The Carson National Forest is seeking comments on its draft Environmental Assessment for improvements proposed by Taos Ski Valley, Inc., including the company's proposed gondola project, which would connect the resort's frontside main base with the Kachina basin.
The resort operates on U.S. Forest Service land under a special use permit that will be up for renewal again in 2054. The proposed improvements were identified in the ski corporation's updated Master Development Plan, which was accepted by the U.S. Forest Service in late 2021.
The latest comment period, ending April 9, represents the next phase of the National Environmental Policy Act process that governs approval of the improvement projects. According to a forest spokesperson, 516 substantive comments were submitted in response to the scoping period for the assessment.
"Overall, the proposed action has been developed in accordance with the desired conditions for the Developed Winter and Summer Resort Management Area outlined in the 2022 Forest Plan (USDA Forest Service 2022)," according to the Environmental Assessment. "Pending Forest Service approval, TSV anticipates that construction could begin during the summer of 2023."
Under the proposal, Lift 2 and Lift 8, which were built in the 1990s and are "nearing the end of their operational life," would be replaced with faster, higher-capacity lifts. A 33-acre, groomable cross-country ski and snowshoe trail area would also be developed.
The Whistlestop Café would be replaced with a facility double its current size and with more bathrooms in an adjacent location that won't interrupt skier flow. A new 7,000-square-foot restaurant would also be built near the top of Lift 7, providing "a main mid-mountain facility for guests to purchase food and use restrooms."
Additionally, "a hiking trail would be constructed in the vicinity of Lift 4 that generally follows the existing Hunziker ski trail," according to Forest Supervisor James Duran, who issued a letter when the scoping period for the NEPA review was launched last year. "This trail would be approximately two miles long and would provide users an intermediate, high alpine hiking experience with access to the amenities of the Kachina Basin base area."
The 7,300-foot-long gondola would feature eight-person cabins, which could ferry 1,800 people an hour and serve outdoorists year round.
The gondola proposal is among several regional improvements proposed in the "Taos Region Clean Energy Transportation and Recreation Corridor" plan — several of which, including a water quality monitoring program downstream on the Rio Hondo, have begun to receive funding. The main motivation behind the gondola project is to alleviate traffic congestion and chronic maintenance issues along Twining Road and Kachina Road.
The gondola would connect the Frontside base area and the Kachina Basin area of the resort, however, a failed bid to purchase a piece of designated open space land from the Village of Taos Ski Valley has left the fate of the proposed people mover uncertain.
According to the latest draft of the Environmental Assessment, "The proposed base-to-base gondola would be located within the existing special-use permit area, and adjacent non-National Forest Service lands. Specifically, the terminal proposed within the Kachina Basin base area would be located on national forest lands, and the terminal proposed in the Frontside base area would be located on private lands owned by TSV.
"A segment of [the] alignment would pass through Village of Taos Ski Valley lands," the assessment states. "In order for this alignment to pass through VTSV lands, an easement would be needed from VTSV. VTSV is aware of this needed easement, and at this time supports the advancement of environmental review of this project. To allow access from the terminal of the gondola to the Kachina Basin base area on private land, TSV would construct a skier/pedestrian bridge that would cross over the small stream located nearby. The portion of the bridge located on National Forest Service lands would generally be within the footprint of gondola terminal and would be designed to minimize stream impacts."
The assessment also addresses construction and staging areas that would be necessary to complete the projects. Locations outside U.S. Forest Service land, such as areas within the Village of Taos Ski Valley, are not addressed in the draft Environmental Assessment.
Similarly, some elements of the proposal are not under Forest Service jurisdiction. These elements include how the resort pays for the projects and water rights, which are adjudicated by the state.
The resort's water rights will not change, but it is proposing several improvements to its snowmaking infrastructure, including a new booster station at the base of Lift 2.
"To improve snowmaking operations and provide fire suppression capabilities on the Frontside of the mountain and around Lift 2 specifically, a new booster station, water tank, and additional snowmaking pipe to connect the proposed booster station to the existing snowmaking system are proposed," the environmental assessment states. "It is important to note that these projects would not increase the current water uptake from the Rio Hondo. TSV would continue to hold a diversionary right of 200 acre-feet, or 65.2 million gallons of water from the Rio Hondo, annually."
A detailed list of proposed Taos Ski Valley projects may be found in the draft assessment and supporting documents, which are available online at fs.usda.gov/project/?project=61390 and at the forest supervisor’s office, 208 Cruz Alta Rd.
A public information meeting about the draft Environmental Assessment and how to submit written comments will be held on Thursday March 23 from 6-7:30 p.m. at the Taos Tent, 7 Thunderbird Road, in the Village of Taos Ski Valley.
“I know many in the community have eagerly been awaiting the release of the draft analysis,” Questa District Ranger Adam LaDell said in a press release last week. “I hope this helps further the discussion, and I look forward to engaging with the public at the meeting.”
How to submit comments
Electronic comments, including attachments, can be submitted to https://cara.fs2c.usda.gov/Public//CommentInput?Project=61390, or by fax or in writing between by April 9.
Mailed written comments should be addressed to Forest Supervisor James Duran, c/o Paul Schilke, winter sports coordinator, P.O. Box 110 Questa, NM 87556; to hand deliver comments, call 575-586-0520, to schedule a hand-delivery of comments to the Questa District Ranger Station, 184 NM 38, just east of Eagle Rock Lake in Questa. Comments can also be submitted by fax to 575-586-2010.
Substantive comments submitted during the comment period must be analyzed under the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires that comments be specific. Examples include providing new information, pointing out flaws in the analysis, making factual corrections and offering different sources of credible research. Comments that are not substantive include vague ideas, open-ended questions and positions in favor or against the proposal without specific reasoning. Commenting is not a voting process and identical comments must be treated as one comment.
This is probably why they are chasing generational ranchers off their grazing permits… so that they can expand without regards to Taos families.
For hundreds of parcientes along the Rio Hondo, many of whom cannot drive at night on snowy roads in the dark, or who are under Covid restrictions, we have requested of Taos Ski Valley and the Forest Service that another meeting be held in Taos, Seco or Arroyo Hondo. This would show goodwill and transparency. We also request an extension from 30 days to 60 days for the comment period in which to gather information and understand the complicated NEPA process. Let's work together to preserve our precious watershed all along the Rio Hondo. Thanks.
Welcome to the discussion.
All comment authors MUST use their real names. Posts that cannot be ascribed to a real person
will not be moderated.
Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.