Vail Resorts announced that it has submitted a proposal to the U.S. Forest Service for its second Epic Discovery program in less than a year, this time with the goal of developing at Breckenridge Ski Resort.
The Ski Recreational Opportunities Enhancement Act, passed in October 2011, allows for yearlong recreational activities to take place on Forest Service ski areas. The first Epic Discovery proposal by Vail Resorts was launched in July 2012 for Vail Mountain. Breckenridge is next, pending approval by the Forest Service.
The concept, according to Blaise Carrig, president of Vail Resorts' Mountain Division, is to have "not just summer activities, but a full-blown summer program that goes a lot more beyond just having activities for people to do and hiking."
The Epic Discovery program will feature a wide range of activities with varying levels of difficulty. An additional 14 miles of mountain-biking trails will be added to the existing network across Peaks 7 and 8, including a new biking headquarters at the base of Peak 7.
A lookout tower platform will allow hikers in the Horsehoe Bowl to enjoy panoramic views, while challenge courses will let visitors of all abilities climb through multiple levels of rope courses, bridges and zip lines. There will also be a climbing wall - molded after an iconic natural climbing area somewhere in Colorado - for various levels of experience.
Zip lines, or "thrill rides," will offer guests the chance to ride solo or race against family members down the mountain at speeds reaching 45 mph. The most extreme of these will have its starting point on Peak 9. It will take thrill-seekers across Sawmill Gulch to land on the corner of Volunteer Run.
"We estimate that at its high point it's probably about 900 feet in the air," said Pat Campbell, senior vice president and COO at Breckenridge Ski Resort. "So that is not for the faint of heart."
For those who wish to take their time down the mountain, canopy tours will pair small groups with an eco guide, giving them a glimpse of the forest from above. Young children can also enjoy adventure parks with slides, bungee trampolines and other similar activities.
"We tried to really design it so there's an experience for everyone," Campbell said.
Epic Discovery is based on a "learn through play" concept, keeping environmental education as a focus throughout its design. To do this, Vail Resorts announced its partnership with The Nature Conservancy, a nonprofit organization that works on forest management projects.
Instead of the traditional single-location kiosk or information center, the planners of Epic Discovery decided that they wanted to spread educational information and opportunities all over the mountain, between the various activity stop-offs.
"Not only are the activities themselves going to be exciting for people and engaging to them, but going from activity to activity will be its own activity as they walk through this environment of educational material," Carrig said.
"Our joint goal is to both help educate more people about the importance of our forests in Colorado and also raise funds to help their conservation efforts for our forests," said Tim Sullivan, executive director of the Colorado chapter of The Nature Conservancy. "It will be much more interactive, it will be engaging people while they're being active rather than just going up and looking at something in a museum. That's the intent, you'll have people out and around the forest and doing things and ... learning at the same time."
To further ensure continuation of environmental awareness and assistance, the Breckenridge Ski Resort has pledged 1 percent of all summer lift ticket and activity revenue to The Nature Conservancy, to be used for forest conservation projects.
The Epic Discovery program also plans to have a light environmental footprint, despite everything that is being added.
"All the activities are designed to blend in seamlessly to the natural environment," Carrig said. This can be done because much of the infrastructure, such as the gondola, lifts and buildings, are already in place.
"That's a win-win in terms of the environment, that we don't need to create any further disturbance," said Campbell.
According to Carrig, Vail Resorts has estimated that Epic Discovery could bring in around 150,000 new visitors, which is not quite double current summer visitation levels. The program hopes to draw in day visitors from Interstate 70, as well as to become a destination for visitors nationally and abroad.
"This program is designed to be more than you can do in a day," Carrig said. "This is going to be a multi-day experience. So it's really going to be something that people are going to come to Breckenridge to do because it's an activity in and of itself for multiple days."
Carrig also mentioned new jobs created during construction and a healthier year-round economy as further benefits.
Campbell added that the program would also give the town of Breckenridge the opportunity to pair up and inform visitors further about its history.
"We have a unique opportunity in Breckenridge to not only tell the environmental story, but integrate that with the cultural history and heritage of the town," she said. "We think it's a natural thing to try to integrate some of that story into our interpretive story up on the mountain, not only because I think it's a great story and people will really be interested in it, but I think it's just another way to integrate the whole experience with the town, and not have the skier experience be over here and the town experience over here."
Approval of Epic Discovery program in Breckenridge from the Forest Service is pending. If it is approved, Campbell said, construction will start immediately. It is possible that one of the zip lines will be finished by the end of summer this year. Full approval for the rest of the activities will most likely take up to a year, with construction beginning in summer 2014. Carrig estimates that the construction will take about one year to complete, with the program becoming fully operational for summer 2015.
It will be best to do construction of everything all at once, rather than in phases, Carrig said. "We think it has to have a big bang."