Mt. Bachelor received U.S. Forest Service approval of its master plan on Feb. 9, 2011, and could potentially start work on a new chairlift, ski trails or base lodge as early as 2013. But Forest Service officials are quick to caution that Bachelor’s green light isn’t a sign for other ski areas to start firing up the expansion engine.
“It’s not something that is precedent setting at all,” said Amy Tinderholt, recreation, special uses and wilderness team leader for Oregon’s Bend-Fort Rock Ranger District. “Master plan approvals really vary from case to case, and in this case, what Mt. Bachelor was proposing really fit within the existing land and resource management program for the Deschutes National Forest.”
Tinderholt said that some of the main factors in Bachelor’s favor were that all of the proposed improvements are within the existing permit boundary, and that the area hosted several pre-project meetings with local environmental, political and key stakeholder groups before submitting the plan. Add in strong community support from the nearby town of Bend, and approval of the MDP, which also potentially includes a new learning area, tubing park and Nordic trail, was pretty much a slam dunk as far as USFS requirements are concerned.
But that doesn’t mean the area can start building. A minimum two years of habitat surveys and environmental analysis have to occur before so much as a shovel full of dirt gets turned.
“It’s a significant milestone for us to have the master plan approved,” said Dave Rathbun, president and general manager of Mt. Bachelor. “Now the agency takes over, and all of the ‘igists’ as I call them -- the biologists, hydrologists and archeologists -- come in and take a much closer look at what we are proposing. So in a way, it’s like we have properly filled the application out for what we would like to do in the long run.”
What Rathbun wants to apply for first is adding a new high-speed quad chairlift and intermediate runs on the eastern flank of the mountain. As it is now, he said that prevailing wind and storm cycles can sometimes knock out the area’s Northwest, Outback and Summit Express chairs, effectively cutting the area’s lift capacity and skiable acreage in half until the winds calm down.
“I think being able to move further to the eastern side of the mountain would create a much more enjoyable experience, especially for intermediates,” said Rathbun. “And we have a small satellite base area there called Sunrise. We want to put a new base lodge there, and turn the existing lodge into a designated area for kids, and double the capacity of that part of the mountain.”
Rathbun said he thinks the upgrades could be a significant lure to local Pacific Northwest drive-up business, particularly from Seattle, which he said used to account for about 15 percent of Bachelor’s business in the ‘80s, and now accounts for about 7 percent.
Competition from other areas in British Columbia and Washington state has also impacted Bachelor, as has the ease of travel to Colorado and Utah. Rathbun said Bachelor, which regularly saw 600,000 annual visitors in the ‘80s, “is in the high 400,000 range -- except in '05 and '06, when we were over 500,000.”
“In 1989, we had more high-speed quads than Vail,” Rathbun said. “But over the years, the Pacific Northwest has kind of been behind in some of its upgrades. If we want to be a major player in the West as far as the family vacation market, we need to plan on improving the resort in ways that make it better from a family perspective.”
Going forward, Rathbun said he is optimistic about the fact that the master plan process “gave us the opportunity to find out what, if anything, might be an issue later on.” For example, that the new tubing area would impact a popular Nordic trail, which Rathbun said has been relocated in the master plan.
He also said that clearly attaching a particular need and purpose to every element of the master plan seemed to ease the process along, as did making sure that Bachelor was aligned with the Deschutes Forest’s own long-range management plan.
The process has gone so smoothly thus far, that the Forest Service has planned for its national wintersports meeting to take place this April in Bend. According to Tinderholt, USFS administrators from around the country will attend. Topics will include “some existing emerging issues,” such as the future of master development plans, the environmental analysis process, and uphill policies regarding the emergence of in-bounds skinning.
“With the updated master development plan, it feels like Bachelor has a pretty good vision for the next seven or 10 years. When we started talking about where to hold the meeting, it seemed likely that we would have a new MDP for Bachelor, and felt that would provide some thoughts for discussion.”
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