Targhee expansion project eyes new 'chondola' to replace chair lift - East Idaho News

Targhee expansion project eyes new ‘chondola’ to replace chair lift

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ALTA, Wyoming – Grand Targhee Resort’s leadership is looking to replace the iconic Dreamcatcher chair lift, the anchor to the base at the Alta, Wyoming, ski resort. In an updated project proposal released this week, the resort is looking to construct a “chondola” that will shuttle skiers and patrons to the top of Fred’s Mountain.

A chondola is what happens when you mix a gondola, an enclosed cable car, with a six-seater chair lift. While largely popular at European resorts, chondolas can be found at a handful of western ski resorts including Copper Mountain and Telluride in Colorado and Arizona Snowbird in Flagstaff.

Jay Pence, Teton Basin District Ranger, told EastIdahoNews.com on Friday that he understood the proposed chondola to serve two purposes for the resort — one of which is to shuttle skiers and the other to ferry patrons looking for a more accommodating ride on an enclosed gondola to the proposed restaurant on the top of Fred’s Mountain.

“We looked at the chondola, and it does not greatly increase the skier capacity,” said Pence. “The public will still have an opportunity to comment on it, but from an environmental standpoint, it does not have much of an impact to change,” he said.

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The Dreamcatcher lift was constructed in 1996, and Pence said that it was nearing the end of its lift life. Currently, the lift can hold 2,400 skiers an hour, carrying them a little more than 6,200 feet up from the base of the resort on a seven-minute ride to the top of Fred’s Mountain.

Dreamcatcher from the top of Fred’s Mountain at Grand Targhee Resort. | Grand Targhee Resort Facebook

This change to the plan follows another larger change this summer when the resort decided to cut two of the three proposed lifts on the South Bowl expansion due to concerns around avalanche control. Reducing the South Bowl lifts cut the skiable acres in that area in half from 600 to 290 acres.

Grand Targhee has been working with the development group S.E. Company and has the nod from the Forest Service to create a variety of expansions to the resort. The largest and most significant includes the expansion of ski terrain into Teton Canyon from Peaked Mountain and the South Bowl.

In January of this year, Targhee owner Geordie Gillett announced he was pulling cat skiing from the expansion plan on the heels of public pushback. The original master plan called for the expansion of snowcat skiing off of Peaked Mountain that would have extended down into the Teton Canyon area prior to the potential construction of new lifts.

This week, Pence also announced that the draft document will be available in late April 2022. At that time, the public will have the opportunity to review specific details of the proposal and provide feedback. This moves the public comment period for a third time, first from August 2021, then January 2022 and now April 2022.

“Due to the complexity of the project and all its moving parts, the draft EIS (environmental impact statement) document has been delayed,” said Pence. “There is a significant amount of speculation and rumors swirling around this proposal and we urge the public to be patient as we complete our NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process.”

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As Grand Targhee Resort moves through an environmental impact study with the Caribou–Targhee National Forest Service, ongoing adjustments to the plans and the timeline for public comments continue to shift as stakeholders work through the finer points of the proposals.

The public will have a minimum of 90 days after a Notice of Availability is published for the draft EIS to provide comments on the analysis and findings. A number of refinements are being made to the Proposed Action based on public feedback. Driven by internal and external insight, as well as information from fieldwork completed in the summer of 2021, the project proponents have suggested refining the following:

  • Removing the proposed South Bowl East and South Bowl Connector lifts.
  • Reducing the proposed South Bowl Special Use Permit adjustment area from 600 acres to 266 acres.
  • Shortening the proposed Shoshone lift upgrade alignment.
  • Removing two proposed carpet lifts and associated ski terrain.
  • Removing the proposed cat skiing.
  • Adding a proposed ski patrol facility at the top of the proposed South Bowl lift.
  • Replacing the Dreamcatcher lift with a six pack chondola to service the proposed restaurant at the top of Fred’s Mountain.
  • Clarifying various road and utility areas.

Gillett did not immediately return a request for comment on Friday. Targhee announced Saturday that it would delay its opening pending better snow conditions in the Tetons.