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For the week of January 31 through February 6, 2001

Push for Frenchmanís snowmaking renewed

West Ketchum residents vow to fight


By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer

Sun Valley Co. has renewed an old effort to make snow in the lower Frenchmanís area of Bald Mountain.

Sun Valley Co. is asking local residents and visitors to sign a petition in favor of expanding Bald Mountainís snowmaking to the Frenchmanís area. Above, Warm Springs Road resident Terry Allsop signs one of the petitions Monday at Sturtevants. Express photo by Willy Cook

Sun Valley general manager Wally Huffman wrote a letter Dec. 29 to the Sawtooth National Forestís Ketchum Ranger District requesting "all haste" be used to begin the environmental review processes necessary to allow the ski area to make snow on the lower half of the area.

Upper Frenchmanís snowmaking is already permitted, but covering the stump-riddled slopes of the lower half of the area is difficult during the early season without the aid of snowmaking, Huffman said in a Tuesday interview.

Earlier this month, Sun Valley also began circulating petitions stating those who sign "urge the Forest Service to allow [Frenchmanís] snowmaking to begin at the earliest possible legal date." So far, 1,700 signatures have been amassed, and the petitions will remain available through the end of the ski season.

Because Sun Valley operates on a permit from the Forest Service, the federal agency must give its stamp of approval before snowmaking can occur.

The lower Frenchmanís area has not previously been included in the Forest Serviceís permitted snowmaking areas, nor has snowmaking there been anticipated in the Forest Serviceís Bald Mountain planning documents.

But Huffman wrote that snowmaking in the area is "critical to accommodate safely the Christmas week skiers."

"This would be a godsend during the early-season, high-skier-use days such as Christmas week," he wrote in the letter.

Complicating Sun Valleyís efforts are West Ketchum residents who say snowmaking on the area would be too noisy. The Frenchmanís terrain is just several hundred feet above and directly across the Big Wood River from parts of West Ketchum.

"Itís a quality-of-life issue," West Ketchum resident and Ketchum City Councilwoman Chris Potters said. "I think the quietude in the residential neighborhoods is important. Once the technology becomes available for quiet snowmaking, I donít think there will be any objections to snowmaking going everywhere.

"Weíre going to say ĎNoí again."

In 1999, Huffman said, Sun Valley sent 187 letters outlining the proposal to West Ketchum residents. He said Sun Valley received about 40 responses, eight of which were against the proposal.

"Their response was cordial, but it was clear that they were opposed to any development in lower Frenchmanís at all," Huffman said.

For Sun Valley, eight negative responses didnít constitute enough reason to hold up the project.

Sawtooth National Forest supervisor Bill LeVere last week met with Ketchum District ranger Kurt Nelson to discuss the proposal.

"Weíre working on a response," LeVere said.

Regarding prior Sun Valley efforts for approval, however, LeVere said the Forest Service originally asked Sun Valley to "build consensus" in favor of the project.

"But it was never really defined what consensus was," he added. "The Forest Service is clearly interested in the localsí input, and weíll ask for that at the appropriate time."

Water pipes required for snowmaking in lower Frenchmanís were approved by the Forest Service in 1995 and installed by Sun Valley that fall. All that remains is to install snow guns and make snow.

"Iím hoping this community will see the value in it," Huffman said.

LeVere said heís not sure what level of environmental study would be required to issue a decision on the matter, but he was clear on whose decision it will be to make.

"The final decision will be the Forest Serviceís. Itís not the decision of the local residents or some other entity."

 

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