With just three chairlifts and 140 acres of mostly moderate terrain, Nordic Valley, a 50-year-old ski resort tucked into the Wasatch Mountains near Ogden, Utah, is the epitome of the tiny and unpretentious ski operation often romanticized by sentimental skiers.
That’ll change drastically under a proposal unveiled this summer by the resort’s new owner. James Coleman hopes to undertake a massive expansion of Nordic Valley, one that would entail growing the resort to some 2,800 acres and installing up to 10 new lifts, including a 4.3-mile gondola that’ll link the communities of North Ogden and Eden.
Coleman says the plan stems from a simple goal: providing skiers with stellar terrain, including great steeps and the higher-quality snowfall that falls on of the area’s upper elevations.
“First and foremost, I’d say it’s the skiing opportunities that it’ll provide to this part of Utah, which doesn’t have as many skiing opportunities but has a fast-growing population,” Coleman said. “You can’t just keep putting a growing number of skiers on this small area. This will improve that by providing more access to the community for recreation, providing more jobs to the community and providing more opportunity for the community to experience the outdoors…That’s really important to us.”
But the project will likely face resistance; environmentalists are already criticizing the scope and impacts, particularly because it would entail a major shift in use for public lands currently designated as “inventoried roadless lands.”
The project would expand the current resort boundaries west and south into the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. Coleman’s private equity and development firm, Mountain Capital Partners, has yet to submit formal proposals to the US Forest Service (it would require a special use permit and forest plan amendment), and Coleman says it’s still in the very early stages. Instead, the company launched the project with community outreach meetings and a website devoted to the expansion.
Coleman says the majority of the feedback he’s gotten has been positive. But the project hasn’t been met with wholesale enthusiasm.
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Carl Fischer is executive director of Save Our Canyons, an environmental organization dedicated to protecting lands in the Wasatch Mountains. He says this proposal is directly at odds with the Forest Service’s current management plan.
That’s because much of the land is subject to the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which limits activities that require construction of permanent roads and aims to provide lasting protection of lands.
“This expansion is nonsensical and it’s totally against what we’ve all worked for—what the forest plan is for this area, which mandates that it’s basically left alone,” Fischer said. “I don’t think ski lifts and giant gondolas can co-exist while protecting those values.”
Fischer says it’s his impression that the community enjoys their “quiet and quaint quality of life, and they aren’t really interested in changing that.” His organization’s plan is to plead with the Forest Service to uphold its roadless values. Because when it comes to Utah’s mountains, he says, enough is enough.
“We’ve seen so many places lost to ski area projects,” he said. “We don’t really want to see any more infrastructure in our wild places, period, and we don’t want to see any more commercialization in our mountains.
Coleman’s answer to the criticism is that the company will proceed with a commitment to leaving the landscape—as well as Nordic Valley’s down-to-earth vibe—as intact as possible. He says they’ll do that by building as few roads as they can, keeping ticket prices affordable, and offering specials like free lessons for beginners.
This isn’t the first time expansion has been proposed for tiny Nordic Valley. A similar project was floated in 2014.
This new version came about after Coleman, whose acquisition of mid-sized resorts such as Colorado’s Purgatory and Arizona’s Snowbowl has earned him the nickname Ski King of the Southwest, entered into an operating agreement with Nordic Valley in April.
All it took for Coleman, who’s known as a capable skier with an appetite for expert terrain, to sign onto the expansion idea? Exploring the upper terrain. There, he says, he found incredible views, exciting ski landscapes, and great snow.
“It’s a spectacular place, just a really beautiful mountain,” Coleman said. “And the potential for skiing there looks fantastic. It looks like you can create a lot of steeps with minimal work, and there is lots of open space. Plus, you get that consistent snowfall from the storms coming off the Great Salt Lake. I’m really excited.”
Mountain Capital Partners hopes to begin construction in 2020.