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Commentary: More questions than answers on Peak 6

De-constructing the jargon

Tenmile Range skyline near Breckenridge, Colorado.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — It’s sometimes tough to wade through the bureaucratic language used by government officials, and the most recent update on the Peak 6 expansion plan at Breckenridge is no exception. It’s one thing to use precise language with descriptive terms and commonly accepted definitions — that helps ensure that everyone in the conversation is on the same page.

It’s another thing to use confusing phrases that might mislead readers and obscure the real issues. There was no author identified for the Peak 6 memo included in the town council packet, but it has the feel of being written by committee, and doesn’t do much to illuminate what’s at stake. It’s full of passive clauses and three-syllable words where one-syllable words would be just fine.

Here’s a little deconstruction, and some questions I would ask as a town council member. Some of the  original language from the memo is in bolded, followed by my comments in italics.

MEMO: Breckenridge Ski Resort (BSR) has fluctuated between the most- and second-most visited resort in the U.S. over the past decade making it consistently one of the busiest mountain resorts in North America. Historically, peak visitation days put pressure on the existing terrain and infrastructure capacities.

BB: Yes, trails and lifts areas are busy on holidays and during spring break. Breckenridge is not unique in that regard. Somebody needs to provide a lucid explanation of how Peak 6 would address that. Why and how would the busy areas become less busy from a new terrain pod in a remote part of the resort? All those people skiing the new area still have to come back to the existing base areas at some point, and resorts historically close the remote parts of the mountain earlier to give patrollers a chance to sweep. That means those people would be funneled back to the core areas right during those peak times when it’s already busiest.

As visitation increases, the quality of the recreational experience is impacted. High trail densities and long lift lines are associated with three periods: (1) peak days; (2) average days during key egress periods; and (3) new snow days in areas of off-piste, lift-served terrain.

BB: People have to wait longer in the lift lines and some intermediate and beginner trails are crowded, especially around lunch, when people are headed for base-area restaurants, and at the end of the day, when people are headed back to their condos.

Question: How is building a new lift and trails in a remote part of the ski area going to help reduce crowding on the ski-home trails at the end of the day? If anything, putting more people on the mountain will lead to more crowding at those times, in those areas.

Question: What, exactly, is off-piste, lift-served terrain? Are they talking about un-groomed runs? If so, how does that figure into this discussion? And yes, powder-hungry skiers and riders flock to find freshies when there’s new snow, no big surprise there.

To begin to mitigate these issues and improve the guest experience, Breckenridge has identified the need for the following needs:

•    Better accommodation of current daily visitation levels;
•    Reduced skier/rider congestion on BSR’s existing Intermediate and Advanced
intermediate terrain network and associated lifts;
•    Reduced waiting time for lifts at BSR; •    Efficient dispersal of Intermediate and Advanced Intermediate skiers/riders across the
entire skiable terrain network;
•    Additional lift-served terrain to accommodate the existing terrain distribution deficit;
•    Additional hike-to access servicing advanced ability levels

BB: Wow, “the existing terrain distribution deficit” — I had to think about that one for a while. I think they’re trying to imply that Breckenridge has a shortage of intermediate terrain, based on the resort’s skier demographic. Can’t argue with that, but I would be asking for some solid evidence to support the claim that the new Peak 6 pod will address that issue.

To give them the benefit of the doubt, the Montezuma Bowl expansion did help disperse skiers across the mountain at A-Basin and took some of the pressure off Pali. It could be that the Peak 6 terrain could do something similar, but the scope of the two projects is quite different. Montezuma Bowl added a significant amount of new terrain as compared to the existing area. The proposed Peak 6 terrain is only a small percentage as compared to the terrain that’s already been developed at Breckenridge.

In 2007, BSR proposed an expansion to Peak 6 on National Forest Lands of the White River National Forest in the Ten Mile Range. Peak 6 meets these needs by providing additional terrain to serve the existing levels of visitation. This project is not intended or designed to increase visitation above the levels currently projected. Additionally, as shown on the attached map, Peak 6 adds ski terrain and basic skier service facilities, and does not contemplate or allow for any base area development.

BB: To me, the repetition of these phrases is somewhat nauseating and offensive. I’m intentionally using strong language, because it’s completely clear that, if the Peak 6 project is approved, the resort will market the hell out of the new terrain, and whether they intend it or not, it WILL lead to an increase in skier visits above any increase that might occur without the expansion.

Everyone involved in this discussion would be better served if there was up-front acknowledgment that the expansion will increase skier visits; then to try and quantify that increase and to deal with the consequences of it. In fact, the oft-discussed MOU between the town, county and resort all but implies that there will be an increase in skier visits, and subsequently demand for parking and other services.

Project Overview
•    The proposed expansion to Peak 6 was contemplated in the White River National Forest Plan and includes terrain already in the BSR special use permit boundary.
•    Peak 6 would make available an additional 450 acres of skiable terrain – 70 acres of cleared (cut) intermediate ski trails with an additional 380 acres of high alpine (above timberline) intermediate (79%)/expert (21%) terrain.
•    One detachable 6 person chairlift 8200’ long with a vertical rise of 1670’ and a mid- load station 2400’ up the line so guests can re-circulate the terrain pod without going back to Peak 7.
•    Base of lift would be on Peak 7 and accessible by the Colorado, Rocky Mountain or Independence SuperChairs at the confluence of Monte Cristo and Angel’s Rest trails.
•    Lift alignment was modified from the original proposal to improve access and to lessen potential impacts to the environment.
•    Proposed Ski Patrol/warming hut at top of lift and satellite food/beverage facility at mid-load.
•    Construction of a service road with utilities from existing Peak 7 road down 1000’ from Wirepatch across to Angel’s Rest to base of proposed lift.
•    One small (30’ wide) skiway would be constructed between Pioneer and Wirepatch to provide access from the Colorado and Rocky Mountain Superchairs without adding guests to the base of Peak 7. The service road would serve as a connecting skiway between Wirepatch and Lincoln Meadows.
•    The proposal includes backcountry access gates for guests looking to leave the developed ski area into Peaks 5 and beyond.

BB: At least this section of the memo is pretty clear, and represents a scaled-back version of the original plan, with only 70 acres of clear-cutting. The mid-load station sounds like a good idea for people who want to stay in the Alpine zone and new backcountry access gates to the heart of the Tenmile Range between Frisco and Breckenridge would be a good thing.

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12 Responses

  1. As part of the original forest service permit issued in 1960 I wonder why we are taking this much time with this.

    • Greg, I think much has changed since the 1960s, as much as I love that era. For one thing, there are new and significant federal environmental laws (NEPA, the Endangered Species Act …) that REQUIRE new analysis, there’s no getting around that, without repealing those laws.

      And a good public discussion, with all the facts on the table, can help with building community consensus. The scoping notice elicited a lot of comment and concern from Breck residents. Those questions should be answered.

    • Actually, I think I’m correct in saying that none of this was included in the 1999 Forest Plan. But Congressmen McGinnis went to D.C. and lobbied hard to have Peak 6 and 5 put back into the Forest Plan. Helped to have George Bush and his politics get this through. Since then, we’ve had some major environmental and social concerns affect this expansion – mountain pine beetle, lynx living close by, an overcrowded National Forest that is reaching a tipping point, and some of the community being fed up with crowds etc.

  2. Thanks Bob. You are asking the right questions.

  3. You hit the nail on the head Bob when you call on everyone to acknowledge that this expansion will increase skier visits. It is hard to believe that VR would invest in this expansion if there was no return on that investment, and increased skier visits is the only way they can get an ROI without additional development at the base (which they promise not to pursue).

  4. Vail Resorts spokespeople admitted at the January 25th Town Council meeting that of course they would market the Peak 6 expansion. That makes sense, it’s hard to imagine that as business people, they wouldn’t do so. But when they do so, the inevitable result is increased skier visits, leading to increased congestion on the slopes, on the streets and in parking lots. So arguing that the expansion is a way to alleviate congestion just doesn’t make sense to me.

  5. Breck’s ‘Comfortable Carrying Capacity’ goes from 14,900 bodies to 16,000 bodies with the addition of Pk 6 terrain. Only creating enough ‘comfortable capacity’ for 1,100 bodies. However peak ski days at Breck see more than 20,000 skiers. Not to mention the skiers that the Pk 6 expansion will attract through the resort’s vigorous marketing. How will Pk 6 alleviate such congestion? It seems to me that there is a better way to disperse crowds than with Pk 6. Simply putting 1,100 skiers on new terrain won’t make the 20,000 bodies seem like 16,000 bodies.

  6. Other questions about CCC: How many days exactly does Breck exceed that number?

    And what’s the average over the course of the season? In other words, take total skier visits (about 1.5M annually) and divide by the number of days in the season to figure out the average number of skiers on the mountain per day.

    Can we, environmentally speaking, afford to build the church big enough for Sundays?

  7. Need to stay focused on the bigger question here: Is an expansion really in the public interest? In a typical corporate negotiating tactic, VR asked for way more than they knew they would ever get, so that when they ‘agree’ to a smaller-scale project, it looks like they’re being magnanimous.

    And if they have us talking about details like where the connecting trail should be, or whether it’s a top drive lift or bottom drive, or if the restaurant should be here or there, we’re losing sight of the fundamental questions of whether the purpose and need is valid, and whether the proposed action will address it. The real question is, should there be an expansion or not?

  8. I WANNA SKI PEAK 6. That would be fun to explore more in-bounds terrain at a great resort. Lines suck sometimes but never have I waited over 20 minutes.

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