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Forest Service holds public meetings on ski area water rights

After legal showdown, agency, resorts start down collaborative path to address critical water questions

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Who owns the water originating on national forest lands? Bob Berwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — After losing a court showdown, the U.S. Forest Service will restart a process to try and clarify the future of water rights associated with permitted uses on national forest lands, especially with regard to ski areas in the West. Click here to see related Summit Voice stories.

In December, a federal court ruled that the Forest Service failed to meet legal requirements when it updated the rule administratively. Now, the agency will hold a series of public meetings, starting April 16 in Denver, to take input from the public and key stakeholders. Additional meetings are set for Salt Lake City on April 17, and Lake Tahoe, Calif., on April 18. Continue reading

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Colorado skiers warned about rope-ducking risks

Sketchy snowpack makes Summit County sheriff, resorts edgy

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A large Feb. 25 avalanche near Francie’s Cabin. Some of the hard debris chunks were 4-5 feet thick. Photo courtesy Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — A sketchy snowpack and a series of avalanches in and near ski areas has prompted a joint warning on rope-ducking from Summit County Sheriff John Minor and local resorts.

Ducking a rope is also against the law as the part of the Colorado the Ski Safety Act of 1979.  “You can face charges for this,” Minor said. “Don’t be naïve about the risk you’re taking, and don’t put others in danger because of your bad decisions.”

In one recent accident, a snowboarder ducked a rope at Keystone within sight of numerous people and broke through a cornice that triggered a slide. The man was caught and issued a summons by the Summit County Sheriff’s Office for skiing in a closed area. Continue reading

Essay: A mountain town Christmas

“It’s Christmas. Build community and invite your guests to be part of it. Be real. Hold on to your culture. Don’t be afraid to let your spiritual values shine through. Celebrate the mountains for the joy and comfort they give. Protect the forests and the streams. Nurture your children and give them hope.”

“Kohlmaisbahn” in Saalbach-Hinterglemm (Austria), background:The village and the Schattberg and Zwoelferkogel, the dominant ski peaks in the valley. Image via Wikipedia Creative Commons, Share-Alike attribution.

By Bob Berwyn

Christmas and skiing have been inextricably linked for me ever since I was an “army brat” growing up in Frankfurt, Germany. The classroom Christmas party on the last day of school (yes, we called it that back on the pre-politically correct days) wasn’t nearly as exciting as the thought that we’d soon be on starting our annual two-week ski vacation to Austria.

Sometimes there was snow on the ground; slushy, dirty city snow that splattered as the cars passed by. But more often than not, it was just gray and dreary, and my heart always skipped a beat when that finned, white 1960 Chevy Impala rolled up. Everything fit in the trunk of our classic American car, even our two-meter-plus skis, so there was plenty of room for my brother and I to sprawl in the back seat. No fast food stops for us — there was no McDonalds or Burger King along the way, so we ate well; cold schnitzels  my mom had made earlier that day, or open-faced sausage sandwiches with tangy pickles, carrot sticks and wedges of green bell peppers.

Sometimes we dozed, but more often than not, we were still awake when we slowed to a stop at the border, where customs officials in long, thick wool coats decorated with epaulets scanned our green U.S. passports, then waved us through with a friendly smile and a “Merry Christmas.”

The mountainous frontier south of Munich was the gateway to snow country.  By the glow of the headlights, we gauged the depth of the berm alongside the road to get an idea of how the skiing would be. Here the road narrowed and twisted through a river-carved canyon, mysterious and new each time we made the trip. Our destination was Saalbach, then a small, up and coming ski village that has since succumbed to the same development pressures that have afflicted so many mountain communities during the past few decades. Continue reading

A test drive for the sustainable ski industry model

Grassroots group strives toward sustainable ski industry.

Mountain Rider’s Alliance partners with sustainable engineering group to refine vision

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — The Mountain Rider’s Alliance vision for a sustainable ski industry is about to grow some flesh and bones, as the grassroots group partners with a well-known engineering firm to develop specific plans for carbon-neutral, net-zero-energy ski areas.

The partnership between MRA and the Brendle Group with forge toward a new model for sustainability in the ski industry, focused on alternative business models for small and medium-sized resorts.

For starters, the Brendle Group will develop and test a model for sustainability at Mt. Abram that can be replicated elsewhere, starting with comprehensive assessments of energy use, land use, procurement, and community sustainability to identify options for net zero carbon, energy, and water operations as well as integrating sustainability and local economic development. Continue reading

Forest Service responds to ski industry water-rights lawsuit

Ski areas claim takings; agency says it’s protecting a public resource

Ski areas and the Forest Service continue their legal tussle over water rights.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — The U.S. Forest Service has responded to the ski industry’s lawsuit over water rights, claiming it has every legal right to attach certain requirements to ski area permits ensuring that the water originating in streams on public lands remain dedicated to continued ski area obligations.

In the response, the Forest Service said:

“The 2012 ski area water rights clause speaks for itself and is the best evidence of its contents. Defendants deny any allegations contrary to the plain language and meaning of the 2012 ski area water rights clause. Defendants deny any violation of the Constitution, federal law or regulation.”

Read the entire Forest Service response on the Summit Voice Scribd.com feed.

The latest skirmish in the long-running water war started late last year when the agency inserted a new water rights clause into standard ski area permits. The clause replaced language developed in 2004 that gave ski areas more absolute control over the water. According to the Forest Service, the 2004 language could have enabled resorts to sell off some of their water rights. More background here. Continue reading

Ski areas not rushing ahead with summer projects

New law authorizes ropes courses, ziplines and mountain bike terrain parks

Breckenridge Ski Area.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — A bill that was touted by Sen. Mark Udall as helping mountain resort economies won’t be having much impact this year, as very — if any — ski areas in Colorado are taking advantage of the new streamlined opportunity to install ziplines, rope courses, mountain bike terrain parks and trails and disk golf facilities.

After lobbying by the National Ski Areas Association, Udall pushed for passage of the Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act, which spells out a list of non-skiing amenities that can be permitted on public land under lease to ski areas.

The bill was signed into law Nov. 7, 2011 by President Obama and U.S. Forest Service issued  interim guidance in late December, but so far, not many resorts have proposed any improvements authorized by the measure, according to Loren Kroenke, the Utah-based head of the agency’s winter sports program. Continue reading

Op-ed: Keystone plan a golden opportunity for restoration

Resort, Forest Service should strive for environmental improvements, not just in the Summit House facility, but in the overall development footprint of the project area; full disclosure needed for the planned Bergman Bowl egress trail

A satellite view of the summit of Dercum Mountain at Keystone Ski area shows the level of development, including an open air sewage lagoon slated to be replaced in the lower right-hand corner of the image. The beginner conveyor lift is visible center-left.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — At first glance, plans to revamp the summit of Keystone’s Dercum Mountain and make other improvements to existing terrain and facilities appears to be a laudable step away from the normal ski resort expansion race, marked most recently by Breckenridge’s quest to add lift-served terrain on Peak 6.

Keystone’s proposal is to work within the resort’s existing development footprint, which already sprawls three mountains deep from the Highway 6 base area into the surrounding national forest. Improvements to existing trails, the addition of a few new mountain bike trails and enhanced visitor facilities at the summit of Dercum Mountain all make sense for one of the state’s busiest ski areas. Replacing the aging mountain-top lodge, cozy as it may be, with a new energy efficient structure is also a good move, both from a business and environmental standpoint.

But there are a couple of glaring questions that come to mind immediately. As part of its review, the Forest Service should look at how the new facility will affect the operation of the Outpost, built at great expense and with a lot of environmental fanfare. I’m not sure how, but Keystone earned green accolades for construction of that remote lodge, which could become a white elephant for the resort and the Forest Service. Continue reading

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