Keystone’s new Bergman Bowl lift back on track after ‘serious’ unauthorized construction in Alpine environment
The U.S. Forest Service supervisor for the White River National Forest said that Keystone Resort has done a 'nice job' creating a restoration plan to address the disturbed Alpine environment
Construction of a new chairlift at Keystone Resort is on track to be completed by next season after unauthorized construction led the U.S. Forest Service to halt the project last summer.
A dirt road dug through sensitive Alpine environment was the most notable of the unapproved construction, according to Forest Service documents obtained by Summit Daily News. But, White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams said the resort has a restoration plan in place that adequately addresses the issue.
“One of the things that is positive is that the damage that occurred from the unauthorized activity, we got after it right away,” Fitzwilliams said. “The resort started working under our guidance right away.”
Keystone Resort operates by permit on U.S. Forest Service land. In February 2021, the White River National Forest signed off on an environmental assessment for the Bergman Bowl project.
The new Bergman Bowl Express lift had originally been expected to open for the 2022-23 winter season but was delayed a year due to the unauthorized construction. Keystone Resorts has said the lift will provide access to more than 550 acres of terrain in the Bergman and Erickson Bowls.
The high-speed detachable lift will seat six passengers per chair and have its top terminal at an elevation of 12,282 feet. It will service green, blue and black trails, many of which had previously only been accessible through hike-to terrain.
Shortly after construction got underway summer 2022, a contractor dug a road totaling 1,560 linear feet and 0.8 acres, an area equal to about two hockey rinks, violating the approved project, documents state. The area where the road was constructed was designated a minimal disturbance area under the environmental assessment.
“In the Alpine, the big thing is soils are very thin and Alpine environments are very susceptible to damage,” Fitzwilliams said. “It doesn’t take much. So what we did immediately is to save all the top soil which has seed.”
Keystone Resort Vice President and General Manager Chris Sorensen said in an email that the resort and Forest Service became aware of the unauthorized activity during a Forest Service visit in July, shortly after the activity occurred. That month, Fitzwilliams issued a cease and desist order to Vail Resorts, which owns Keystone Resort.
“It was a misunderstanding by our construction team, where an area that was supposed to have a minimal construction route was instead approached as a temporary construction route, for which we take full responsibility,” Sorensen said in the email. “We have since worked closely with the U.S. Forest Service on a full restoration plan and are continuing to work in close partnership with them as we resume the project and look forward.”
In addition to the road through the Alpine environment, other unauthorized activity occurred, according to project documents. Violations included the clearing and grading of a midslope road totaling about 0.7 acres, a wetland creek being filled with logs and graded over to create a road crossing, and the use of heavy equipment on wet soils. Crews also used machinery for removing cut trees after logging the lift line, a task that originally required the use of a helicopter.
Keystone has been responsible for covering all of the costs of the restoration work, according to Fitzwilliams. Much of that work involves attempting to save disturbed topsoil and collect seeds, he said, adding that the resort will be required to monitor the area for at least another four years.
“I can tell you this work is not cheap but they’re required to do it. It’s their project,” Fitzwilliams said. “It’s expensive. This is a very specific, very detailed restoration strategy that is going to take time and it’s going to cost money.”
Sorensen declined to disclose the costs of the restoration work but said the work includes additional drainage to minimize impacts to streams and the local watershed, salvaging topsoil and treating damaged soils to help mitigate erosion and restore Alpine vegetation.
“For myself and all the teams involved, this was a valuable learning opportunity that reinforced the importance of leadership, accountability, and collaboration,” Sorensen said. “This experience really underscored the importance of our close partnership with the U.S. Forest Service.”
Fitzwilliams said Keystone Resort responded seriously after learning of the Alpine disturbance and he doesn’t expect to have similar issues with the ski area in the future. The resort has emphasized the need for all of their construction workers to be aware of environmental protections in project plans, he said.
“They did a nice job. They were very responsive,” Fitzwilliams said. “Obviously this was a very serious issue.”
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
As a Summit Daily News reader, you make our work possible.
Summit Daily is embarking on a multiyear project to digitize its archives going back to 1989 and make them available to the public in partnership with the Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection. The full project is expected to cost about $165,000. All donations made in 2023 will go directly toward this project.
Every contribution, no matter the size, will make a difference.