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Environmentalists target Peak 8 Summit Lift

JIM POKRANDT
summit daily news

BRECKENRIDGE ” The environmental group Colorado Wild is calling for a letter-writing campaign to oppose the proposed Summit Lift to Breckenridge’s Peak 8. The group has called the proposal “merely a marketing tool” and another escalation of the “ski area expansion arms race.”

The U.S. Forest Service last month issued a draft environmental assessment approving the lift, which would open the Imperial Bowl to people who now have to hike to it.

What would be the highest lift in North America also would shorten the hikes to Peak 7 and the Lake Chutes. Now, all three require up to a 45-minute trudge from the top of the T-Bar.

Breckenridge Ski Resort’s chief operating officer Roger McCarthy disputes the lift is for marketing.

“That’s not it at all,” McCarthy said. “This thing would open 500 acres already in our permit area to intermediate and expert skiers. It adds high-alpine intermediate skiing. The average guy coming here from anyplace would love to get on a lift and ski it.”

Colorado Wild director Jeff Berman wants the Forest Service to reject the lift. He also seeks a 30-day comment extension to allow for more comments. The Forest Service is taking comments through Dec. 28 on the initial decision that also OKs a rebuild of the two-seater Chair 6 to a detachable quad that would double capacity.

One of Berman’s issues is the Summit Lift would do nothing to ease crowding at the resort, crowding caused by pricing policies that include the inexpensive season Buddy Pass.

He said discounted weekday passes and day passes sold by the hour would be better alternatives to crowding than building lifts.

“The Breckenridge Ski Resort’s pricing and pass policies promote crowding at certain times, like weekends, then it claims it needs to expand to address crowding,” Berman said. “There are very obvious alternatives to reduce any real crowding issue, but they will not pursue them.”

Colorado Wild is a ski-area watchdog group of about 420 members based in Durango. Berman said “the rapidly growing” organization has about 42 people in Summit County on its e-mail alert list.

Berman said the ski area arms race pressures other resorts to “improve” their mountains with more expansion while nationally, the ski industry remains flat. The result is that resorts “steal” customers from one another.

“We have to keep in mind these are public lands,” Berman said. “Should the Forest Service really be throwing more fuel on the fire of ski area expansions by approving one lift after another?”

McCarthy said Colorado Wild is wrong on its arguments.

He said the ski industry has grown in three of the last four years, and Breckenridge continues to be an attractive resort, registering the second most skier visits ” about 1.4 million ” and falling only behind Vail Mountain, which is three times the size of Breckenridge.

“The Summit Lift is a capacity tool for us because we can add access to 500 acres already within our boundary,” McCarthy said.

He said Breckenridge two years ago addressed crowding by adding 165 intermediate acres and a new lift on Peak 7 and the Peak 8 SuperConnect to help people get there.

“That was a substantial change to what I call the elbow room in our resort,” McCarthy said.

He also said that of the 1.4 million skier days, 1.2 million are derived from destination visitors or locals. The rest are drive-up day skiers, he said.

McCarthy said the Buddy Pass helps the local economy by creating more discretionary spending power as most skiers and riders would find a way to get a pass if the price were back in the $800 range, sacrificing other spending power.

“That discussion is long gone,” he said of managing passes with higher pricing.

The resort chief offered one more benefit for the Summit Lift ” it would be better for snowboarders.

“We have a T-Bar going into high-alpine terrain, but the T-Bar is not snowboarder-friendly and a chairlift is,” McCarthy said. “Thirty percent of our visitors are snowboarders.”

The resort opened hike-to skiing and boarding in the Imperial Bowl Sunday.

Vail Resorts board chair and chief executive officer Adam Aron said the $4 million Summit Lift would be built next summer if the Forest Service gives a final approval and his board agrees to the expense.

Jim Pokrandt can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 227, or at jpokrandt@summitdaily.com.


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