Update: Monday, December 14, 2009:
In an article published by the Crested Butte News just a few days ago, writers Seth Mensing and Mark Reaman tell how the Gunnison County Commissioners feel they were “used as an excuse to deny Snodgrass,” and may draft a letter to the USFS attempting to set the record straight.
The USFS decision about Snodgrass could affect the economy of the Crested Butte area for years to come. In fact, I’d say that it WILL affect the local economy — for generations. The effect could be good, or it could be bad, but taking the decision process farther would have not only allowed the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) review to identify environmental concerns or lack thereof, but would also have allowed more time for the informal public vetting that always accompanies this sort of thing.
Yes, the Snodgrass issue has been going on for what seems like forever, but when these things get to the final decision making stage is when the public really wakes up. That process has been truncated, to a great extent because Forest Supervisor Charles Richmond did not see what he viewed as the requisite public support. Problem is, public support of the controversial resort expansion definitely exists, though not in such an organized fashion as the anti development faction.
Here is what Richmond wrote about public support in the denial letter:
“… polarization in the community has increased and organized opposition to development of Snodgrass has intensified. There is opposition from the Town of Crested Butte. Gunnison County is unable to submit a letter of support or opposition.…”
Upon more examination, I started thinking about the old adage of “follow the money.” Or, in this case, why would the USFS make a sea change in their common rubber stamp approach to ski area expansion? Beyond all the yammering about public support or lack thereof, lynx, economic impacts, yada yada, it’s pretty obvious when you read the USFS letter. The USFS simply doesn’t want to spend the money and endure the hassle of a controversial approval process. Following is what in my opinion is the Forest Supervisor’s “nut graf.”
“…Acceptance of your proposal would require a large commitment of both our resources and yours. In addition, local governments, stakeholders, and interested parties would need to expend time and energy engaging in the NEPA process. To proceed, I must be convinced that such an effort could lead to a decision which serves the public interest and for which there is a high likelihood of success. I am not convinced of this but rather am convinced otherwise…”
Now, just to keep my cred as being a backcountry skiing advocate, not a resort developer, the only thing I saw in the Denial that really floated my boat was this:
…Many residents in the Crested Butte area and recreational visitors to the area currently use Snodgrass Mountain for hiking, mountain biking and backcountry skiing. Development of the mountain as proposed would alter this use and, in some cases, displace these users to other areas on the National Forest…
All of above which takes us back to the questions:
1. Would Snodgrass actually help the resort become economically viable? Yes or no, it’s vitally important to address the question of how critical the ski resort is to the economic health of the Crested Butte area. If Crested Butte Mountain Resort were to fail, could the wonderful community of Crested Butte sustain? I doubt it, at least without something like, yes, mining.
2. Assuming the Snodgrass expansion would be of economic benefit, is it worth sacrificing the Snodgrass area from our backcountry lands inventory to use for resort skiing? And if we choose not to make that sacrifice, and the ski resort can’t survive as a result, what is the alternative economic engine for those Crested Butte residents without trust funds?
Original Blog Post from Friday, December 11
In Crested Butte, Colorado, the USFS has denied continuation of the approval process for the Crested Butte Mountain Resort’s expansion to backcountry terrain on Snodgrass Mountain. Local environmentalists applaud this of course, as do some backcountry users. But expanding the Crested Butte ski area is a complex issue. CBMR’s skier visits have decreased a stunning 30 percent since 1997. The resort says that to increase skier days they’re willing to try adding more intermediate terrain such as Snodgrass. The hope is that doing so will bring more destination skiers who may not be up for the extreme terrain that “The Butte” is known for, but instead seek moderate trails such as the vast meadows of Vail. Cynics I’ve spoken with maintain that what CBMR is doing with Snodgrass is just a real estate ploy, or simply a land grab on the faint hope it will help increase resort revenues. Check out the antis’ website here.
What’s interesting to me about this issue is that the _town_ of Crested Butte, which is a separate entity located several miles from the ski resort (not to be mistaken for the “Mount Crested Butte” base area village) is nearly wholly dependent on two things for its economy: construction and skiing. And without the skiing, construction would eventually go to zilch. Thus, if I lived in Crested Butte without a trust fund or outside income, I’d be very concerned about a 30 percent drop in skier visits up on the hill above.
It’s not unheard of for resorts in Colorado to fail. Could that happen to Mount Crested Butte? If it did, the pikas might have more room for mating rituals but the town of Crested Butte would need to start a mine if they wanted to keep more than a handful of people employed.
Speaking of mineral extraction, an ongoing issue for Crested Butte is the existence nearby of an enormous molybdenum lode that’s incredibly tempting for mining companies. Wouldn’t it be ironic if locals whined and moaned about a small ski resort expansion, said resort ended up dwindling and going out of business, and then those same people got to look at mining as their only alternative to moving back to Denver? Could happen. To turn a phrase, “if you can’t ski it, you’ve got to mine it?” More here.