Mt Rose Ski Tahoe Area Expansion

Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest has released a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for a proposed expansion of the Mt Rose Ski Tahoe (MRST) area. The downhill resort would like to add a ski lift and eleven new ski trails on the opposite side of the Mt Rose Highway (Nevada 431) from where the resort currently operates. The expansion will require a skier's bridge crossing the highway to provide access to the resort and parking area.

BACKGROUND

This project has a long history. In the 1990's, the land in the upper Galena Creek drainage, north of the Mt Rose Highway, was privately owned. A developer planned to build a destination resort, including ski lifts, a golf course, condominiums, and a hotel-casino. Permits were issued, and construction was set to go, when opposition from local environmentalists slowed and then totally stopped the project.

In a 1994 land exchange involving the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the American Land Conservancy, the federal government acquired the 3,864 acres and added it to the Toiyabe National Forest. As part of the land exchange, the federal government promised to never allow commercial development on that parcel. However, the prohibition was never formalized by a forest order.

CURRENT PROJECT

The current project involves 112 acres on the north side of the Mt Rose Highway in an area known as the Atoma Area and at one time the site of a nordic resort. The MRST company would like to add a ski lift serving eleven new trails. The area lies on the south side of a ridge separating the area from the Galena Creek drainage about one-quarter of a mile to the north and the location of a popular backcountry ski tour.

Three alternatives are described in the DEIS. The first is the required No-Action alternative that would not allow the expansion.

The second alternative would allow a single 3000' chair lift that would cross the highway and a snow-covered ski bridge allowing skiers to return to the south side of the highway where most of the facilities and parking are located. A water storage tank and pipeline for snowmaking would be added.

The third alternative would add two chair lifts: one to transport skiers across the highway to the north side, and a second to transport skiers up to the top of the ski runs. Having two lifts allows the lower lift to be situated directly above the bridge as it crosses the highway, reducing the risk of having skiers in a chair lift traveling directly above cars driving on a highway. A public restroom on the north side would also be added. This alternative is the preferred alternative in the DEIS.

PROVISIONS

If either action alternative is adopted, the forest service has agreed to amend the Forest Plan to disallow any commercial development in 3,446 acres of the land acquired in the 1994 exchange. The building now existing in the Atoma Area would be removed. For these reasons, some conservation groups are supporting one of the action alternatives.

The MRST resort has also agreed to set aside six parking spaces for backcountry access in their parking lot. They also agree to allow access to the backcountry over the highway bridge and to the public restroom included in alternative #3. Winter and summer access to the backcountry would be provided by the designation of a public access route.

SNOWLANDS POSITION

The position of Snowlands is to oppose expansion of the resort. We therefore are supporting Alternative #1, the No-Action alternative. While the proposed expansion mitigates somewhat the impact of a downhill resort taking over use of public land, the lifts will be installed within one-quarter mile of a popular backcountry tour. It is not know whether or not the lifts will be visible from the Galena Creek drainage.

If one of the action alternatives (2 or 3) is selected and the expansion approved, Snowlands would like to see the following mitigation measures implemented:

  • Permanent protection for the 3,446 acres north of the highway
  • Continued free public access to the Atoma area (including those accompanied by dogs)
  • Designated uphill an downhill routes for the non-paying public
  • Public access to any restrooms on public land
  • Continued public access to public forest service land being operated as part of a Special Use Permit, contingent upon safety concerns

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Comments are due by Thursday, April 19, 2018.