Forest Service says resort has submitted construction plans
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By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — Forest Service rangers say they are in the process of reviewing the final plans for the planned Peak 6 expansion at Breckenridge Ski Area. The clear-cutting of new ski trails could begin in just a few weeks, according to the agency.
The resort has submitted detailed plans for tree-cutting, erosion control, stormwater runoff and other aspects of the project, according to Shelly Grail, a winter sports program administrator for the Dillon Ranger District.
Grail said the resort could start clear-cutting the new ski trails as early as mid-June, depending on the weather. The Forest Service has certain requirements regarding snow cover for tree removal operations, so the rate of snowmelt will affect the exact start date of the project. The Forest Service also will do some nesting surveys before work starts, she added.
It’s still not clear whether conservation groups opposing the expansion will follow through on their stated intention to try and block the project with a lawsuit. Rocky Mountain Wild and the Blue River Sierra Club Group — aided by the University of Denver’s Environmental Law Clinic, filed a formal notice of intent to sue a few months, ago, citing violations of the Endangered Species Act.
The notice elicited an immediate response from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which agreed to address deficiencies in the environmental review for the project related to lynx habitat impacts. Critics of the expansion say the new trails and lifts will destroy healthy forests in a regions where bark beetles have decimated vast stands of lodgepole pine.
Vail Resorts has touted the Peak 6 expansion as a way to address over-crowding of intermediate trails at Breckenridge Ski Area, but the Forest Service analysis of the project showed that, in the end, growth in skier visits at Breckenridge will continue, resulting in the same levels of congestion in just a few years.
The general consensus is that the expansion is mostly a way to ramp up marketing for the resort by advertising a new peak, thus drawing even more skiers to an area that’s already dangerously crowded during peak times.
Some elements of the local business community have supported the expansion as a benefit to the local economy, but many local residents opposed the expansion from the start.
The Forest Service faced intense criticism throughout the process, starting years before the expansion was approved, when a former district ranger, without any public process, approved a boundary adjustment involving the Nordic center and the ski area, a move that set the stage for the subsequent expansion.
The analysis for the project was farmed out to a private company that has a vested interest in winning federal approval for ski area expansions in a process that subverts the way federal environmental laws are supposed to work. In the end, not many people believed White River National Forest Supervisor when he said that his decision was the best balance of recreation and stewardship of natural resources.
The expansion includes about 550 acres of new terrain, including a handful of new trails and hike-to terrain in the alpine zone above treeline, served by two new lifts.
The project won’t wipe out lynx populations or any other species, but it’s another sign that, when Vail Resorts flexes its muscle, the Forest Service simply can’t say no.
Filed under: Breckenridge Peak 6 expansion, Breckenridge Ski Resort, Colorado, Environment, Summit County Colorado, Summit County news Tagged: | Breckenridge Peak 6 expansion, Breckenridge Ski Area, Colorado, Environment, skiing, U.S. Forest Service, Vail Resorts