VAIL - The U.S. Forest Service approved a Vail Mountain proposal Thursday to upgrade Chairs 4 and 12.
The proposal to upgrade the Gopher Hill Lift (Chair 12) from a two-seater to a three-seater and the Mountaintop Express (Chair 4) from a detachable quad to a six-seater was submitted in late February and has since been under review by the Forest Service.
The public comment period ended March 29, however Thursday's approval is not the final decision. The approval means the proposal has now entered a 45-day appeal period.
"I have decided to approve these projects within the Vail Mountain Ski Resort Special Use Permit Area in order to enhance the guest experience as well as improve the circulation and distribution of skiers and snowboarders at Vail Mountain Ski Resort," wrote White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams in his decision memo.
The Forest Service received a total of four formal responses during the public comment period, "two of which were supportive of the projects."
"One comment was received regarding wildlife impacts but stated that due to the location of the lift and current use patterns there should not be any additional impacts to wildlife," wrote Fitzwilliams.
Another person requested an environmental assessment, however Fitzwilliams concluded that because no extraordinary circumstances exist within the proposal, he did not require an Environmental Impact Statement or Environmental Assessment.
If no appeals are filed, implementation could occur five business days from the close of the appeal filing period. Don Dressler, the winter sports administrator for the Eagle/Holy Cross Ranger District, said implementation could begin as early as June 1.
Vail Mountain spokeswoman Liz Biebl said Vail Mountain is ready to begin construction as soon as the Forest Service gives the green light.
Vail Mountain Chief Operating Officer Chris Jarnot issued the following statement:
"We're very pleased that the U.S. Forest Service has approved the replacement of two lifts on Vail Mountain. We anticipate construction beginning at the end of a mandatory 45-day administrative appeal period. Both of these will have a significant, positive impact on the guest experience. The upgrade of the Mountaintop Express Lift from a quad to a six-passenger lift will improve skier and snowboarder traffic through the Mid-Vail area with 33 percent increase in its capacity. Similarly, the Gopher Hill Lift - which will be upgraded from a double to a triple lift, increasing capacity by 50 percent - will allow some of our youngest guests in group ski and snowboard lessons a much more efficient experience."
Biebl said the Gopher Hill Lift will be replaced with Beaver Creek's former Rose Bowl lift. She said the upgrade from a two-seater to a three-seater lift there is significant because it will allow ski instructors to ride with two of their young students at a time rather than one. Because young skiers have to ride the lift with an adult, Biebl said this should make ski school run more smoothly.
"It's a big improvement," she said.