Snowbird’s Gad Valley to sport a new look
By Mike Gorrell
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Mar 22 2013 11:21AM
A facelift is in store for the Gad Valley side of Snowbird.
The U.S. Forest Service has authorized Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort to make nearly a dozen proposed changes to the Gad Valley side of its mountain, including the replacement of two lifts and development of night skiing along Bassackwards and Big Emma trails.
Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest Supervisor David Whittekiend informed the Little Cottonwood Canyon resort Wednesday that his agency’s analysis found no significant environmental impacts from the in-resort projects, which he said will "enhance the winter and summer recreational opportunities available at the resort and on the [forest]."
His decision did not address another, more controversial proposal that was part of Snowbird’s application in August 2010 — to expand the resort boundary to include Mary Ellen Gulch in American Fork Canyon and to build a tram from Hidden Peak to a saddle between American Fork Twin Peaks to access the backside bowl.
"We indicated our willingness to consider the options for expansion onto National Forest System lands, but also to look closely at alternatives involving private land or reduced amounts of [forest] land," Whittekiend said. "Our acceptance of the proposal does not suggest support or ultimate approval of the expansion proposal."
Snowbird President Bob Bonar said "this has been a two-year process that involved many compromises and modifications to our original submission. … The final product is a plan we are proud of that improves the recreation experience at Snowbird while maintaining excellent water quality in Little Cottonwood Canyon."
Carl Fisher, executive director of the conservation group Save Our Canyons, said he has not scrutinized the Forest Service’s record of decision in detail, but will before a 45-day appeal period expires.
In general, though, Fisher said he was not surprised because the projects are all "within a heavily utilized area that has been deemed as an area where Snowbird can do what it wants."
He remains concerned about the cumulative impact of all of the development Snowbird has planned, particularly plans to built atop Hidden Peak and to expand into Mary Ellen Gulch.
"We’re still fuzzy on where that expansion project stands with the Forest Service," Fisher added.
In this week’s decision, Whittekiend approved Snowbird’s request to replace the Mid-Gad and Gad 2 lifts with higher-speed units and to develop two zones for beginning skiers and snowboarders along Mid-Gad.
The resort also received approval to install lights for night skiing along Bassackwards and Big Emma lifts, build a yurt in the Baby Thunder area, renovate the Mid-Gad restaurant, expand the base-level Creekside Lodge to house the resort’s disabled skiing program, develop mountain biking trails throughout Gad Valley, expand the maintenance shop and modify several slopes.
"Our guests will have a much improved experience with the new Gad 2 chairlift," Bonar said, noting that it will be replaced this summer.
"Expansion of the Creekside Lodge for Wasatch Adaptive Sports," he added, "will allow us to significantly grow our year-round programs for people with disabilities, including combat veterans."
The Forest Service’s environmental analysis and finding of no significant impact is available at www.fs.usda.gov/projects/uwcnf/landmanagement/projects.