Summer projects for two ski resorts are coasting along
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.”