BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. - The U.S. Forest Service announced Tuesday the approved expansion of Breckenridge Ski Area onto Peak 6 Tuesday, adding 550 additional acres and two new lifts in an attempt to ease overcrowding.
Adding to the existing four mountains at the resort, the expansion aims to add 407 acres of lift-served skiing, 143 acres of hike-to terrain, two new lifts, a restroom facility and a ski patrol/warming hut.
"Peak 6 will be a tremendous addition to Breckenridge, significantly improving the guest experience by adding both new terrain and lift capacity," said Rob Katz, chairman and CEO of Vail Resorts. "The new terrain provides access to intermediate runs and high alpine bowl skiing that will be enjoyed by a wide variety of our guests."
The seven-year review process of the proposed expansion involved extensive involvement from the community.
"We want to thank the Forest Service for the depth of their environmental analysis that their experts conducted, as well as the entire Breckenridge community who engaged in an extensive public process," said Pat Campbell, senior vice president and chief operations officer for Breckenridge Ski Resort. "The feedback that resulted from all of the participation and engagement over the past several years was extremely valuable for the process and so a huge 'thank you' to our elected officials, employees and the entire community for the level and quality of participation."
It's likely the expansion won't be a reality until at least the 2014-2015 ski season, said White River National Forest supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams.
"Realistically you're looking at the possibility of some work beginning this fall," Fitzwilliams said. "My guess is that the expansion is at least two years out from being ski ready."
In a media phone call Tuesday, Fitzwilliams said that the final decision was deemed consistent with the land-use allocation of the 2002 White River National Forest management plan and the concept identified in the 2007 resort master plan.
It includes design features and mitigation measures aimed at reducing environmental impacts while addressing some of the congestion issues at the ski area.
"This has been a long process which included an extensive amount of public engagement," Fitzwilliams said. "I am pleased with the final product and I am confident my decision will result in better skier experiences while providing for the protection of natural resources on the forest."
Despite consideration of public input, the proposed expansion was met with dissent from some locals concerned with environmental impacts and future expansion.
"I'm disappointed but not surprised. I honestly think that those on both sides of this issue are well intentioned," said Jeffrey Bergeron, a former Breckenridge Town Council member. "I think we who opposed this expansion knew from the onslaught that the odds were against us. But, speaking only personally, I've never felt that long odds should keep you from taking a stand for a cause you believe in."
Peak 6 is adjacent an extremely degraded habitat for the Canada lynx - an endangered species.
"There is no question that there are impacts," Fitzwilliams said. "The region surrounding Peak 6 does not meet federal standards for lynx habitat, regardless of the expansion we really couldn't meet the standard."
The Denver Post reported July 12 that locals were concerned about over expansion of the resort.
"Breckenridge is a brutally crowded ski resort," said Chad Zanca, who was born and raised in Breckenridge and regularly rides the terrain off Peak 6. "To make it bigger and bring more people will only make it worse - Once this boundary is maxed out where do they go next?"
A 45-day appeal period began upon the announcement Tuesday, which allows the ski resort's internal administration to appeal. The Forest Service then resolves or settles appeals in 30 to 60 days.