USFS Gives Thumbs Up To Sun Valley Resort Cold Springs Chairlift Replacement And Associated Projects

A Draft Decision Notice regarding the projects analyzed in the Sun Valley Resort Cold Springs Chairlift Replacement Environmental Assessment (EA) have been completed and are available for review.

The Decision Notice documents the decision and rationale for approving the proposed projects on the Sawtooth National Forest (SNF). The decision does not apply to projects located on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands. The project area is located within Sun Valley Resort, Blaine County, Idaho on lands managed by the SNF and BLM Shoshone Field Office (SFO) (collectively, the agencies). The decision is based on and supported by the January 2018 Sun Valley Resort Cold Springs Chairlift Replacement and Associated Projects Environmental Assessment (EA).

Sun Valley Company (SVC) operates under a special use permit (SUP) administered by the SNF’s Ketchum Ranger District. The SNF Land and Resource Management Plan (Forest Plan), revised in 2003 and amended in 2012, provides general standards and guidelines for the operation of SVC regarding its activities and operations on National Forest System (NFS) lands. The SUP and associated Winter Operating Plan, as well as other resource management documents, provide more specific guidance for annual winter ski area operations and projects. Approval of the proposed projects would officially amend the existing Sun Valley Resort (Bald Mountain): 2005 Master Plan – Phase 1 Projects.

Purpose and Need for Action

Three alternatives were considered in detail in the preparation of the EA. These alternatives included: taking no action, replacing and realigning the Cold Springs chairlift, and replacing the Cold Springs chairlift in its current alignment. Other alternatives were proposed early in the EA process. These concepts included an alternative alignment a “few hundred yards north” of the Proposed Action bottom terminal location, replacing the lift in its existing alignment, but moving the top terminal closer to the Roundhouse Restaurant, realigning the proposed chairlift to follow the “Gun Tower” ridgeline and relocating the bottom terminal near the “Triangle,” and relocating the lift one drainage further north. Each concept was thoroughly considered by the agencies and, for various operational, recreational, and environmental factors, none were carried forward into detailed analysis.

The purpose of the projects is to improve the guest experience at SVC by improving access to skiable terrain. These recreation enhancement projects would meet the need to improve skier circulation in the Cold Springs chairlift area and the overall guest experience for those seeking diverse terrain offerings. The overall goal of these projects is to enhance the guest’s recreation experience on public lands by improving the resort’s infrastructure.

The Cold Springs chairlift is one of the more accessible and widely used lifts at the resort, especially for egress from the Seattle Ridge area. Constructed in 1970, the existing fixed-grip double chairlift is the oldest lift at Sun Valley and the last double chairlift on Bald Mountain. The location of the existing lift bottom terminal also limits guest distribution across existing terrain within the SUP area. Under existing conditions, the Cold Springs chairlift is located on both NFS and BLM lands.

After thoroughly considering the Purpose and Need for Action, issues, range of alternatives and analyses presented in the EA, as well as public comments that were received a decision has been made approving Alternative 2 – the Proposed Action with the inclusion of all Project Design Criteria (PDC) identified in Table 2.1 of the EA and included in Appendix A of this document. The Selected Alternative includes replacement of the Cold Springs chairlift and the removal of approximately 70 acres of overstory vegetation on the north facing terrain to create gladed skiing, some of which will be located on BLM lands. Other elements of Alternative 2 included in the EA are located on BLM lands and are addressed in the BLM Decision Record.

The Selected Alternative includes the following projects that occur entirely or partially on NFS lands.

Replacement and Realignment of Cold Springs Chairlift

The existing Cold Springs chairlift, a fixed-grip double chairlift, with an existing capacity of 1,200 people per hour (pph), will be upgraded to a detachable quad chairlift with a capacity of approximately 2,400 pph. The alignment will be moved east of the existing chairlift location, allowing SVC to provide lift service to new terrain within their existing SUP boundary. Only the top terminal and approximately 550 feet of the chairlift corridor will be located on NFS lands.

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 the Roundhouse Gondola and Restaurant. This replacement will enhance the overall guest experience for those seeking diverse terrain offerings. The replacement will also reduce SVC’s maintenance costs and improve general mountain circulation.

Additional North Facing Ski Terrain

With the replacement and realignment of the Cold Springs chairlift, approximately 380 acres of north facing terrain currently within the SUP area but not lift-served or skied regularly would become lift- accessible. Of these 380 acres, 175 acres are located on NFS lands. To improve the diversity of terrain available at Sun Valley with gladed skiing, SVC will implement a vegetation management prescription included in the 2005 Vegetation Management Plan and refined in 2017 to address existing conditions. The north facing stands that will be treated are Douglas fir/subalpine fir, and the Proposed Action will implement a modified version of “Treatment Prescription 1: Thinning,” which will result in average spacing for mature trees of approximately 20 x 20 feet. Additionally, “Treatment Prescription 2: Patch Cut and Plant” will be implemented to treat heavily infected dwarf mistletoe patches. Depending upon the degree of infection, the patch cuts (essentially mini-clearcuts) would vary in size from about 0.5 to 1 acre in size. From a silviculture perspective, these openings will serve as a sanitation cutting to remove diseased trees. For skiing, they will resemble open glades surrounded by trees. In addition to these two prescriptions, a “connect the dots” treatment would be required to transition between the patch cuts and thinning areas to enhance the skiing opportunity.

The decision relied heavily upon an Interdisciplinary (ID) Team comprised of Forest Service and BLM resource specialists who analyzed the effects of the three alternatives documented in the EA. It considered the following issues and concerns: anticipated effects to recreation, scenery, wildlife, vegetation, and watershed and aquatic resources. Certain resources were not carried forward in detailed analysis for the EA; however, those resources were considered by the ID Team and determined to be eliminated from detailed analysis with rationale. It reviewed the PDC included in the EA, reviewed public comments received during the Notice of Proposed Action (NOPA) scoping/comment period process, and considered how the Selected Alternative would respond to the stated Purpose and Need.

Guests of Bald Mountain appreciate the history of the ski area and the Cold Springs chairlift. However, the chairlift is old and needs to be replaced. It is a matter of operational efficiencies and maintenance costs. The Forest Service in general is facing similar situations across the country.

Some in the community currently ski the north facing terrain in its currently uncontrolled, unmaintained state and enjoy solitude that it provides. The decision will allow SVC to include this terrain within its operational boundary to allow the skiing public to enjoy these public lands in a controlled setting. The decision does not change the SUP boundary or operational boundary to include Turkey Bowl. In partnership with SVC, the Forest Service wants SVC to provide the best recreation experience possible within the SUP area. The SUP area and the management area that it is within are meant to provide developed recreation by the Forest Plan.

The Selected Alternative, along with the decision to require PDC, meets all applicable laws, regulations, and policies. With the application of PDC, the project will not result in any unacceptable effects to NFS lands. Failure to comply with the required PDC will constitute a breach of the project approval and could temporarily suspend construction and/or operations on the facilities approved by this decision.

SVC is required to prepare and submit for Forest Service approval several documents prior to beginning any approved construction activities. For example:

•   Project construction and grading plans

•   Pre-construction erosion control/drainage management plans

•   Post-construction revegetation and rehabilitation plans

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