El Dorado supervisors pull for Iron Mountain
PLACERVILLE – Pat Owens, owner of Iron Mountain Ski Resort, garnered support from El Dorado County Tuesday in his yearlong fight to gain a special use permit from the U.S. Forest Service.
Owens asked the supervisors to extend the Forest Service’s comment period on whether to remove Iron Mountain from the list of existing or potential winter sport sites in the Eldorado National Forest.
The supervisors voted 4-1, with Penny Humphreys dissenting, to sign a resolution of support for Owens’ venture.
“I think it’s certainly important for the board to encourage private enterprise,” Supervisor Dave Solaro said. “If somebody’s willing to make a go of it, then why not. It’s not costing the county anything.”
Iron Mountain, located just southwest of Kirkwood, hasn’t been operational since 1994, but Owens has been trying to gain a permit to reopen it for winter recreation since January of this year.
“We have never been given the opportunity to sit down with the Forest Service and create a working relationship,” Owens told supervisors.
Judy Yandah, a Forest Service district ranger, told the board the mountain was not economically viable based on years of past failures and an in-house study performed by the Forest Service’s winter sports specialists from Colorado.
“When I first got into this I thought Iron Mountain could be successful. After 12 years of experience I don’t believe that anymore,” Yandah said. “It’s not economically viable nor will it ever be economically viable and it’s time to end the permit.”
Ending the permit means the Forest Service would amend its master plan, changing the designation of Iron Mountain from a winter recreational area to a high county road area. Supervisor Ray Nutting said that type of change would be almost impossible to reverse and he feels it should not be done.
“If this guy makes it work, fine. If he doesn’t make it work then it’s not going to hurt anybody,” Nutting said. “I support ski resorts, I support private entrepreneurship, and I support business and recreation. I have great faith in the private sector to make private sector decisions.”
Owens’ wife Sharon said she and her husband were happy with the board’s decision to join Amador County, Congressman John Doolittle and State Sen. Tim Leslie in supporting Iron Mountain.
“We can’t find anybody but the Forest Service who is opposed to this whole thing,” Sharon Owens said.
The Owens had an economic study done by a design firm from Canada and an economics research group from San Francisco that concluded the mountain is both physically and economically viable for a ski resort.
Sharon Owens said it is frustrating to her that the Forest Service did not give those studies the consideration and respect they deserved.
“We paid for studies to see if the mountain is viable. We didn’t ask for the studies to prove the Forest Service wrong,” she said. “We’re not foolish. We want a successful resort.”
Owens said she and her husband have to first stop the designation amendment from going through before they can apply for a permit.
Pat Owens said if the Forest Service granted the permit soon, the 1,600-acre resort would be open next year.
Iron Mountain boasts five lifts, 700 skiable acres, 1,350-vertical feet and a two-mile run.
Owens said the ski resort would be marketed to family, beginner and intermediate skiers from the Sacramento and Stockton areas.
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