Skiers and snowboarders celebrated their last ride on the old Wildcat lift Saturday, which is set to be replaced with a high-speed quad.
But that’s not the only change Snowbasin has in store.
On Jan. 27, David Whittekiend, forest supervisor for the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, approved seven “recreation enhancements” to the ski area, including the Wildcat lift replacement. Other proposed changes include new summer trails, a new Strawberry lift and improvements to some runs and roads.
The resort officially closed for the winter season on April 16, but changes are already percolating at the mountain.
“We are going to take them a step at a time and are focusing on the new Wildcat Chair and snowmaking right now, which is an extensive project and will take up most of our resources this summer,” said Samantha Kase, Snowbasin’s Director of Marketing & Public Relations. “We plan to check off the other improvements over the next few years.”
Below are the plans approved for public lands according to records obtained from the U.S. Forest Service.
Efforts to swap out the old Wildcat lift for a high-speed six-seater are now in the works. The new lift will double capacity to 2,400 people per hour and open next season.
The resort also plans on adding more snowmaking equipment to boost the Wildcat lift’s service area.
“The thought is the Wildcat pod will be able to open earlier, which helps beginner and intermediate skiers graduate from Becker (lift), especially if they’re not quite ready for the Needles Gondola,” said Snowbasin spokeswoman Megan Collins.
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New snowmaking equipment will help with snow cover in the Wildcat Bowl and the Eas-A-Long, Herbert’s, Stewart’s, Stein’s and Upper Blue Grouse ski runs. That will give the resort better early season conditions. It will also help relieve congestion during ski races and days with busy ski traffic.
The lift and snowmaking projects are expected to disturb around 8 acres of forest service land during construction. Resort staff said they expect the projects to be completed by next winter. They didn’t provide a timeline for any other proposed projects.
Strawberry quad lift
The resort plans to build a quad chairlift running parallel to the Strawberry Express gondola. The lift would end, however, slightly lower than the gondola — around 675 feet below the ridge line.
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The gondola currently drops skiers at the saddle between Strawberry and DeMoisy peaks, which sees bouts of extreme weather, low visibility and avalanche danger. These conditions often force staff to shut down the gondola and close off around 35 percent of the resort’s terrain.
A second lift that lands slightly lower will allow skiers access to around 80 percent of Strawberry terrain when there are rough conditions at the summit. It also gives beginner and intermediate skiers and riders friendly terrain right off the lift, rather than the challenging traverse down from the top.
The proposed lift will be around 8,500 feet long with a vertical rise of 1,970. It will be a high-speed detachable lift with a capacity of 2,400 people an hour. The project will remove trees and brush from around 7.8 acres of land, but that’s mostly on private land. Construction disturbance and vegetation removal will only impact around one acre of U.S. Forest Service land.
Mt. Ogden Bowl ski runs
The resort maintains a summer access road to the top of the John Paul lift. In the winter, the road serves as the only intermediate-level route from the John Paul lift and lodge. The Mt. Ogden Bowl run is narrow, congested and rocky with tight turns. Snow coverage can also be spotty during the early season.
The resort operators plan to expand the run from 20 feet wide to between 100 and 150 feet. Other improvements include rock removal along a 1,500-foot segment of the traverse and extending water lines from the Porky Face for new snowmaking. The project will disturb around 5 acres of U.S. Forest Service land.
Circle of Cirques hiking trail
A system of user-created trails links a series of summits within the resort’s special use permit boundary — No Name, Mt. Ogden, Needles, DeMoisy and Strawberry.
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A proposed Circle of Cirques trail would link these peaks, traversing the ridge line from Middle Bowl.
By improving and formalizing the trail, resort and forest officials expect to address issues caused by erosion and improper grading.
Resort operators plan to building the trail with hand tools or small excavators. Given much of the routes includes existing user-created trails, they expect disturbance will impact less than 1.5 acres of U.S. Forest Service land.
Bicycles would not be allowed on the trail.
Wildcat summer trails
The resort has plans for new summer trails in the Wildcat area, too. One segment would start near the bottom of the Porcupine lift, switchback around the Wildcat lift, then intersect and end at the existing Porcupine summer trail.
Another segment would link with the first between the Stein’s and Stewart’s runs in the Wildcat area and run south, eventually intersecting with the existing Needles summer trail.
The combined segments would be 3.4 miles long and improve access to existing hiking and biking trails. The project would disturb around 1.8 acres of U.S. Forest Service land during construction.
The project proposal also specifies ongoing trail management efforts, including daily inspection, closure of wet trails and quick repair of damaged sections.
Upper Porky Face road repair
Resort operators plan to close a segment of a switchback maintenance road providing access to the Porcupine and John Paul lifts.
The road crosses multiple runs and creates issues with snow grooming. The project proposes re-countering 2,130 feet of road on private land to match the adjacent hill contours.
A new 1,030-foot road segment would be constructed to connect the Needles Lodge access road to the Pork Face access road. A reported 0.1 acres of U.S. Forest Service land would be impacted.
Lower Penny Lane ski run
The Penny Lane run connects lower Strawberry terrain to the resort’s base area. It’s also one of only two beginner-level runs off the Becker lift.
The run’s current alignment includes intersections at steep turns, poor visibility and congestion that makes it challenging for beginners. Resort operators plan to reshape the bottom 600 feet of the Penny Lane and Snowshoe runs to improve these conditions. They expect to impact one acre of U.S. Forest Service land for the project.
Snowbasin background and future base village plans
These changes only include those impacting public lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service.
Snowbasin resort includes 12,000 acres straddling both Weber and Morgan counties. It was acquired by Earl and Carol Holding in 1984.
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Its 2006 special use permit caps a limit of 9,600 skiers at a time. Peak days have been around 6,400 skiers, according to a decision document issued by the U.S. Forest Service in January.
The resort includes thousands of acres of privately held lands, too, including a 1,377-acre tract at the current base area acquired through a controversial land exchange for the 2002 Winter Olympics. The resort’s base is located in Weber County.
The majority of the Strawberry area is privately owned as well, with those lands extending south and east of Trappers Loop Road on the Morgan County side.
That’s where the resort owners plan to build a village with 185 single-family homes, 652 multi-family units, 372 mixed-use structures and two golf courses, according to a Development Agreement with Morgan County.
The resort’s representatives remain mum on groundbreaking for those plans.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story identified the new Wildcat lift as a quad. The chairs will seat six.