Top stories of 2016: Ski area expansions continue across Summit (No. 8)
December 23, 2016
Editor's note: The Summit Daily is counting down the top 10 stories of 2016.
Ski area expansion efforts pressed on in 2016 as Summit County resorts continued to pursue projects that draw on more year-round business models for the future.
Breckenridge Ski Resort, owned by Vail Resorts, Inc., received final approvals from the U.S. Forest Service for its Epic Discovery summer activities proposal just over a year ago, and the region's other ski areas weren't far behind. Both Arapahoe Basin Ski Area and Copper Mountain Resort were granted varying levels of federal endorsement in the fourth quarter of the year as they each aimed for their own enhancements.
Such requests are possible through the 2011 Ski Area Recreational Opportunities Enhancement Act, sponsored by then-U.S. Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) and signed by President Obama. The federal law gives the go-ahead to existing ski resorts nationwide — already operating on federal lands by permit — to chase summer recreation activities. The law updated the National Forest Ski Permit Act of 1986, which limited mountain recreation to only alpine and Nordic skiing.
As construction proceeded this past summer for eventual zip lines, a climbing wall and observation deck, on top of additional hiking and biking trails at Breckenridge, A-Basin was preparing for its own expansion. The resort met with county government, interested parties and other major stakeholders to justify its desire to add more than 330 acres of skiable terrain in an area known as The Beavers, as well as a summer canopy tour and challenge course. The petitions will also add a small surface lift for improved access to the Montezuma Bowl and replace the Pallavicini and Molly Hogan lifts, while also removing the Norway chair.
"The biggest piece we have always focused on is maintaining the quality of the experience," Alan Henceroth, COO of A-Basin, told the Daily in November upon being granted authorization on the projects. "By, in essence, increasing the size of the ski area by 50 percent, that will keep people spread out really nicely and we think lift lines will be modest to small just about all of the time. People out on the hill, whether skiing or snowboarding, will have a great time and not feel very crowded, and we think the quality is going to be really good."
A grassroots group of objectors calling themselves Friends of Arapahoe Basin lodged the most significant protest against the proposed plan, specifically pertaining to The Beavers expansion. Aside from some potential wildlife impacts, they argued for maintaining the no-charge backcountry access without lifts. White River National Forest ultimately did not deem the reasoning compelling enough to deny the expansion, and gave the ski area its approval.
"The entire Arapahoe Basin Ski Area Projects analysis and public involvement processes were both thorough and informative in making my decision," Scott Fitzwilliams, White River National Forest supervisor, said in the decision document. "I am approving the selected alternative because it best meets the project purpose and need to meet the growing demand at A-Basin for this terrain type, improve the guest experience across the ski area, and address skier safety with the Beavers."
Copper's submission, meanwhile, took less time to move along in the process because it was far less ambitious and needed fewer steps of review. A-Basin's application was years in the making, while Copper officially pitched in January and required less than a year to approach its conclusion. The request entails an alpine coaster, some improved snowmaking capabilities on a section of the mountain and a single intermediate mountain bike trail.
"We really think all three have tremendous benefits for guests — summer and winter — at the resort," Copper president and GM Gary Rodgers said in January. "All three of these have been well thought out and really do enhance the overall resort experience."
The Forest Service agreed, formalizing initial approval for each concept, in addition to a comprehensive drainage management system as part of the overall enterprise, earlier this month. Copper, like the region's other resorts, has future aspirations of further amenities, but for now is planning for final acceptance of current plans sometime early next year.
"People come to visit Summit County because it is a prime destination for exceptional outdoor experiences," Dillon District ranger Bill Jackson said through a news release about Copper's projects earlier this month. "The draft decision not only aligns closely with Copper's recent Master Development Plan, but it also improves Copper's ability to offer world-class outdoor opportunities to the public."