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Former AVSC, World Cup ski racer Alice McKennis Duran joins Vail club as coach

Alice McKennis Duran goes airborne during a 2018 training session ahead of a women's World Cup downhill in Cortina d'Ampezzo, northern Italy. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis)

VAIL — The new coach at Ski & Snowboard Vail should command some attention.

The newbie has 10-plus years of World Cup experience, including a win on tour (St. Anton, downhill, Jan. 12, 2013), not to mention world championships (2013) and Olympic (2010 and 2018) experience.

SSCV announced this week the hiring of Alice McKennis Duran as a U12 alpine coach fresh off her World Cup career.

“Hiring Alice reinforces Ski & Snowboard Club Vail’s continued commitment to excellence in coaching across all ages. This will be an amazing opportunity for young SSCV athletes to learn firsthand from one of the best in the world,” said SSCV alpine program director Brad Wall. “On days when Alice is not coaching U12 athletes we expect her to have a tremendous impact across the entire alpine program, passing along her extensive knowledge and passion for developing strong speed skills across all ages.”

Born in New Castle, McKennis Duran learned to ski at 2 at Sunlight Mountain with her father and older sister, Kendra. She also had a brief stint training with the Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club prior to joining the national team.

“I can remember holding onto my father’s ski pole as he taught me to turn. Some of my earliest memories skiing include the feeling of awe that there was so much to explore on the mountain and the freedom I had to ski my own way and find the speed for myself,” McKennis Duran said.

And speed she did find. McKennis Duran was a U.S. ski team athlete for 13 years (2008-2021) and competed on the FIS World Cup circuit in both downhill and super-G from 2009-2020.

McKennis Duran placed fifth in downhill in the 2018 Olympics. A few other highlights include third place in a World Cup downhill in Are, Sweden, in 2018, not to mention being a three-time U.S. national champion, wins coming in super-G in 2015 and 2020, and downhill in 2017.

Alice McKennis Duran brings 10-plus years of experience on the U.S. Ski Team to her new duties at Ski & Snowboard Club Vail. Courtesy photo.

When not training and racing herself, McKennis Duran shared her passion with the next generation of ski racers, coaching at Keely’s Camp for Girls and the American Downhill Speed Camp. In parallel with her stellar ski racing career, McKennis Duran made the time to earn her Level 3 PSIA Instructor license and pursue her higher education goals. She is currently working to complete her coursework for a bachelor’s degree in small business management and entrepreneurship from DeVry University.

“Results are one thing, but Alice is also known for her resilience and determination, successfully returning to World Cup competition after multiple season-ending injuries,” Wall said. “SSCV athletes stand to learn a great deal from the way she has faced and overcome adversity in her ski racing career.”

McKennis Duran retired following the 2020-21 season, which she spent most of injured. She made her farewell run at the national championships hosted by Aspen Highlands in February.

“I am looking forward to sharing the insights and knowledge I have gained from my 10-plus years of racing on the World Cup with a younger generation,” McKennis Duran said. “By having the opportunity to continue to be involved with ski racing, which has meant so much to me throughout my life, and to share that passion with a younger generation, I hope to continue fostering the love of an incredible sport for generations to come.

“As a former athlete from the youth level all the way to the highest level, I understand the challenges and what it takes to achieve big goals. I believe with my experience and insights taken from my own ski racing career I will be able to relate to the athletes of any age or ability and help them to get the most out of the sport that they can — not just from an athletic perspective, but from a personal one, as well.”

The long wait is over for mountain bikers — more trails are opening on Sunday

A mountain biker cruises down Airline Trail in Sky Mountain Park on Tuesday, May 19, 2020. Sky Mountain Park will open on Sunday, May 15 this year. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

The Roaring Fork Valley is about to get bigger for mountain bikers with the opening of trails in Aspen, Snowmass Village and Glenwood Springs.

The popular Sky Mountain Park trail network will open Sunday along with the nearby North Rim and Seven Star trails. The Upper Coal Camp loop trail in South Canyon, west of Glenwood Springs, also opens on Sunday.

“It’s going to be a great weekend to spend behind handlebars,” proclaimed the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association in its weekly email newsletter on Friday.

The opening of the trails in the upper and lower valley will take pressure off the Prince Creek network, Crown Mountain and Glassier trail in the midvalley.

“Prince Creek and Glassier have been very busy to start the season,” said Gary Tennenbaum, director of the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails program, which manages Glassier and Sky Mountain Park.

Sky Mountain Park is popular with riders of all abilities because of its diversity and multiple trailheads. The trails opening Sunday include Cozyline, Airline, Skyline Ridge, Deadline and Viewline. Adjacent routes such as the Ditch Trail, South Rim Trail and the Highline/Lowline trails are open year-round.

Open space rangers removed some downed trees on lower Airline but riders could encounter a few wet or muddy spots and other downed trees higher up, Tennenbaum said Friday. Downed timber is also likely on upper stretches of North Rim and Seven Star.

The use of trails managed by the open space program soared during the pandemic summer of 2020. Glassier Trail surged from 11,004 users in 2019 to 18,012 in 2020. The Viewline Trail in Sky Mountain Spark shot up from 8,481 to 17,805, according to data from the program.

“We are expecting use to be similar and are trying to get the message out about crowded or full trailheads and having a Plan B,” Tennenbaum said.

Meanwhile, most trails on the White River National Forest aren’t ready for prime time quite yet. The national forest’s transition to summer use will start May 21. That means motorized and mechanical uses aren’t allowed on most routes until that date.

Some routes on national forest in the Aspen area are closed until later so users don’t interfere with critical elk calving areas. Tom Blake, Sequel and other trails in the Elk Camp and Two Creeks vicinity are closed April 25 through June 20. The Anaerobic Nightmare Trail is closed April 25 through June 27. The Government Trail and Sugarbowl Trail are closed May 15 through June 27.

The mountain bike association will update trail conditions throughout the spring, summer and fall at https://www.rfmba.org/trails/trail-conditions/.

Time to weigh in

Pitkin County Open Space and Trails will launch the process to update its management plan for Sky Mountain Park on Sunday by opening a public survey.

“It has been 10 years since the heart of the Park debuted to public use, giving visitors their first access to the scenic ridge separating the Brush Creek and Owl Creek valleys,” the open space program said in a recent news release. The 2,400-acre park has become one of the most heavily used recreation destinations in the area. It is located between Highway 82 and Snowmass Village.

The survey will help gauge public sentiment regarding the park as it exists today and ask users what they would like to see going forward. The survey will be open through June 16. It can be found at www.pitkinOSTprojects.com.

scondon@aspentimes.com

New trail on Sutey Ranch will create new connection to Red Hill trail network

A mountain biker rides past the new trailhead at Red Hill in Carbondale on Monday, April 26, 2021. A new trailhead on the north side of the network could ease crowding later this summer. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Work will begin this month on a short trail that will have big implications for hikers and bikers in the midvalley.

Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers, the Red Hill Council and Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association are teaming to perform work on the new Sutey Ranch Trail that the Bureau of Land Management says will be “optimized for bike riders, but also open to foot traffic.”

The new trail will be only about 3 miles long but it will serve as an important connector to the popular 19-mile trail network in the Red Hill Special Recreation Management Area. Sutey Ranch is to the north of that network, about 6 miles northeast of Carbondale. The new trail will provide access to Red Hill via the Northside Loop and the Elk Traverse Trail.

“For a biker, this will be big news,” said Mike Pritchard, executive director of the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association. “Most riders might seek out a 10- or 12-mile ride from the new Sutey trailhead by creating a big lollipop with the Sutey Bike Trail — Big Top Loop, Northside Loop and then retracing back to the Sutey trailhead.”

The trail will be closed from late fall to spring for the benefit of wildlife. An existing trail from the Sutey trailhead off of County Road 112 will be reserved for hikers and equestrians. That trail is off limits for mountain bikers.

The new access may relieve pressure at the Red Hill trailhead at Highway 133 and 82. On any given day and particularly on weekends, there are hordes of bikers and hikers accessing the trail network from that trailhead. While work has been done to separate uses, there can still be conflicts.

The new trail might result in more bikers accessing Red Hill via the Sutey Ranch trailhead, which would benefit hikers at the main trailhead.

“I think it will help some,” said Davis Farrar, a longtime member of the Red Hill Council, a nonprofit organization that works with the BLM to preserve and maintain the Red Hill trails.

“The new normal is everything will be overwhelmed,” Farrar said, reflecting on soaring trail use and outdoor activity during 2020 and into this year during the pandemic. “(Sutey Trail) will have its own crowd, I think.”

Some trail runners, hikers and mountain bikers will prefer the Sutey trailhead because of the “unique experience” on the north side of the Red Hill network, he said.

There is an inherent dilemma in creating a new trail and access point, he said. In this case, the good news is it opens up the north side of the network for more use. The bad news is it opens the north side open to more use, he quipped.

This map shows where the new Sutey Ranch trail will be built and its relation to the existing Red Hill trail network.
RFMBA/courtesy image

The three local trails groups will enlist volunteers for work on about half of the 3-mile trail. Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers is coordinating the project. Work will be performed on three successive Tuesdays — May 11, 18 and 25, from 4 to 8 p.m. each session.

RFOV rates the work as physically easy and family friendly. Volunteers must sign up at RFOV’s website at www.rfov.org/calendar.

The Bureau of Land Management will hire a contractor to finish the other half of the trail, a portion of which will require use of a mini-excavator. The “pro-built” segment will be about 1.42-miles long. The volunteers will build about 1.57 miles.

Pritchard said the goal is to have the volunteer work finished in May. Additional workdays might be required, he said. The BLM has put the job for the professional build out for bid and a contractor could be on the project in the next two months. Pritchard said the trail should be open to riders and hikers by mid-summer.

“We would like to say it will be ready in July,” he said, “but there is no hard date.”

Speaking of trails …..

The Sky Mountain Park trails will open May 16 after the winter wildlife closure is lifted. Viewline, Cozyline, Airline, Deadline, Skyline Ridge and Ditchline will see the first legal use of the year Sunday as will Rim Trail North and Seven Star Trail. The trails are closed Dec. 1 through May 15.

scondon@aspentimes.com

Popular Grizzly Creek trail reopens, revealing extensive fire damage and unexpected areas left unscathed

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, CO - MARCH 7 : Photo taken the sign Grizzly Creek trail head in Glenwood Springs, Colorado on Wednesday, April 7, 2021. The trail reopened after being closed last August due to wildfire. (Photo by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)

Eight months after the Grizzly Creek wildfire burned nearly 33,000 acres in Glenwood Canyon, the surprising thing isn’t how much timber was blackened along the popular Grizzly Creek hiking trail near where the fire started. The surprise is how much wasn’t.

On Thursday, a week after the U.S. Forest Service reopened the Grizzly Creek trail, there were pockets of burned trees, toppled timber, lines of fine ash where fallen trees went up in flames and other signs of the conflagration that swept some 8 miles along Glenwood Canyon on both sides of Interstate 70. Yet much of the hike remains beautiful and surprisingly unscathed.

Jacklyn Groen of Gypsum was relieved to see how much life remains in a favorite hiking destination for her and her husband. She estimates she’s hiked Grizzly Creek a dozen times over the past three years.

“I see a lot of missing trees and a lot of burned areas, which is sad, but there’s still so much life here,” Groen said, sitting at a wooden picnic table she was relieved to see intact. It’s a spot she has often visited for peace and contemplation. “I’m so grateful. So much green. So much hope, more than I expected to see.”

The boundaries of the Grizzly Creek fire went far beyond the Grizzly Creek drainage, which is located about 5 miles east of Glenwood Springs. It affected the Hanging Lake area 4 miles to the east, leaving scattered pockets of burned trees and piles of ash, without destroying iconic Hanging Lake. (The Hanging Lake trail remains closed but is set to reopen on May 1.)

Read more via The Denver Post.

McKennis Duran, Ross celebrate retirement at Highlands downhill Saturday

Two-time Olympian and two-time national champion Alice McKennis Duran took a final lap to celebrate her retirement in between the two downhill runs at the U.S. Alpine Championships on Saturday, April 10, 2021, at Aspen Highlands. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Two World Cup mainstays said goodbye — including one of the Valley’s own — and a rare tie occurred atop another leaderboard on Saturday in what was downhill day at the U.S. Alpine Championships at Aspen Highlands.

Oregon’s Laurenne Ross and New Castle native Alice McKennis Duran both announced their retirement from the U.S. ski team in recent days and celebrated together during Saturday’s downhill races. McKennis Duran is a local namesake who grew up skiing at Sunlight Mountain Resort in Glenwood Springs and formerly trained with the Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club.

The women combined for 274 World Cup starts over careers that spanned more than a decade each and included a pair of Olympic appearances for both.

“It feels surreal,” Ross said. “Having Alice do her last race, and just being in the start with her and knowing it was the last time we got to do that together was really emotional and kind of hard to get it together for the race. But I just wanted to have fun.”

While McKennis Duran, who splits her time between homes in Minturn and Moab, used Saturday’s downhill as more of a ceremonial race, with her husband, Pat Duran, following behind with the camera, Ross entered the starting gate looking to compete, despite her desire to just “have fun.”

Laurenne Ross celebrates her victory in the downhill at the U.S. Alpine Championships on Saturday, April 10, 2021, at Aspen Highlands. Ross recently announced her retirement.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

The 32-year-old actually won the women’s downhill on Saturday — which had a rare two-run format — in a combined 2 minutes, 18.49 seconds, holding off California’s AJ Hurt (0.45 back) and Utah’s Lauren Macuga (0.89 back) for the national championship.

“I’m competitive as hell, so I knew I was going to try and go fast so I didn’t really have to worry about that,” Ross said. “I’m really happy … happy to be here with all my friends and of course it’s really wonderful to win my last actual race.”

Ross plans to take her victory lap in Tuesday’s super-G national championship race. The giant slalom and slalom national championship races are Thursday and Friday at Highlands.

Hurt, 20, and Macuga, 18, both grew up watching Ross compete and the native of Bend was thrilled to share her final podium with her young U.S. teammates.

“It’s really cool to see their talent … and to see their passion and drive,” Ross said. “Also, just their compassion for others is really refreshing. I remember being their age and being around the older girls and just being a little bit scared of people, and not really having that camaraderie as much, but it’s nice to get to know them and to see them start to blossom in their careers. It’s exciting.”

American skiers Thomas Biesemeyer and Jared Goldberg congratulate each other after tying for first place in the men’s downhill at the U.S. Alpine Championships on Saturday, April 10, 2021, at Aspen Highlands. This was Biesemeyer’s first gold in a downhill national championship.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

In the men’s downhill on Saturday, U.S. mainstays Tommy Biesemeyer and Jared Goldberg shared the national championship in a rare tie, as both finished with a two-run combined time of 2:13.29. Biesemeyer just edged Goldberg on the first run, but Goldberg got him back just as equally in the second run.

Maine’s Sam Morse finished third on Saturday, 0.29 back of the winners. Minnesota’s Isaiah Nelson was fourth, Aspen’s own Tristan Lane was fifth and another Aspenite in Bridger Gile came in seventh.

While Goldberg, 29, remains active as a ski racer, Biesemeyer, 32, announced back in October he was stepping away from competition and effectively came out of retirement to race at nationals. He also competed in a series of FIS races at Whiteface Mountain in New York both in February and March, winning a few of the races.

Racing continues Sunday with a FIS downhill for both men and women, while Monday is an off day before Tuesday’s national championship super-G and combined races for the women.

“It’s been really fun to come here and race on a pretty chill venue, and I’ve been wanting to have nationals here for years,” Goldberg said. “It’s just such a fun venue, and it’s easy for them to set up and for us you can kind of relax and have fun with it, and this time of year that’s what we need after a long World Cup season.”

acolbert@aspentimes.com

On the Fly column: Fishing resolutions

Taylor Creek fishing guide Kyle Holt holds two Roaring Fork brown trout.

After this year of our discontent, making a few fishing resolutions will provide us some light at the end of the 2020 tunnel. The beauty of fly fishing is that we never “cap out,” there is always something to learn, appreciate and strive for in our pursuits of those rascally finned friends of ours.

Giving back should top all of our lists. Local organizations, scout troops and schools provide so much to local youth and aspiring anglers. Groups like the Roaring Fork Conservancy, Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, the Roaring Fork Fishing Guide Alliance, the Western Slope chapter of Casting for Recovery and the Roaring Fork Valley Fly Fishing Club can all use our help, whether it is financial or volunteering.

Stepping outside of our comfort zones makes us better anglers. This should be the year we learn to tie our own flies, learn to effectively fish dry flies or streamers better, or learn a new section of river versus stubbornly fishing the same spot all year.

The next step for accomplished trout fishers is to go on a saltwater trip. Planning a trip is half as fun as going on the trip itself, and hopefully we all feel more comfortable traveling soon. Consider bonefish, tarpon, permit or redfish if it’s your first attempt at going beyond Rocky Mountain trout. You can catch these fish in coastal areas right here in the good ‘ole USA.

Entomology is very important for fly fishers to understand, and this knowledge separates the novice from the accomplished angler. Read a book, grab a seine or dip net, and flip over some rocks. Understanding what insects the fish are focused on is half the battle out there. Don’t be afraid to pick the brains of your favorite fly shop employees either, we all ponder bugs morning, noon and night. Happy New Fishing Year to all of you, let’s all get to that next level of fly fishing together.

This report is provided every week by Taylor Creek Fly Shops in Aspen and Basalt. Taylor Creek can be reached at 970-927-4374 or taylorcreek.com.

WATCH: It’s beginning to look a lot like ski season at Sunlight

Sunlight Mountain Resort rolled out and dusted off the snow machines last week and have started the process of blowing snow on the slopes in preparation for the 2020/2021 ski season.

Skiers and snowboarders will have to wait a while longer before they can hit the slopes, however. Sunlight’s 54th season is slated to kick off Dec. 11.

Sunlight Mountain Resort Mountain Manager Mike Baumli opens the hatch to the underground water hydrant valve before turning on the water to one of the snow machines.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent
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A snow gun machine is kicked on in the early evening hours at Sunlight Mountain.
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Video by PI Staff Photographer Chelsea Self
Sunlight Mountain Resort Mountain Manager Mike Baumli checks the direction in which the wind is blowing and placing the snow near the base of the mountain.
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Sunlight Mountain Resort Mountain Manager Mike Baumli radios in with a coworker while firing up the snow machines near the base of the mountain.
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Snow begins to cover the slopes at Sunlight Mountain Resort.
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Sunlight Mountain Resort Mountain Manager Mike Baumli changes the position of the snow machine to ensure it is placing snow in the correct location.
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Sunlight Mountain Resort Mountain Manager Mike Baumli looks up to one of the snow machines after firing them up near the base of the mountain.
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The snow machines are typically fired up late in the afternoon and run over night until mid morning the next day.
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Aspen Skiing Co. outlines plan for ski operations during pandemic

Aspen Skiing Co.’s operations plan for the pandemic-plagued ski season was approved by Pitkin County on Wednesday and forwarded to the state of Colorado for review.

The 53-page plan covers everything from the Highland Bowl snowcat (it won’t operate) to procedures for ski patrollers (they will wear disposable gloves and other personal protective equipment when called on to treat an injured or ill skier or snowboarder).

Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock said the county checked for compliance with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s requirements for ski area operations this winter..

“We found that the company covered all the rubric,” he said.

The state health department also will review and inform Skico and the county within the next few days if changes are required, Peacock said. The Colorado ski industry is slowly cranking up for the season, just as state and national COVID-19 cases start to soar. Keystone, Loveland, Arapahoe Basin and Wolf Creek are among ski areas that have started spinning lifts. Aspen Mountain and Snowmass are opening two weeks from today, on Thanksgiving.

“Aspen Skiing Company’s primary goal for this season is to safely operate for the entirety of the season, while supporting and ensuring that our community stays safe and healthy,” said the opening of Skico’s operating plan. “ASC understands that this must be part of a broader community-wide effort.”

Skico will take actions that have become standard in the COVID-era — beefing-up cleaning and disinfecting of facilities and infrastructure, requiring employees and customers to wear masks in most situations, and marking off social distance in lines at retail operations, bathrooms and restaurants. But the plan also makes clear that virtually every part of the ski experience will be tweaked or altered this winter.

There is currently no plan to require season pass holders or lift ticket purchasers to reserve time on the slopes. However, Skico is ready to initiate such a plan, if needed. The company said it has “developed a backup reservation system that can be implemented” in case COVID-19 cases “move to problematic levels.”

In the meantime, Skico is using pass products to try to spread usage more evenly across its four ski areas and from traditional peak periods to less busy times.

The plan specified capacity limits for Aspen Mountain, Snowmass, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk but that section was blacked out from a copy The Aspen Times acquired from Pitkin County through a Colorado Open Records Act request.

“The following section on capacity is considered proprietary and is not available for public consumption,” the plan said. Nearly two pages that are blacked out follow it.

Skico said the winter operations plan is flexible so that capacity can be increased or decreased as conditions warrant.

Skiers and riders won’t be pampered with as many guest services as they have in the past. For example, people skiing Highland Bowl will have to fully earn their turns. The snowcat that provides a lift for a portion of the journey up the Bowl won’t operate this season.

At the Silver Queen Gondola at Aspen Mountain and the Elk Camp Gondola at Snowmass, skiers and riders will be asked to load their own boards. “If help is needed, lift operators will assist,” the plan said.

Windows on gondola cabins will remain open, even in bad weather. An electrostatic sprayer will be used for a “deep clean” on the gondola cabins each morning as weather permits. “We will spray down cabins throughout the day so that they can dry on the way down if temperatures allow,” the plan said.

In lift and gondola lines, the guests will have “guidance to demonstrate appropriate spacing when waiting to load,” the plan said. Guests will be required to wear face coverings while loading, unloading and riding the lifts.

“Chairlifts will load with parties that are comfortable together,” the plan said. “Parties may load lifts to full capacity. No guests will be loaded with anyone outside of their party if they object to doing so.”

Facilities such as on-mountain restaurants and base facilities won’t be as inviting as in the past. For example, most of the furniture will be removed from the Aspen Highlands lobby and ticket office to “discourage loitering.”

The ski patrol headquarters will not be open to the public. If help is needed, visitors can knock on the window or call a number listed on the door.

Skico will post a “doorman” at on-mountain restaurants to help manage physical distancing at entries, waiting areas and queues. “All employees and guests will be required to wear a mask while navigating the facility, ordering food and at the cash registers,” Skico’s plan said.

Tents with seating capacity of as many as 50 people will be erected wherever possible to increase restaurant-seating capacity. They will have heating and air filtration.

They will be added at Elk Camp, Ullrhof and High Alpine at Snowmass; the Sundeck at Aspen Mountain; and Merry Go Round at Aspen Highlands.

In its bathrooms, Skico is considering “blocking off stalls” to provide adequate spacing. “Porta-johns” will be added outside of facilities to boost capacity.

“All public restrooms and Porta-johns will be cleaned and disinfected every hour,” the plan said. All hand dryers will be turned off and disposable paper towels provided. Hand sanitizer will be available.

Skico will use a carrot-and-stick approach to enforcement.

“ASC will train employees in empathetic dialogues that inform and remind the guests of our requirements in following the 5 Commitments to Containment,” the plan said. Signage on requirements for social distancing and masks will be provided wherever customers congregate. Individuals will be thanked for wearing masks and adhering to distancing. They will be reminded, when necessary, of the importance of the action and how each person’s behavior impacts others, according to the plan.

“Employees will not allow guests that are refusing to follow requirements into facilities or onto lifts,” the plan said. “If guests refuse to follow requirements, their pass/ticket will be blocked for the remainder of the day and they will need to speak with the mountain manager prior to re-establishing access.”

Skico said it has already implemented a comprehensive guest communications plan so that there are no surprises when customers arrive. The efforts will include clear explanations about cancellation and postponement policies.

“Our goal has been to clearly set guest expectations and develop reasonable policies that do not disincentive guests who are feeling sick from staying home and/or seeking medical attention,” Skico said in the plan. “ASC has developed a range of products and policies with various cancellation and postponement policies so that guests can make informed judgments about what makes sense for them.”

Sunlight Mountain Resort’s East Ridge chairlift gets Forest Service OK

The White River National Forest has approved the construction of Sunlight Mountain Resort’s East Ridge chairlift.

Sunlight proposed the new quad chairlift to provide better access to the intermediate and expert terrain in the East Ridge area. The project also includes constructing catwalks at the top of the lift for access to the Rebel and Grizzly trails as well as installing a vault-style toilet. 

“These upgrades should enhance recreational opportunities and improve skier circulation across the mountain,” said Acting Forest Supervisor Lisa Stoeffler. 

The majority of the project is on private land. Less than five acres would be disturbed on the White River National Forest, including clearing a 2,000-foot linear corridor for the new lift, clearing and grading for the top terminal, and installing supporting infrastructure. Ten of the lift’s towers would be on the White River National Forest. 

Sunlight Mountain Resort operates on the White River National Forest under a special use permit. The new lift and associated disturbance would occur within Sunlight’s permitted area. 

Sunlight expects construction to be completed for the 2021/22 ski season. 

Backcountry ski equipment expected to sell out quickly in Colorado as pandemic uncertainty persists

When ski resorts suddenly shut down in mid-March, skiers and snowboarders flocked to the backcountry. With lingering uncertainty about resort operations this ski season, backcountry shops are expected to be in high demand.

Eric Henderson, spokesperson for SnowSports Industries America, said that as ski areas and retail shops shut down in March and April, the backcountry industry saw a record-breaking amount of internet sales for equipment, including items like boots, shovels, packs and skins. He said sales for Alpine touring gear were up 34% in March and 15% for the season, according to internet sales data from NPD Group.

“What that did do going into this winter, though, is it increased everyone’s forecasts,” Henderson said.

Henderson explained that growth forecasts are intended to help purchasers order products in the summer in anticipation of what could happen in the fall. He said he’s expecting suppliers to sell out of products, particularly apparel and skins — which attach to skis or a splitboard to assist in ascending a hill or mountain. 

Specifically, Henderson said Swiss brand Pomoca, a pioneer of skins, is expected to sell out this season with certain products selling out as early as mid-November.

“With people buying this gear, we’re definitely going to see an increase of backcountry users, we’re definitely going to see people venturing into areas that they haven’t been before, which is great for the sport, no question,” Henderson said. “I think backcountry skiing deserves this chance. It does beckon the question of importance and need for education.”

While Henderson appreciates the growth of the sport, he said the industry wants to make sure people are educated and taking the right steps to avoid potentially deadly accidents. 

“What we don’t want to have happen is — great, backcountry skiing is growing — and then what if something happens on a massive scale,” Henderson said. “Then everything that we’ve put into growing … backcountry skiing could then get painted in a negative light if there was to be a major incident.”

That could become a problem if necessary backcountry safety items — like shovels, beacons and probes — are sold out.

Jackson Renner, owner of Gore Range Sports, recently opened his ski and bike shop in Silverthorne. In winter, the shop is focused on Alpine touring and Nordic skiing.

Renner said he is preparing for a busy season, specifically on the Nordic front. He said some customers who have never cross-country skied are coming into his shop looking for a way to get into the backcountry. Because Nordic skiing has a lower learning curve and associated risk than Alpine touring, he said he expects it to be particularly popular this year. 

“It’s kind of the activity the whole family can do out the back door,” Renner said. “Whether you live, say, in Wildernest or Breckenridge, you can ski all the local low-angle hillsides right out your back door, and it’s just safer. It’s kind of like taking the dog for a walk.”

Renner is expecting a shortage of backcountry gear this year and anticipates the product reordering process will be difficult. He said most of the vendors he’s currently working with are experiencing delays in production.  

Wilderness Sports owner Lucy Hedrick said there have been a lot of delays in production and that the bulk of what the store has received so far is Nordic gear. Hedrick said the store got a shipment of gear less than two weeks ago, and half of it already has been sold. The shipment would last until Christmas in a more typical season.

While Nordic skiing is expected to be popular, Hedrick said a lot of people are ready to commit to Alpine touring.

“A lot of people who have already done a lot of resort skiing — and maybe have even demoed our backcountry stuff or gone out with friends before — those people are ready to make a commitment this year to learning it and getting the education,” Hedrick said. 

Alpine touring equipment has a lot of interest, Hedrick said, but is experiencing shipping delays for some products. Hedrick said people are coming into the store panicked to get their equipment purchased for the season.

Hedrick is telling people not to stress. She said equipment will come; it’s just taking awhile to arrive. But once the equipment does arrive, it will go quickly, so the store is encouraging people to snatch up their gear — particularly safety gear — early. Hedrick said the store has increased its orders in anticipation of the high demand.

In a normal year, Hedrick said, the store would host educational events to help with backcountry safety. They won’t this year because of the pandemic, so Wilderness Sports staff members are trying to have conversations about safety with anyone who is new to the sport, including asking customers if they know where to go to receive proper avalanche education and ensuring they have the necessary safety equipment and know how to use it.

Wilderness Sports is pointing people to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, Colorado Mountain College and other local programs for safety courses.

“We’re expecting it to be crazy, and I think that a lot of people that have already been in the backcountry world are nervous,” Hedrick said. “… The best thing that we can do is just try to hold each other accountable and educate people in a way that makes them feel welcome into the community.

“At the end of the day, we’re all just trying to make the best of this winter.”