Best of the West: Ski resort upgrades; Powering up transmission lines; Pinpointing wildlife crossings; and Planting $1 billion worth of trees

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on the latest news in the West. Here are the top stories for the week starting Sept. 25, 2023. (Photos courtesy of Vail Resorts, Big Sky Resort, Crystal Mountian, and the U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Parks and Wildlife).

While summer is barely behind us, the peaks around several western communities recently received the season's first dusting of snow, which prompted widespread excitement for the upcoming ski season. That excitement has only grown as many ski resorts near the completion of significant expansions and upgrades. 

In Colorado, Steamboat Ski Resort, Aspen Mountain Ski Resort, and Keystone Ski Resort will open large tracts of new terrain.

Steamboat’s new terrain, entitled Mahagony Ridge, includes 650 new acres of glades and bowls in the Fish Creek Canyon and Pioneer Ridge portions of the mountain, making the resort the second-largest in Colorado.

Aspen Mountain will see its biggest upgrade since the addition of the Silver Queen Gondola in 1985 when the Pandora terrain opens this season. The 153-skiable-acre, 1,220-vertical-feet expansion will be served by a high-speed quad and give skiers access to 15 new chutes, three gladed areas, and four new cut runs. All in all, it will result in Ajax will grow by 20 percent.

Keystone’s 550-acre addition of former cat skiing and hike-to terrain in Bergman Bowl is set to debut this season with 16 runs and a brand-new high-speed six-person chairlift.

3,700-acre expansion at Deer Valley Ski Resort in Utah will more than double Deer Valley’s skiable terrain and include 16 new lifts and a new 10-passenger gondola. The complete project will unfold over the next three seasons, with a significant portion of the new lifts and trails set to open as early as the 25/26 winter season.

Powder Mountain in Utah is investing $100 million in the resort over the next several seasons. This season visitors will get to enjoy some guided backcountry terrain expansion and an enhanced beginner experience.

Aside from expansions, many western ski resorts have also substantially upgraded their facilities to improve visitor experiences. 

Big Sky Resort in Montana unveiled a new tram, capable of hauling 75 people instead of 15 and climbing 4,612 feet compared to 2,800 feet in the old tram. Even though the distance is farther, the trip will take only 4 minutes, climbing at a speed of 22 mph.

Copper Mountain in Colorado announced its largest investment in over a decade with a new 25,000-square-foot mid-mountain lodge. The resort will also expand parking options and upgrade two lifts. 

Snowbasin in Utah is installing a new lift, the DeMoisy Express, which will double the lift capacity to the Strawberry side of the mountain. The chair will be a high-speed six-pack and should be operational in December. The resort is also increasing its parking capacity, and adding a new patio at Strawberry Lodge.

Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico recently announced that it had finished replacing the Pioneer Lift with a newer model, set to open during the 2023-2024 winter season.

Crystal Mountain Resort in Washington will spend $100 million to remake the resort, starting with the Mountain Commons, which will be a 25,000-square-foot base lodge with new retail and dining options as well as an outside beach area to hang out at. Phase two will add a new summit lodge and a new one-hundred-room hotel as the base area. 

Willamette Valley in Oregon announced over $1 million in upgrades. The Peak 2 chairlift is being converted to electric. This allows for a more efficient lift, reduces the ski resort’s carbon footprint, and decreases the lift’s noise. After years of inactivity, Willamette will be reopening the Midway chairlift. This lift, which services the terrain park, will reduce lift lines. The lodge and other facilities are also undergoing upgrades, with one of the additions being new lockers.

Building Out Transmission Lines: new report from Grid Strategies identifies 36 high-voltage transmission projects that are primed to start construction across the country in the near future – 14 ​more projects than Grid Strategies identified in a similar report in 2021. If completed, these projects would connect 187 gigawatts of renewable resources to the grid, create 3.3 million jobs, improve electric reliability, and lower electricity costs for consumers. However, without policy reforms that improve how transmission is permitted and paid for, the report expects less than half of these projects to actually proceed to construction. 

Wildlife Crossings: Montana-based researchers from the Center for Large Landscape Conservation, Montana State University’s Western Transportation Institute, and Conservation Planning Technologies published a highly-anticipated study about wildlife crossingsThe152-page study analyzed road segments from 11 western states — Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming — to find the best locations for wildlife crossings. Researchers also created an interactive mapping website where people can see the different variables used to identify the best sites for crossings as map layers.

Urban and Community Forestry: The U.S. Forest Service  recently allocated more than $1 billion for 385 projects across the nation that plant and maintain trees to combat extreme heat and improve access to nature in cities, towns, and suburbs where more than 84% of Americans live. Learn more about the projects in each state, here

Rebounding Beaver Populations: For the first time in decades — if not more than a century —a beaver colony has taken up residence in this region south of the San Francisco Bay. After being hunted and harassed for hundreds of years, the North American beaver is poised to make a comeback in the Golden State, which can help to mitigate drought and wildfires through natural water management and is considered a keystone species for its ability to foster biodiversity and restore habitat through its ecosystem engineering. 

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