Every year or so since 2015, and with less frequency before that, Grand Targhee Resort has submitted a master development plan to the Caribou-Targhee National Forest as a general framework of the additions and improvements the resort hopes to make to the mountain.
With only 120 acres of private land at its base, the resort operates mostly in a special use permit area that it leases from the US Forest Service. As part of its permit, the resort must submit a master development plan, a document with some short-term concrete ideas and some ambitious long-term aspirations, explained Teton Basin District Ranger Jay Pence.
As of February, the Caribou-Targhee National Forest has accepted (which is not the same as approved) the resort’s 2018 master development plan, meaning the resort is not proposing anything that runs counter to the CTNF forest plan or the resort’s special use permit. Pence noted that in its acceptance letter, the CTNF did predict that there would have to be adjustments made to some projects with respect to wildlife impacts and resort visuals. Having received acceptance, Grand Targhee can now cherry pick projects from the master plan and go through an extensive environmental assessment and project approval process for each concept.
Some of the concepts in the 2018 master plan include: the expansion of the special use permit boundaries by 1,200 acres; eight new chair lifts, some of which access new terrain currently outside of the resort boundaries; additional surface lifts for teaching and racing; two on-mountain restaurants and other on-mountain amenities like warming huts, restrooms, and a yurt at the top of Shoshone Lift; increased snowmaking; new summer activities; and glading and grading of existing ski runs.
Of those eight new chair lifts, one received the necessary approvals in 1994 and was reaffirmed in 2017: the Peaked chair lift, which serves what is currently the cat skiing area. Some of the access roads have already been cut in on that side of the mountain and Grand Targhee owner Geordie Gillett hopes to begin construction this summer, although he doesn’t anticipate the lift being operational by next winter.
That slow trickle of improvements reflects the probable pace of all the projects proposed in the master development plan. Gillet estimated that environmental assessment, public outreach, and project approval for each idea takes around 18 months, if not more.
“The public will have plenty of opportunities to weigh in and provide input,” he said.
Gillett explained that he and the mountain planning consultant SE Group start the planning process by examining the skier experience at Grand Targhee. He noted that Grand Targhee boasts one of the lowest skier densities (amount of acreage vs. number of skiers on the mountain) in the industry and wants to maintain that, but said that the resort suffers from some inefficiencies in flow.
“We can use our acreage to a greater extent without impacting the vibe that we have,” he said.
After assessing that, they look at other variables; if the resort is attracting more skiers, it needs more on-mountain amenities, a more thoughtfully laid out base area, and some redundancies in lift access. For example, one of the proposed new lifts travels from the Waterfall area to the top of Fred’s Mountain, so that when Dreamcatcher is not running, skiers can still access the terrain served by that lift. It also gives skiers the chance to lap runs on that face without traversing back to the base area.
“I’m here every day skiing around,” Gillett said. “So a lot of times these plans are just me saying, ‘You know what I would like as a skier?’ The goal is to make the resort everything it can be.”
For the most part, these ideas were outlined in the resort’s 2017 master development plan as well. The main departure between the 2017 and 2018 versions is a new trio of lifts in the South Bowl area of Peaked. That would entail an expansion of the resort’s special use permit area. While he had planned in the past to pursue that expansion once the Peaked chair lift displaces the cat skiing operation from its current location, Gillett said he didn’t see the South Bowl as a great area for cat skiing, given its aspect. That’s why he added lifts to the plan.
“As a skier I want to get out there and I think other people want to as well,” he said. “That area provides a really nice range of skiing, the views are amazing, and it’s high enough that the snow stays good even though its south-facing.”
The other area of expansion is on Lightning Peak, the hill that rises west of Lightning Ridge. This proposed new skiing pod, called the Mono Trees, offers protected north- and east-facing tree skiing at a lower elevation. Gillett said that could be a boon on days when poor visibility affects skiing on top of Fred’s and Peaked.
“We’ve got this amazing setting with a lot of incredible skiing. There are these two pockets [the Mono Trees and the South Bowl] that aren’t wilderness and are adjacent to us and I want to be able to get in there and show people more terrain and a range of skiing experiences in the Tetons.”
He added that Grand Targhee is unusual in not having on-mountain dining options, which is why the master development plan includes restaurants at the top of both Dreamcatcher and Sacajawea.
“It’s what people accept and want,” he said. “We’re very constrained by the base area.”
The resort operates in two jurisdictions. While on-mountain improvements go through the CTNF, the base area master plan is reviewed by the Teton County, Wyoming Board of Commissioners. An amended master plan that includes significant increases in lodging, retail, real estate, and parking was approved by Teton County last year. Although the base and mountain are overseen by two different entities, Gillett views the resort in its entirety and said that the two master plans work in tandem.
“I look at it all as one thing because those pieces have to work together,” he explained. “We’re driving those plans off of wanting to provide a good guest experience.”