Debate over trees vs. ski lift |

Debate over trees vs. ski lift

Amanda Fehd
Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune/ A sign opposing a new ski lift in the Heavenly master plan was posted along U.S. Highway 50 in Meyers.

Supporters and critics of Heavenly Mountain Resort’s new Master Plan waited 71Ú2 hours Wednesday to voice their thoughts on the resort’s proposed new lifts, restaurant and amphitheater.

The issue boiled down to a Nevada section of the ski area known for its expert tree-skiing terrain. The resort wants to cut down 230 trees in the North Bowl area to build a high-speed lift.

“The North Bowl trees area, in the opinion of myself and many friends, has some of the best powder tree skiing at a resort in the Tahoe Basin, if not the entire western United States,” skier Kerstin Seufert told the Governing Board of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, which must approve the project. “Putting a lift and clear-cut runs through this area will ruin it.”

Heavenly spokesman Russ Pecoraro said Thursday the resort hopes to preserve the gladed feel of the area.

“In essence it will still be tree skiing, not something we’ll be able to groom on a regular basis, if at all,” he said. “Our interest is to open up that area to even more skiers and riders. Right now, because of the lifts, people think you have to be an expert skier to go there.”

Plan would save time

Other skiers supported the plan and said it would improve their experience. Radio personality Curtis Fong, who first skied the resort in 1968, pushed for the new lift.

“Skiers and snowboarders are looking to get to the top of the mountain with the least amount of time and effort,” Fong said.

Seufert and others were also concerned that many of the trees fit TRPA’s definition of old growth and would be cut from a steep slope.

Present TRPA policy prohibits any development or tree removal in the area. TRPA’s board would have to approve a policy change to allow the master plan to go through, according to agency spokesman Jeff Cowen.

A representative from the Sierra Nevada Alliance said there is an option that has not been explored: building a kinked lift over the old lift lines. Kinked lifts traverse a mountain at an angle, usually to avoid sensitive areas.

“If there is a way for Heavenly to build this lift without clear-cutting a path through the North Bowl woods, then that’s what Heavenly should do,” said researcher Nicole Gibson. “It’s incorrigible that Andrew Strain is trying to mislead TRPA and the public about what the options are.”

Strain, Heavenly’s vice president of planning and governmental affairs, told the board that kinked lifts are cost prohibitive and require a large mid-station which will entail its own environmental impacts.

“Heavenly has worked closely with Forest Service and TRPA, and the League, to come up with the alternatives that we have presented,” Pecoraro said. “We are trying to do what we feel is best not only for the resort, but for the community, and do what we feel will impact the environment as little as possible.”

Environmental challenge

The League to Save Lake Tahoe opposes the plan, saying the Edgewood Creek watershed that includes North Bowl is the most degraded of the four watersheds in Heavenly’s boundary.

“If there’s a technological solution that’s available that reduces the number of trees cut down, it should be required,” said League program director John Friedrich.

When asked by board member Norma Santiago, Strain confirmed Vail Corp.’s revenue last year was $68 million and that Heavenly ranks in the middle of Vail’s five resorts in terms of revenue.

Heavenly operates on public land under a lease from the Forest Service.

Tahoe’s forest supervisor Terri Marceron, who must also approve the plan, has indicated she is in favor of allowing the lift to go in. She said the new proposal responds to original protests in 2003 and the preferred plan is a reduction in the original number of trees cut.

“From a Forest Service perspective, Heavenly is not expanding its boundaries nor is it expanding the number of people at one time,” Marceron told the board. “Heavenly is rearranging guest and visitor capacity over the resort.”

The public hearing was scheduled to start about 2-1Ú2 hours into the meeting, but lengthy discussions on the airport tree-cutting issue and Homewood Mountain Resort land sale delayed the hearing until around 4:30 p.m.

About a dozen holdouts came forward.

Leaders on both sides of the issue reported they saw some of their supporters leave before being able to speak.

“Most people can’t afford to spend eight hours waiting around to testify,” It’s been a recurring problem,” said Friedrich. He will push for a time-certain hearing at next month’s meeting, which will be held on the North Shore.

If you go

What: Informational meeting on Heavenly Master Plan

When: Thursday, July 6, 6:30 p.m.

Where: Forest Service offices, 15 College Drive, off Al Tahoe Boulevard

Comments: Written comments will be accepted at the meeting or through the Forest Service Web site at

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