The biggest resort expansion in Breckenridge in the last decade is underway.
Construction started to create 543 acres of new terrain in the Peak 6 area of Breckenridge Ski Resort, Vail Resorts announced today.
The Peak 6 expansion project will stretch the amount of skiable terrain at the resort by almost a quarter. The project will include 400 acres of lift-served terrain and 143 acres of hike-to terrain. The resort also plans to add a high-speed, six-person chairlift and a fixed-grip chairlift to access the Peak 6 area.
“You are going to start to see some of the runs take shape from town in the next few weeks,” said Kristen Petitt Stewart, senior communications manager at Breckenridge Ski Resort.
Ski area representatives said the expansion will provide a rare opportunity for non-experts to access high-alpine terrain. Guests will be able to take a new chairlift above the tree line, and scale down the mountainside on intermediate terrain.
“Peak 6 will offer something for everyone,” said Gary Shimanowitz, director of mountain operations at Breckenridge Ski Resort. “It will have some of the steepest terrain that we have on the mountain and it will have the intermediate high-alpine terrain that the bulk of our guests will get to enjoy for the first time. The experience will be incredible.”
Peak 6, located within Breckenridge resort’s special use permit boundary, is the first ski terrain expansion on U.S. Forest Service land in Colorado since 2008 and the first at Breckenridge since the Peak 7 expansion in 2002.
“Guests are going to see Colorado and Summit County in a way they previously haven’t,” Stewart said. “It’s really going to be a new perspective for our skiers. You will get views you don’t get from anywhere else at the resort.”
The 543-acre terrain addition is slated to open for skiing and riding for the 2013-14 ski season.
Although a construction period of about 6 months pales in comparison to the seven-year long planning process, Breckenridge resort representatives said they’ve set a reasonable goal to open the new terrain to skiers and boarders for the winter season.
The Record of Decision implemented by the Forest Service set forth design criteria for the project, Shimanowitz said. From there, it’s a matter of breaking the project down into designated areas for specialists in different departments and hitting milestones along the way, he said.
““We break up a big project into small areas where we have functional experts,” Shimanowitz said.
Resort employees meet with members of the Forest Service and other stakeholders every week to make sure they are on track with project, the operations manager said.
Breckenridge Ski Resort currently features four peaks, encompassing 2,358 acres. Within the skiable area, there are five terrain parks, two halfpipes and eight bowls. The resort also boasts the highest chairlift in North America.
Breckenridge Ski Resort has fluctuated between the most- and second-most visited resort in the U.S. over the past decade, making it consistently one of the busiest mountain resorts in North America, Stewart said.
As visitation increases, the quality of the recreational experience is impacted, she said. The Peak 6 project was designed to improve the guest experience to better accommodate visitors, reduce congestion, lower the waiting time at lifts and increase access to a variety of terrain.
“Peak 6 is a well thought-out, to-scale plan that addresses our issues of skier flow, crowding and long lift lines,” Stewart said.
The process for approval for the Peak 6 expansion project at the Breckenridge resort began with a scoping in 2007.
The U.S. Forest Service approved the project in August, 2012 in the form of a Record of Decision, after completing a Final Environmental Impact Statement. The decision was appealed, but after further review the Forest Service decided to uphold its approval.
The appeal was filed in October, 2012, raising issues that the project violated NEPA, violated the Forest Plan direction on scenery, and did not adequately evaluate the loss of backcountry skiing or the location where backcountry access gates might be located.
The Forest Service said an “appeal deciding officer” reviewed the concerns and affirmed the White River National Forest supervisor’s decision to approve the project.
The project has also raised concerns about degradation to lynx habitat.
Vail Resorts and nonprofit Rocky Mountain Wild compromised over concerns the Peak 6 expansion project at Breckenridge Ski Resort would damage the local Canada lynx population in late May.
The Denver-based organization decided not to move forward with litigation when Vail Resorts agreed to increase its contribution to the National Forest Fund, which was established to address lynx habitat improvements in Summit County. The company agreed to pay $425,000 toward lynx conservation in Summit County, representing $125,000 on top of its original pledge.
“There’s always going to be some conflict between nonprofit and private industry,” Matt Sandler, staff attorney at Rocky Mountain Wild, said in an interview on May 31. “This demonstrates a situation where we could find some common ground and put our time and resources toward a beneficial cause.”
Vail Resorts representatives said they will announce the projected opening day for the Peak 6 lifts and terrain during the early winter season as construction comes to a conclusion.
“We are excited to be underway with the construction of this important project, and will work with the USFS to keep the public updated on additional information in regard to public safety as the project moves along, especially as it relates to recreational access in the area,” said Pat Campbell, SVP and COO of Breckenridge Ski Resort, in a press release.
As part of the construction process, the USFS has issued an official Forest Supervisor Closure for the Peak 6 construction area closing all roads and trails within the area for the duration of construction. The closure applies to pedestrians, wheeled motor vehicles and all other forms of motorized and non-motorized travel. For more information on the closure, contact the Dillon Ranger District at (970) 262-3484.