Ski area’s setback with Forest Service sends chills through industry
March 17, 2010
CRESTED BUTTE – Sweat beading on his brow, Tim Mueller stops climbing the snowy road up Snodgrass Mountain and takes a breather. The clouds break momentarily and there across the upper East River Valley is his ski area. From the distance, Crested Butte Mountain Resort looks steep. And small.
“Too small,” he said, leaning on his ski poles.
As much as from the two-hour climb, Mueller’s weariness lingers from the fight to grow his resort. He has spent four years and nearly $2 million working to expand the ski area he bought with his family in 2003.
Then four months ago, the U.S. Forest Service decided it opposed lift-served skiing on Snodgrass Mountain. That decision ended a long journey toward formal review and reversed two decades of apparent Forest Service support for lift- served skiing on Snodgrass.
Now, the Mueller clan finds itself at the heart of an acrimonious battle between the Forest Service and Colorado resorts that are alarmed the decision – after years of Forest Service support – spells trouble for other expansion plans.
While the Forest Service denies any change in policy, industry leaders fear the roots of the Snodgrass denial lie in a fundamental shift that has the agency worried about declines in vacationers and favoring expansion closer to population centers.
“What we want the Forest Service to understand is that we are concerned that they have changed the rules in midstream and if this partnership is going to continue to thrive, we think they need to revisit the process,” said Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association, which represents 332 American ski hills, 135 of which use federal land.