OSBURN — The highly anticipated and much discussed expansion to one of North Idaho’s most popular ski areas is finally approved.
With approval signatures from Idaho Panhandle National Forest (IPNF) Supervisor Mary Farnsworth and Lolo Forest Supervisor Tim Garcia, work on the 100 acre addition to Lookout Pass Ski and Recreation area located near the Idaho/Montana border is set to begin this summer.
“I am thrilled to initiate the expansion of skiable terrain and additional facilities for the enjoyment of our skiing and riding guests,” said Phil Edholm, President and CEO of Lookout Pass.
The winter recreation expansion review process for this project that began all the way back in 2014 was extensive, analyzing several factors including the impact on the environment, wildlife, scenery, access to the area, local economy, and more.
The expansion plan was even subject to public hearings during the review process, ensuring no angle of the project was overlooked.
Lookout Pass hired SWCA Environmental Consultants to work with the Forest Service on the proposal.
SWCA representative Jamie Young said at one of the public hearings that impacts on fish, wildlife, and water quality were among the concerns area residents had with the expansion plan.
“Sediment getting into streams has been a concern with prior ski area projects,” Young said. “If you remove vegetation, would there be water quality issues with streams and the nearby St. Regis River? Our findings show this project should not cause significant sediment issues.”
INPF said in their announcement of the approval that the expansion will provide Lookout the opportunity to “build upon the overall public recreation experience, contribute economically to local communities, and meet the Forest Service’s goals to provide a diverse range of developed recreation opportunities for the public.”
Detailed out in the final record of decision, the (now approved) proposed action would consist of:
• 15 new ski trails, totaling approximately 91 acres of new terrain for traditional downhill skiing. Trees would be removed within the ski trail corridor, and up to 11 acres of ski trails would be graded to minimize side slopes and provide easier skier transitions.
• Nine acres of gladed terrain where individual beetle-infested trees would be removed.
• Two new fixed-grip lifts (for two to four passengers per chair on Lift 5 and two passengers per chair on Lift 6) to provide access to the new ski trails.
• An upgrade of existing Lift 1 from a two-passenger lift to a fixed-grip or detachable four passenger lift.
• A buried power line from the bottom of existing Lift 1 to the bottom drive terminals of proposed Lifts 5 and 6 (approximately 12,000 feet of cable).
• Approximately 130 new parking spaces (7 acres) in two locations: near the main lodge and along Lookout Pass Ski and Recreation Area’s access road.
• A 7,000-square-foot (120-by-60-foot) maintenance shop and adjacent 864-square-foot (36-by-24-foot) concrete pad with fuel storage tanks near the main lodge. A new, permanent 0.01-mile road would provide access to these facilities.
• A 24-by-20-foot ski patrol service building located at the top of proposed Lifts 5 and 6.
• A 13-by-10-foot restroom structure near the proposed Lift 5 bottom terminal.
• 1.4 miles of temporary roads for timber harvest and lift construction.
• 2.8 miles of new or reconstructed permanent roads for timber harvest, lift construction, and long-term operation and maintenance.
• 2.3 miles of road decommissioning (NFS Undetermined Roads 37315 and 37315-1).
Two objections that were received during the review period focused largely on user conflicts and on dispersed winter recreation (both motorized and non-motorized) in the St. Regis Basin and larger Stevens Peak backcountry area.
After consideration by the objection reviewing officer, instructions were offered to the Forest Supervisors regarding clarification of cumulative effects and organization of a meeting to discuss long-term winter recreation use.
Both instructions were met, and the expansion was approved.
Currently, the ski and recreation operates under a Special Use permit administered by the U.S. Forest Service to provide winter recreation opportunities.
To learn more about the expansion proposal and see all the documents associated with the it (including the final record of decision), visit http://data.ecosystem-management.org/nepaweb/nepa_project_exp.php?project=43757.