Wednesday, February 9, 2005

Sun Valley to present Baldy plan

Mountain development proposal will likely call for new gondola


By GREGORY FOLEY
Express Staff Writer

A pair of skiers boards the four-person chair lift at the River Run base area of Bald Mountain. It is expected Sun Valley Co. next week will announce plans to build a gondola from River Run to the Lookout summit. Photo by David N. Seelig

Sun Valley Co. next week will present to the public a proposed update of its master development plan for the Bald Mountain ski area.

The long-awaited update of the plan is essentially a preview of the improvements the resort operator intends to make over the next 10 years to approximately 3,200 acres of leased federal land on Bald Mountain.

The proposed plan is being submitted to the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management—the managers of Bald Mountain's public lands—with an application to maintain a ski area on the mountain until 2047.

Sawtooth National Forest officials announced Monday that Sun Valley Co. representatives will formally present the draft plan Tuesday, Feb. 15, at 5 p.m. in the Limelight Room of the Sun Valley Inn.

The general public is invited to attend the informational meeting and to submit comments about the plan, which is subject to a 60-day public review period before the Forest Service will analyze it and determine if it should be approved.

Kurt Nelson, ranger for the Sawtooth National Forest Ketchum Ranger District, said Sun Valley Co.'s special-use permit to operate skiing facilities on Bald Mountain will expire in December 2007.

Sun Valley Co. is now asking for a new 40-year permit. The Bald Mountain ski area was last permitted in 1977.

"A significant requirement for a new permit is a current master development plan for the public lands involved in the ski area," Nelson said. "Basically, the purpose of the master development plan is to provide the public and land-management agencies with a 10-year development plan that will guide future development within the ski area boundary."

Sun Valley Co.'s current master development plan for Bald Mountain, which was approved in 1989, "is pretty much built out," Nelson said.

The new update of the plan will allow the Forest Service to conduct "a more comprehensive review and approval" of future projects, Nelson noted.

Ecosign Mountain Resort Planners, based in Whistler, British Columbia, has prepared the development plan under a contract with Sun Valley Co.

Representatives from Ecosign, Sun Valley Co., the Forest Service and the BLM will participate in the Feb. 15 presentation of the proposal.

"This (meeting) will be a good opportunity for people to receive information first hand, just as we receive the information from the company," Nelson said.

Neither Sun Valley Co. nor the Forest Service or BLM have released details on specific projects that will be included in the plan. Nelson said full copies of the plan will be made available to the public starting Wednesday, Feb. 16, the day after the presentation.

However, Wally Huffman, Sun Valley Co. general manager, did give a preview of the Bald Mountain plan last April, when he presented a long-term master plan to develop 2,800 acres of company land in the Sun Valley area.

At the time, Huffman said the plan would likely propose a gondola from the River Run base area to the Lookout summit, a new dining lodge to replace the Lookout Restaurant, and additional snowmaking facilities.

In addition, the plan would likely include two new ski runs, Huffman said.

One run, he said, might be routed from Seattle Ridge east to Turkey Bowl, finishing at the base of the Cold Springs chairlift. A second ski run, he said, might be cut to provide access from International, an expert run at the top of the Warm Springs face, along Baldy's north ridge and down to Cozy ski run.

Huffman last April conceded that Sun Valley Co.'s potential to expand Bald Mountain is limited. Currently, Bald Mountain has 14 ski lifts, 65 ski runs and five restaurants.

Nelson said the presentation next week will be the official start of the 60-day period during which the public can comment on the plan.

The Forest Service will address "issues and concerns" raised by the public in an environmental impact statement that will be prepared before a decision about the Sun Valley Co. permit is made, Nelson said.

Nelson said a final decision will be made "prior to December 2007," when the existing Sun Valley Co. permit expires.

Viewing the plan

Sun Valley Co. will present an update to its master development plan for Bald Mountain on Tuesday, Feb. 15, at 5 p.m. in the Limelight Room of the Sun Valley Inn. Starting Wednesday, Feb. 16, copies of the plan can be viewed at the Ketchum Ranger District, in Sun Valley, or can be obtained by calling the district at 622-5371. The plan will also be made available at www.sunvalley.com.




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