Grand Targhee Resort announced it wants to expand its existing “Special Use Permit” area to include two areas known as the Lightning Trees and South Bowl in Teton Canyon. These two areas total 1,200 acres.
I attended the resort’s virtual open house on Sept. 10, hosted by SE Group, which has been hired by Grand Targhee to facilitate the permitting process. The attendees were required to download specialized software, which incorporated a brief 30 minute Q&A conducted in a text style format. We were not allowed to comment at the open house.
Grand Targhee plans to build three chairlifts, an undisclosed length of new road, and an over-snow road that runs along the ridge from Peaked to the wilderness boundary to “provide a well-defined and smooth skiable surface” and “make the area safer.” The South Bowl environment and appearance will be forever changed if chairlifts are built.
Grand Foggy, as the resort is sometimes known, has many days of low light visibility and the South Bowl area is not safe for the general public during these low light days. The massive cliff band in the area creates thermal heating of the snow that causes wet slides even during freezing temperatures. The entire area is south facing and receives ample sun. The snow does not “stay good.”
This expansion does not make the area safer. More people in the area increases the likelihood of injury or death.
In the United States alone, eight ski-area guests, in addition to five patrollers and snow scientists have died in avalanches within resort boundaries in the past 10 years.
Two of these deaths were located on the new Kachina Peak expansion area at Taos Ski Valley in January 2019. Kachina Peak was changed from a popular backcountry ski area to lift access in February 2015. In Dec 2018 five people were buried in an in-bounds avalanche in the “experts” chutes of JHMR.
In the 17 years that I have been snowboarding in the area we have not experienced any major incidents that warranted a response from Search and Rescue or Ski Patrol. The expansion will also displace the existing backcountry users and first responders into extreme terrain.
The South Bowl expansion has at least seven known avalanche starting zones in addition to many terrain traps in its area that will have to be controlled with avalanche bombs. These bombs, when detonated, will reverberate up North Teton Canyon and Teton Canyon, displacing wildlife in the Jedediah Wilderness. Other long-term noise pollution that should be considered is running of the lifts, use grooming equipment, snowmobiles used by ski patrol and lift maintenance, and the increased number of people skiing and snowboarding in the area.
Short-term noise pollution when constructing the lifts should also be considered. One would reasonably expect dozers, timber extraction equipment, excavators, concrete trucks, diesel generators, helicopters, heavy chainsaw use and excavation of lift pads with the probable use of explosives.
Grand Targhee Resort should start by enhancing the existing infrastructure which is already inadequate for the existing resort users. It is a known issue that parking facilities are not adequate. The resort could also build the Peaked lift approved in 1994. This will add 602 acres of minimally maintained lift-service terrain and it will improve the skier circulation across the mountain. Grand Targhee could also remodel Teewinot, Targhee and Sioux lodging to make it modern to remain a competitive destination.
The “South Bowl” is already open to backcountry skiing and snowboarding. If this plan does get approved and the snowcat operation is moved into the South Bowl, the public will lose all our access to the area.
There is not a written timeframe for building the three proposed lifts. The fact that the Peaked lift has been approved since 1994 leaves me to believe that these lifts will not constructed anytime soon and the public will lose all our access to backcountry ski/snowboard the area because of cat skiing.
I am formally requesting the public comment period be extended for 6 months so the environmental impact study can be conducted properly and rigorously in concert with the community and special interest groups for such an environmentally sensitive area.
The Public comment period ends Oct. 12 and the public can submit comments via TinyURL.com/TargheeExpansion and ask questions.