Expert Skiers Unhappy With Jackson Hole’s Alta Chutes Blasting Proposal

by Simon Naylor | Published: September 14th, 2023 |  Ski News

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort's proposal to blast rocks and remove trees in the iconic Alta Chutes has sparked a backlash from expert skiers who frequent the Wyoming ski area.

The resort submitted the plan to the US Forest Service as part of its Recreation Enhancements Project, which outlines 35 proposed projects over the next six years. While some of the plans, like adding new hiking trails, have received support, alterations to the expert terrain have faced scrutiny.

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Proposal Seeks Easier Access to Expert Terrain

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The Alta Chutes are considered some of Jackson Hole's premier steep skiing terrain, notorious for their cliffs, chutes, and tight trees. They are revered by expert skiers for their natural character and hazards that keep lower-level skiers out. Under the new proposal, the resort aims to create "more usable terrain" in the Alta Chutes by blasting rocks, removing trees, and widening certain chutes. The resort says this would allow for earlier season openings, fewer closures, and better skier distribution.

"We do not wish to take the character or difficulty away from the Alta Chutes as it's one of the premier steep skiing spots at JHMR," said JJ Markman, Jackson Hole's Director of Resort Development. "We have submitted a proposal for rock removal and select tree thinning/limbing in the Alta Chutes with the goal of earlier openings and fewer closures throughout the season."

Locals Worry About Dumbing Down Expert Terrain

While the resort cites skier safety as a motivation, many locals believe the true intent is expanding Jackson Hole's appeal to less experienced skiers. Altering the naturally rugged terrain could attract intermediates who would otherwise avoid the Alta Chutes.

"JHMR leadership states that they are concerned about skier safety when they are just really trying to expand their market base by making the mountain skiable by a lower and lower level of skier," wrote local skier Karen Parent in her public comment against the proposal.

Michael Werner, a ski patroller at Jackson Hole for over 25 years, echoed these concerns. "The Alta Chutes' natural terrain is limiting for guests who might not venture into them due to their natural hazards. This keeps people who should not ski terrain like this out of harm's way," he wrote.

Environmental Impacts Also a Concern

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In addition to objections about dumbing down the expert terrain, the proposal has raised environmental concerns. The EPA, Wyoming Game and Fish Department, and Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance submitted comments worrying about impacts to wetlands, wildlife habitat, and endangered whitebark pine trees.

"The blasting of rock and trees out of big, steep, avalanche-prone slopes could possibly add to our avalanche mitigation problems, adding more unknown risks to our patrollers working in that terrain prior to opening it," wrote Werner, noting potential avalanche hazards.

The Bridger-Teton National Forest is reviewing public comments and will release a draft Environmental Assessment, after which the public can submit objections. The assessment could potentially trigger a more in-depth Environmental Impact Statement.

Mixed Reactions to Wider Proposal

The Alta Chutes alterations are part of a larger 35-project proposal that Jackson Hole submitted to expand amenities and terrain. Other plans include replacing the Sublette chairlift, adding new hiking/biking trails, expanding the Bear Flats Café, improving avalanche control, and installing new via Ferrata climbing routes.

While new summer recreation opportunities received support, projects impacting advanced ski terrain and trees faced backlash. Locals cherish Jackson Hole's steep expert runs and natural character that attract skiers from around the world. They worry these projects undermine the soul of the mountain for commercial motivations.

"The ecological damage to the forest would be devastating," wrote Werner regarding the overall plan. "The 'North Woods' also has steeper terrain than the actual Hobacks and would cause more difficulties to our guests."

Jackson Hole Under New Ownership

The proposal comes during a transitional time for Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. After being owned by the Kemmerer family for 31 years, Jackson Hole is being sold to a group of local investors led by Mike Corbat and Eric Macy. The sale is expected to close by the end of 2023.

Corbat and Macy have said they intend to maintain Jackson Hole's reputation for steep terrain and "big mountain" skiing. However, the proposed changes by resort leadership have left local skiers uneasy about the future of their coveted expert runs under the new ownership.

"These proposed alterations to the mountain cannot be undone," wrote Parent, voicing the prevailing concerns. Only time will tell if the iconic character of Jackson Hole survives the changes in ownership and proposed resort enhancements.

Key Takeaways

  • Jackson Hole proposed blasting rocks and removing trees in the expert Alta Chutes area
  • Locals believe it's an attempt to attract less experienced skiers by dumbing down terrain
  • Concerns raised about skier safety, avalanche risk, and environmental impacts
  • Part of a larger 35-project proposal to expand amenities and terrain
  • Other plans like new hiking trails received support
  • Comes during ownership change from the Kemmerer family to investors
  • New owners say they want to maintain the mountain's expert character