DMR pitches on-mountain upgrades
New lifts, runs and restaurants in the works

A pair of snowboarders catch the lift at DMR’s Columbine area on Sunday afternoon. The resort is seeking approval from the Forest Service for a series of upgrades and expansion that includes installing 10 new lifts and 17 new trails within its current permit area./Photo by Todd Newcomer.

Last fall, Durango Mountain Resort broke ground on its ambitious and controversial real estate expansion. Now, the resort is seeking approval for another variety of expansion. A series of improvements to the resort’s main mountain, including lift replacements and upgrades, as well as increases in uphill carrying capacity and snowmaking are currently being considered by the Forest Service. The agency will hold an open house on the proposal next Wednesday, March 3.

DMR has a 20-year vision for the ski mountain and as a result has proposed an update to its master plan, the document that guides the resort’s special-use permit to operate on public land. Matt Skinner, DMR communications director, said that the current master plan was set in 1979 and is woefully out of date. However, he stressed that the move is more of an update than an expansion.

DMR's proposed on-mountain improvements
Over a 20-year period, Durango Mountain Resort proposes to:

-Upgrade three existing lifts and install 10 new lifts

-Improve four existing trails, add 17 new trails and develop two gladed areas for a total 22 percent increase in the trail network

-Increase snowmaking capacity from 215 to 364 acres to offer additional coverage on 14 existing and two proposed trails

-Create an alternative route and parking area for snowmobilers accessing adjacent national forest lands through the ski resort

-Enlarge mountain restaurants and build a new restaurant/lodge adjacent to the top of Lift 4

-Drill a new water well to provide the resort with additional domestic water

-Increase the size of fuel storage tanks at the mid-mountain facility

The Forest Service will hold a public open house on Wednesday, March 3, at the San Juan Public Lands Center between 4:30 and 8:30 p.m.A0Forest Service and DMR officials will be on hand to offer information and answer questions on the environmental analysis of the proposals. In addition, the Forest Service is accepting public input on the full scope of issues being studied in the environmental impact statement.A0Written comments will be accepted until March 31. For more information, call 375-3310.

“It’s basically a replacement of old lifts and an expansion of terrain that’s within the boundaries of our current special use permit,” Skinner said.

All of the area covered by the special use permit is public land and consequently is managed by the Forest Service.

“Generally when you’re working on any improvement to the mountain, you need to clear it with the Forest Service,” Skinner said. “Right now, there’s a substantial portion of the ski area that needs updating, and that’s going to require Forest Service buy-in.”

The Forest Service is in the process of working up a draft environmental impact statement on the proposal. To this end, the agency has kicked off a public scoping process and will host a public open house next Wednesday, both in effort to gauge public interest and concerns.

One of the most significant requests is DMR’s call to up its uphill carrying capacity from 6,850 guests per day to 9,600. Skinner said that the number is not necessarily a reflection of directly adding capacity.

“That number basically comes about from expanded terrain and expanded lift efficiency,” he said. “The goal of the resort is not to pack 9,600 skiers on the mountain.”

Lift improvement and replacement will be another big ticket item over the 20-year plan. During the early stages, DMR would like to improve the beginner experience by replacing Lift 4. Eventually, the resort also envisions a high-speed detachable quad in place of Lifts 5 and 8 and a lift from the Gelande parking lot, which will be transformed into a satellite base area, to the top of the mountain.

“Right now, our first focus is replacing Lift 4,” Skinner said. “The idea is that we’ll create a beginner area and relieve some of the pressure on the Columbine area. Years from now, lifts 8 and 5 will 4 be replaced by high-speed quads.”

In addition, the application calls the construction of up to nine additional new lifts in later years.

DMR also has asked to improve four existing trails and develop 149 acres of advanced glade skiing west of Chair 8. “We’d like to create a gladed skiing area similar to the other Lift 8 terrain,” Skinner said.

Gardy Catsman suits up in a crowded DMR parking lot. The resort is planning for upgrades to the mountain
over the next 20 years. Locals parking could shift to the Gelande lot, which would be accessed by a new lift./Photo by Todd Newcomer.

Further down the road, the resort has asked to add up to 17 new trails, all within the existing permit boundary and in the vicinity of the current operation.

Skinner concluded by saying that the resort is making every effort to avoid significant impacts and will not be sprawling into the public land surrounding the current operation.

“The impacts, of course, we’re trying to keep to a minimum,” he said. “For example, the new Lift 4 is going in the old lift line. We’re basically trying to improve the area within its current scope.”

Nancy Berry, recreation forester with the San Juan Public Lands Center, agreed that as proposed the expansion would not be overly damaging. The Forest Service has identified potential impacts to water quantity and quality, wetlands, wildlife and vegetation, and quality of recreation. Like Skinner, Berry remarked that all of the upgrades would be within the existing boundaries.

“Really I don’t see any flags because it’s not expanding into new territory,” she said.

However, Berry added that it is up to the public to raise any concerns as the process continues. The Forest Service is hosting the open house and accepting public comments until March 31.

“I think the public should take a good look at it,” she said. “They know the mountain and are responsible for raising issues.”

Skinner concurred saying, “We’d like to hear from the community as we look to update and improve the ski resort. Let us know what you think. It’s the community’s ski hill.”

One entity that did let the resort know what it thought of the real estate expansion was Colorado Wild. Jeff Berman, the group’s executive director, said that he has reviewed the current proposal and does have concerns. However, he said he will be meeting with DMR this week in an effort to resolve them.

“I reviewed the scoping notice, and I do have a few concerns,” Berman said. “I have a meeting on Monday. I’m going to hold onto my thoughts until that time and see if we can resolve them.”






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