Copper Mountain plan includes alpine coaster, trails, winter upgrades | SummitDaily.com

Copper Mountain plan includes alpine coaster, trails, winter upgrades

Additional summer activities and winter improvements may soon be coming to Copper Mountain Resort, the resort announced at a small, informal gathering on Tuesday night, Jan. 12.

Specifically, Copper, owned by Park City, Utah-based Powdr Corporation, is proposing adding snowmaking capabilities on Collage and a blue run between the Super Bee and American Eagle lifts. That's in addition to another proposed mountain bike trail, also between Super Bee and Eagle, and an alpine coaster on the west side of the American Flyer lift.

"One of our goals with summer improvements and summer activities is to really improve the commercial economy here at Copper," said Gary Rodgers, the resort's president and general manager. "What we're showing today isn't just everything we have planned for summer, but it's what we're proposing in the short term on the mountain."

The proposal is permitted under 2011's Ski Area Recreational Opportunities Enhancement Act, sponsored by then-U.S. Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) and signed by President Obama, giving the go-ahead to existing ski resorts nationwide already operating on federal lands to pursue summer recreation activities. The law updated the National Forest Ski Permit Act of 1986, which limited mountain recreation to only alpine and Nordic skiing.

The proposal is an update to Copper Mountain's master development plan, which it submitted to the U.S. Forest Service in January 2011 and was accepted that May. The resort intentionally left summer operations unaddressed while the 2011 legislation was being finalized and is now ready to begin proposing upgrades with these initial three projects.

"We really think all three have tremendous benefits for guests, summer and winter, at the resort," Rodgers explained. "All three of these have been well thought out and really do enhance the overall resort experience."

The next phase of the process is the formal release of a scoping notice to members of the public in the next week or two by the Forest Service to gain feedback ahead of its official environmental analysis. Recipients of the letter will have 30 days to respond by mail or email to inform the research portion of Forest Service's study.

In essence, the Forest Service is asking the public if they have any concerns over the proposed projects. There will be other opportunities for public comment during the analysis process, which typically takes about 12 months and, among others, includes studies of such items as soil, water and wildlife impact.

"It's pretty involved," said Shelly Grail Braudis, mountain sports administrator for the Dillon Ranger District. "There's no magic timeline with NEPA — National Environmental Policy Act — analysis, it just depends on what we're analyzing and the level of impact."

Grail Braudis did note, however, that the Forest Service has been working with Copper on preparing the proposal since the past summer. That provides its resource specialists a chance to begin to study on dry ground ahead of snowfall, so they can work on the analysis during the winter months, as well as know what will be pitched to the public ahead of time.

"We talk with ski areas quite a bit before because there's a lot of fine-tuning of proposals before the public process begins, so we can get them pretty dialed in," she said. "We would hate to throw a project out to the public we're not familiar with."

The additional snowmaking operation would cost a minimum of $1 million to increase the number of guns and other updates to the system in order to ideally provide an earlier opening each ski season to this terrain. With more man-made snow, it could also offer more chances to groom the area, on top of the potential of opening the Super Bee pod sooner in the season.

Supplementary mountain biking trails come at much less expense and are part of a much larger system of trails Copper envisions long term per the master development plan update. This lone addition, for now, connects prior trails but will not be of the extreme variety.

"This is just the first of many trails that we hope to be doing in the future," said Rodgers. "We really want to create a very family-friendly network of trails on the mountain. We don't envision …getting into the gravity mountain biking scene that you might see at Winter Park or Keystone. We don't see that as part of our business model."

The alpine coaster, estimated to be a multi-million-dollar undertaking, will likely grab the most attention of the three, as it is the one to have the most perceivable visual impact. Rodgers noted it is practically silent and a self-contained apparatus, but, of the proposed projects, those in the audience voiced the most concern over the coaster and how it might affect existing trails and runs.

Though engineering plans have yet to be finalized, if completed as designed — with a track length of 5,800 feet, a descent of 3,950 feet, and vertical drop of 430 feet — it would be the longest coaster of its kind in North America. Rodgers did not believe the raised platform attraction, which would operate during both the summer and winter (weather pending), would impact much, if any, of the present experience. One exception would be on Loverly, a green run just east of American Flyer, where skiers and snowboarders would, as plans currently dictate, proceed under a bridge crossing.

Copper has partnered with the Aquatic Development Group (ADG) for the coaster project. The amusement-ride builder completed one for another of the Powdr Corp.'s properties, Killington Ski Resort in Vermont. Powdr also owns resorts in California, Utah, Oregon and Nevada. If the public comment and environmental studies prove fruitful, Copper could receive approval on the three projects as early as fall of this year, and then begin construction and installation by the summer of 2017.