Following ten years of research, planning, revisions and compromise, the U.S. Forest Service recently approved Kirkwood’s Mountain Master Development Plan signaling an anticipated go-ahead for several new and upgraded lifts, lift access to hundreds of acres of storied mountain terrain, plus countless skier amenities
“Kirkwood and the Forest Service were very detailed and responsive about development plans and the result is a well-crafted thoughtful plan that provides the most responsible and careful growth for the resort and the environment,” said David Likins, Kirkwood’s chief executive officer.
Following review of the draft Environmental Impact Statement, which included public comment and Kirkwood responses, Ramiro Villalvazo, supervisor for Eldorado National Forest, and staff, elected to support the Resort’s preferred alternative for resort expansion. Supervisor Villalvazo signed the Record of Decision on November 8, opening the 45-day appeal period. The U.S. Forest Service will then have 30 days to rule on any appeal. Resort officials anticipate final project approval by mid-January due to the extraordinary steps taken to comply with the specific provisions.
Final approval will enable the resort to begin construction of the Emigrant Basin project featuring access to such fabled Kirkwood terrain as Covered Wagon, Lookout Vista, Thimble Peak and Red Cliffs; the upgrade of the existing Sunrise quad chairlift to a high speed detachable chair; increased on-mountain dining options; and a new lift originating from the Mountain Village to Caples Crest, reducing access time to Emigrant Basin by over 50 percent.
“The Emigrant Basin Project is literally a resort within a resort,” said Chip Seamans, Kirkwood’s resort general manager. “Once skiers reach the top of Caples Crest, they’ll have the choice between seven unique lifts accessing hundreds and hundreds of acres of every type of terrain imaginable, from long groomers and tree skiing to classic Kirkwood steeps and chutes. It will really feel like you have accessed a resort separate from the front side of the mountain.”
“We’re optimistic for Phase One efforts to begin by spring of next year which will focus on accessing much of the new lift-served terrain,” Likins said. “We’ve been preparing and working with the Forest Service for years on this effort.”
The MMDP is the document that governs what services and amenities Kirkwood is able to offer on public forestlands subject to the 40-year permit between the resort and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which manages national forests. The process of approving changes to the mountain plans are governed by the National Environmental Policy Act which requires a comprehensive review of all environmental impacts with exhaustive public comment and review.
Positive reaction to Kirkwood’s MMDP approval has been swift:
“The MMDP’s approval will help Kirkwood retain its position as one of the best ski resorts in the Tahoe region,” said Bob Roberts, executive director for the California Ski Industry Association.
“The improvements to the mountain identified in Kirkwood’s Master Plan, mainly more convenient access to the back side with lift service, will have a significant affect on the overall guest experience,” said Michael Berry, President of the National Ski Areas Association and Kirkwood CEO from 1985-1991. “And for the longer term, Kirkwood will remain crowd-free because there is a defined limit on capacity,” he stated.