Forest Service says draft study on plan is due in September; agency will publish a newsletter on project in the next few weeks to update stakeholders
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — A pending proposal to expand lift-served skiing at Breckenridge will include a “Peak 6-Light” option, including in-fill development within the resort’s existing footprint, as well as gladed Peak 6 terrain. The scaled-back version includes a shorter lift than envisioned in the initial version of the plan, which includes a lift extending well above treeline, to near the summit of Peak 6.
The U.S. Forest Service now hopes to release a draft environmental impact study for the Peak 6 plan in September. In the next couple of weeks, the agency will be sending out a newsletter to update interested parties on the Peak 6 mailing, said Roger Poirer, the winter sports program administrator for the White River National Forest.
Vail Resorts officials said last week via e-mail that they had no comment on the expansion proposal at this time.
“We wanted to develop a realistic alternative proposal … not just a straw-man alternative that we’d never pick,” Poirer said. The draft study will also show various options for mitigating impacts from tree-clearing and development on Peak 6, especially as those activities relate to threatened lynx, Poirer said.
Much of the mitigation intended to address impacts to lynx will focus on managing the expansion terrain with barriers intended to keep skiers and snowboarders out of areas deemed important for the rare cats, he said. The draft study will look at several different plans and try to analyze how each of them might play out.
“We don’t have all we need to know … but we think we have enough data to plan for effective mitigation,” Poirer said.
The lynx data comes from ongoing studies in the forests between Copper Mountain and Vail, centered on the Vail Pass winter recreation area. Along with Colorado Division of Wildlife tracking, the Forest Service has been studying how lynx move around the area and how they interact with recreational use of the area. Read more about the Vail Pass lynx research here.
According to Poirer, that research will help inform the Forest Service how to evaluate and mitigate the potential impacts of the Peak 6 project. The Forest Service hopes to continue lynx studies in the area in collaboration with other state and federal agencies, he added.
In addition to the scaled-back alternative, the draft study will include something close to the original proposal, as well as a no-action alternative. Release of the draft will signal the start of another round of public comments, as well as input from other agencies, before the Forest Service makes a final decision.
The proposal dates back to January 2008, when the Forest Service issued its first formal scoping letter for the Peak 6 expansion. The letter cites a need to meet the demand for more ski terrain resulting from population growth in Colorado. According to the scoping letter, Breckenridge hosts more than 20,000 skiers on peak days — about 35 percent above the resort’s “comfortable carrying capacity.” Read the original scoping letter here.
Read a draft version of the Peak 6 Findings and Actions document that was developed by the task force here.
The release of the scoping letter resulted in a flood of several hundred comments, many of them raising questions about the potential impacts of the Peak 6 expansion. Along with concerns about wildlife and forest cutting, Breckenridge residents said they were concerned about the so-called social impacts, including housing, child and health care and parking and congestion.
As a result, former Breckenridge Ski Area chief operating officer Lucy Kay convened a community task force, including representatives from the town, the resort, the Forest Service and Summit County. The group met for several months last year, trying to hammer out an intergovernmental agreement to address issues related to Peak 6 and to resort expansion in general.
Breckenridge town manager Tim Gagen said he expects to see the latest draft of that agreement in the next couple of weeks, when it will become the subject of town council discussions. Along with parking, housing and traffic concerns, the deal would cap Breckenridge ski area expansions with Peak 6, he said.
County manager Gary Martinez said the intergovernmental agreement hasn’t been on the radar screen in the last few months. For the county, the key issues relate to how Peak 6 — resort expansions in general — affect the demand for social services, including health care.
“It’s an opportunity for Vail to understand more clearly what the issues are … and to give them a chance to address them,” Martinez said.