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Re-zone bums out skiers

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A unanimous vote on a routine zoning item during the June 23 City Council meeting dealt a major bummer to local skiers and snowboarders by allowing the Town Pump gas station at I-90 and Reserve Street to expand over a vacant adjacent lot used for informal carpools by hundreds of Snowbowl patrons each season.

While concerns over traffic congestion, casinos and semi-trucks persisted throughout the meeting, no reference was made to the scores of snow junkies whose mornings begin at that parking lot for several months each winter.

“The area is definitely being used,” says Dave Kratochvil, manager of Pipestone Mountaineering. Kratochvil, primarily a backcountry skier, frequents Snowbowl when the snow and traffic are good. “I don’t know what would happen if they close that.”

Kratochvil handles many winter customers who want to ski, but don’t have a safe ride up to Snowbowl. In the past, he would point them to the former 7-R lot to catch a ride or shuttle. Now he’s not sure where to send them.

“Snowbowl has limited parking, and people have to park way up the road sometimes. And if you have a two-wheel-drive, that road can be a problem,” Kratochvil says. “Snowbowl widened the road to make it safer, but it’s still a mountain road, unpaved, and wash-boardy.”

Ward 2 Councilwoman Pam Walzer is no stranger to these concerns. Walzer recounts how Grant Creek area residents sought to preserve the lot by purchasing a portion of it when 7-R sold to Town Pump two years ago, but, because of the property’s high value, could not collect the necessary funds. At the time, they hoped to connect the lot to Mountain Line service and keep the existing carpool space.

“They recognized the traffic was a much bigger problem,” Walzer says, “and not just for Snowbowl, but for a local park-and-ride.”

Waltzer did offer some hope for local skiers and snowboarders. Since the last Council meeting, Town Pump’s ownership has indicated a willingness to discuss keeping a corner of the soon-to-be paved lot open for parking. Waltzer adds those plans remain incomplete.

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