. “This replacement will enhance the overall guest experience for those seeking diverse terrain offerings.”
For stronger skiers and snowboarders, that means Turkey Bowl and Cold Springs Chutes, popular pieces of sidecountry often descended by rope-duckers off Seattle Ridge. During heavy snow years, the new lift will also allow guests to ski a new set of south-facing slopes off Roundhouse and the back side of Olympic.
Though both areas were not open to inbounds skiing, they were inside the boundary of Sun Valley Resort’s federally permitted use area. Opening the new terrain expands the skiable acreage of Bald Mountain by nearly 20 percent.
Before it does, the company plans to thin vegetation in the chutes, aiming for an average spacing for mature trees of 20 by 20 feet, according to the report.
It also needs to improve machine access to the more remote areas, regrade the extension of Lower Broadway—currently a narrow vehicular road up the canyon—and add 19 new snowmaking guns down to the lift terminal.
As part of the approval, the federal agencies require wildlife, vegetation and erosion mitigation measures before, during and after the work.
It’s up to Sun Valley to bring that plan forward to the Forest Service, according to Zach Poff, recreation and winter sports manager at the Ketchum Ranger District.
“From our side, they have all the approvals to move forward, as outlined in the alternative chosen,” he told the Mountain Express. “Now, it’s up to the permittee. They can move at pretty much at their leisure, depending on their capital and timeline. It’s up to them to come to us with a plan. We work with them on a day-to-day basis. I’m sure we’ll hear something soon.”
Contacted Tuesday, Sun Valley wouldn’t commit to a timeline for taking the next steps.
“Ideally, we’d like to start construction this summer,” said company spokeswoman Kelli Lusk. “If we have any updates, we’ll get the word out.”
During an open house last May, Ketchum District Ranger Kurt Nelson told the Mountain Express that the company hoped to have the lift running for the 2018-19 ski season.
That would make for a busy building season at Sun Valley: The company is currently constructing new employee dorms. And, the Cold Springs approval comes less than a week after the multi-million-dollar Warm Springs Lodge was significantly damaged by an overnight fire. (The company told reporters last Thursday that it intends to rebuild.)
“Those are separate projects,” Lusk said. “We’re focusing on each one separately.”