Sum­mer projects for two ski re­sorts are coast­ing along

The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By Jason Blevins

Fi­nal ap­proval is near­ing for sum­mer-de­vel­op­ment projects in­tended to en­cour­age year-round visi­ta­tion at Snow­mass and Cop­per Moun­tain re­sorts.

The White River Na­tional For­est has is­sued a draft de­ci­sion of its environmental as­sess­ment of Cop­per Moun­tain’s sum­mer plans and is so­lic­it­ing pub­lic in­put on its draft environmental im­pact state­ment for Snow­mass projects. The two ski ar­eas fol­low Vail and Breck­en­ridge in de­vel­op­ing the first sum­mer at­trac­tions un­der the 2011 Ski Area Recre­ational Op­por­tu­nity En­hance­ment Act, which al­lowed the U.S. For­est Ser­vice to study year-round ameni­ties at ski ar­eas on fed­eral land.

The leg­is­la­tion has prod­ded the For­est Ser­vice to reimag­ine how ski ar­eas can at­tract more year-round vis­i­tors and serve as

gate­ways to pub­lic lands. The White River Na­tional For­est, with 11 of the most traf­ficked ski ar­eas in the coun­try, is paving the path to­ward more sum­mer de­vel­op­ment at re­sorts on pub­lic land.

The Cop­per Moun­tain and Snow­mass plans both call for an alpine coaster and more moun­tain bike trails. But the For­est Ser­vice con­ducted a more in­ten­sive, two-year environmental re­view of Snow­mass’ plans, which are broader than Cop­per Moun­tain’s. In ad­di­tion to the sud­denly nec­es­sary alpine coaster, Aspen Ski­ing Co. seeks ap­proval for 10 new moun­tain bike trails to­tal­ing about 13 miles, a bike-skills park, a canopy tour, a zip line, a ropes course, a climb­ing wall and three mul­ti­pur­pose ac­tiv­ity ar­eas at Snow­mass. Cop­per Moun­tain is seek­ing ap­proval for a coaster, a new 1-mile moun­tain bike trail, ex­panded snow­mak­ing and con­struc­tion of a drainage sys­tem for runoff.

The Snow­mass projects prob­a­bly could have worked un­der the less-rig­or­ous environmental as­sess­ment re­view, but the environmental im­pact state­ment ex­am­i­na­tion “was the safest way to go,” said Roger Poirier, the moun­tain sports pro­gram man­ager for the White River Na­tional For­est.

“Snow­mass was a col­lec­tion of a num­ber of ac­tiv­i­ties. Given the amount of moun­tain bike trails … and the sheer num­ber of ac­tiv­i­ties, we thought this was the best path for­ward,” he said.

Sum­mer-de­vel­op­ment plans, which typ­i­cally are in­fill projects in al­ready de­vel­oped ar­eas on the moun­tain, have not gen­er­ated much ran­cor com­pared with the decades of op­po­si­tion to win­ter-use ter­rain ex­pan­sions, such as Vail’s Blue Sky Basin, Breck­en­ridge’s Peak 6 and Crested Butte Moun­tain Re­sort’s Sn­od­grass. Not even a decade ago, Vail’s pro­posal for an alpine coaster gen­er­ated re­sis­tance, and the For­est Ser­vice ul­ti­mately de­ter­mined it lacked the author­ity to ap­prove the project.

The pro­posed Cop­per Moun­tain and Snow­mass alpine coast­ers — planned in de­vel­oped ar­eas near chair­lifts and base-area build­ings — dis­turb very lit­tle earth and have “a fairly muted foot­print,” White River’s Poirier said.

“It’s more of an Erec­tor Set built on top of the ground,” he said. “We’ve seen zero to lit­tle con­cern about the alpine coaster. I’m not sure if peo­ple are just ac­cept­ing of sum­mer uses and look­ing at the ben­e­fit there, or there are other pri­or­i­ties out there that are draw­ing more at­ten­tion.”

Aspen Ski­ing Co. is “gen­er­ally good” with the draft EIS ex­am­in­ing sum­mer plans at Snow­mass, com­pany spokesman Jeff Hanle said. “Pub­lic com­ment has been sparse, and what com­ment has been made has been nearly over­whelm­ingly fa­vor­able.”

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