Vail Resorts announced Tuesday that the planning and construction of the contentious 550-acre expansion on Peak 6 of Breckenridge Ski Resort will move forward this summer, with the added terrain to open for the 2013-2014 season.
"I look forward to moving forward with implementation," said Scott Fitzwilliams, the U.S. Forest Service White River National Forest supervisor who approved the expansion.
The ski resort plans to add two new lifts, a ski patrol/warming hut and a restroom facility. New terrain will encompass seven below-tree line trails - totaling roughly 68 acres - as well as about 339 acres of lift-served intermediate, advanced-intermediate and expert skiing above tree line. Approximately 143 acres of hike-to terrain will also be added.
The expansion will increase current acreage by 23 percent, adding more intermediate terrain, said Kristen Petitt-Stewart, spokeswoman for Breckenridge Ski Resort.
The Forest Service approved the project in August after completing an environmental impact study, a process which began in 2007.
The decision met with two appeals carrying endorsements by 45 individuals and environmental groups. The Forest Service, after reviewing the appeals, made the decision Nov. 30 to uphold the approval for the expansion.
"We are incredibly excited to move forward with planning the construction of the Peak 6 terrain this summer and to bring to fruition a 23 percent increase in Breckenridge's skiable acres for our guests," said Rob Katz, chairman and chief executive officer of Vail Resorts. "The expanded terrain will help significantly spread out the large crowds we see today and alleviate long lift lines. Further, our guests will be able to explore and enjoy an entirely new experience of high- alpine bowl skiing and riding at Peak 6."
Peak 6, located within Breckenridge Ski Resort's special use permit boundary, is the first ski terrain expansion on Forest Service land in Colorado since 2008. Breck expanded to offer Peak 7 terrain in 2002.
Those opposed to the expansion have argued the added terrain would have environmental impacts not justified by the need to ease overcrowding.
"Breckenridge is a brutally crowded ski resort," said Chad Zanca, a longtime Breck resident who says he regularly rides 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?"
Though Fitzwilliams said the region around Peak 6 is already unable to meet federal standards for lynx habitat, opponents of the expansion say easing overcrowding isn't a sufficient reason for further compromising the environmental quality of the area.
"Lynx habitat is going to be hurt by fragmenting the area they travel," Rocky Smith, environmentalist and former employee of Colorado Wild, said previously. "The Forest Service seems to think that since the habitat is already so bad it's OK to make it worse. It has been affected, no question, by the existing ski area. Right now it is impaired somewhat, but it's not severed. This expansion might sever it."
Fitzwilliams and researchers for the Forest Service looked at conservation efforts in the project area, but said they "found very few if any that would help lynx at all."