While Wednesday’s town hall didn’t reveal much new information about the proposed expansion of Grand Targhee Resort, the meeting did mark one of the first times resort owner Geordie Gillett has spoken publicly about the expansion since Targhee officially submitted its request to the U.S. Forest Service in August 2020.
Much of the town hall focused on making the distinction between the two master development plans in place for Grand Targhee. The resort’s privately owned base area is subject to oversight from Teton County, Wyoming, where the resort is located. Meanwhile, the ski terrain itself is located on Caribou-Targhee National Forest lands–and that’s who’s reviewing the current proposal for new on-mountain development.
“An interdisciplinary team of Forest Service specialists, aided by the third-party contractor, SE Group, as well as our cooperating agencies, we’re using scoping information that was provided, site surveys and resource analysis to guide the preparation for a draft EIS [Environmental Impact Statement],” said Don Dressler, mountain resort program coordinator for the Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Region and leader of the interdisciplinary team. “That’s where we’re at.”
Dressler also explained that the ultimate decision-maker–Mel Bolling, forest supervisor for the Caribou-Targhee National Forest–will be able to approve none, all or part of Targhee’s expansion requests, which include adding five new chairlifts and nearly doubling the current ski terrain. Bolling will evaluate a series of different alternatives being evaluated by the interdisciplinary team, but Dressler declined to elaborate on what the current alternatives are.
The team includes representatives from both Teton County, Wyoming and Idaho–because of course, Targhee is only accessible through Teton Valley. Gillett said that’s a complication he recognizes.
“We’re in Teton County, Wyoming, and the bulk of our, like, our community is primarily Teton County, Idaho,” he said. “And [it’s] where pretty much all of our workforce lives, the guests spend money there and there’s also impacts there.”
Still, Gillett countered the argument that’s been expressed by some opponents of an expansion that the resort should stay within its current boundaries–and not grow to accommodate about twice as many daily skiers, as proposed.
“It never has been intended to be like a marginally stable resort catering primarily to Teton Valley people,” Gillett said. “It’s not meant to just be, like, the locals’ best kept secret. And, you know, we’re up here struggling every year, like when we have a poor opening like we’ve had this year.”
Gillett also said his ambitions for expanding both the base area and mountain terrain of Targhee have been publicly available in master development plans since 2011, including a 2018 update to the base area plan approved by Teton County, Wyoming. But GIS Manager for Teton County, Idaho, Rob Marin, said there’s been complacency around the Targhee plans–including by his county.
“I think a lot of locals had heard all these base area master plans for years or different iterations of a master development plan and not much had happened because of [the] economic situation, with the boom and the bust,” Marin said. “And so I think a lot of folks just didn’t get engaged in that [the 2018 update].”
Either way, area residents are definitely engaged now. Wednesday’s meeting drew a crowd of about 130 online attendees who were able to chat in their questions to Gillett and other speakers–but not make public comments. Chair of the Teton County, Idaho, Board of Commissioners Cindy Riegel said there will be plenty of chances for that later.
“This is not that opportunity,” she said. “We’re just trying to clarify the complexities of the project and the history of Grand Targhee Resort and what it might look like as we move forward.”
More information about the proposal and EIS process is available at grandtargheeresorteis.org. A 90-day public comment period will also open once the draft EIS is published, which is now expected sometime next spring. Additionally, the two Teton counties are sharing the cost of a separate study analyzing the socioeconomic impacts of the proposed Targhee expansion in Teton Valley. That study is expected to be submitted as a comment on the draft EIS by Teton County, Idaho.