Forest Service OKs ziplines, alpine coasters on Vail Mountain | SummitDaily.com

Forest Service OKs ziplines, alpine coasters on Vail Mountain

Melanie Wong
mwong@vaildaily.com

VAIL — The U.S. Forest Service has published a final record of decision regarding the Vail Resorts' summer mountain adventure improvements, Epic Discovery.

The project has been a few years in the making, pending finalization of regulations and a process of approval through the National Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Forest Service. Today, the resort announced that the final decision for approval by the Forest Service has been published following a 45-day comment period on the project draft.

Epic Discovery will include:

Micro-interpretive centers for education: Integrated with trails and activities around the mountain, these interpretive experiential centers will provide guests with hands-on information and activities about forest health, wildlife and the mountain geography of the White River National Forest.

Game Creek and Front Side zipline tours: The ultimate outdoor experiences, these guided tours will immerse guests in the forest habitat with an array of zip lines and aerial bridges. Guests will learn about the mountain ecosystem while working their way through each course's challenges.

More hiking and mountain biking Ttrails: Comprehensive interpretive and directional signage will be integrated to encourage more hiking and mountain biking across Vail Mountain and descending into the villages below.

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Family Forest Adventure Park: A playground of rope challenges and bridges to introduce young children to the wonders of the forest.

Forest Flyer: An alpine coaster that runs on raised rails, the Forest Flyer winds its way down the mountain, following the natural contours of the landscape through the forest.

Wildwood Observation Deck: A panoramic viewing balcony nestled within awe-inspiring scenery of alpine forests, meadows of wildflowers and wildlife.

The Epic Discovery proposal was submitted in July 2012 and has undergone a comprehensive environmental review. Vail Resorts expects to begin construction of trails, activities and the interpretive program in summer 2015.

"We're thrilled that this final record of decision will allow us to move forward with the first phase of our construction plans next summer and have Epic Discovery – including new activities, experiences and educational opportunities – fully operational in the summer of 2016," said Chris Jarnot, senior vice president and chief operating officer of Vail Mountain. "We are grateful for our continued partnership with the U.S. Forest Service leading to this positive change that will benefit our economy and our mountains."

The Epic Discovery initiative will encourage "learning through play" by combining extensive environmental educational elements with a variety of fun experiential activities for both kids and adults. Guests will be able to challenge themselves physically with new activities, explore and better understand their natural surroundings and ultimately create lifelong memories.

Epic Discovery was made possible through the 2011 Ski Area Recreational Opportunities Enhancement Act sponsored by Colorado Senator Mark Udall. The law allows ski areas to add summer recreation amenities to existing ski resorts operating on federal land. Vail's proposal is the first of its kind in the country following the passage of the law.

"Vail Mountain's new activities show how my landmark, bipartisan Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act is helping move Colorado forward. These new activities will create jobs, drive tourism and keep Colorado's economy on the right track," Udall said. "I will keep working with Colorado's ski areas and the U.S. Forest Service to ensure my bipartisan ski area jobs law is used to strengthen local economies, support jobs and protect our natural resources."

Through a partnership with The Nature Conservancy – the leading conservation nonprofit organization – Epic Discovery will complement the eco-discovery experiences across the mountain with scientific content. Subsequently, Vail Resorts will utilize its new "1 percent For The Forest" program as a means to contribute one percent of all summer lift ticket and activity revenue to The Nature Conservancy for forest restoration projects on national forest lands.

Both the new Epic Discovery activities and interpretive programming will be compatible with existing on-mountain infrastructure of lifts and trails, unobtrusively blending into the natural environment, according to the resort.

Epic Discovery at Vail Mountain is the first installment of summer mountain adventure plans that Vail Resorts has for several of its world-class resorts, including Breckenridge and Heavenly.

EPIC DISCOVERY TIMELINE

2011: Ski Area Recreational Opportunities Enhancement Act is sponsored by Colorado Senator Mark Udall and signed into law. The law allows ski areas to add summer recreation amenities to existing ski resorts operating on federal land.

July 2012: Vail Resorts announces Epic Discovery, a plan for warm weather recreation on Vail Mountain.

Aug. 2013: Vail Mountain opens a ropes course and zipline at Adventure Ridge, the first of the Epic Discovery plan. The rest of the plans await decisions by federal agencies.

April 2014: U.S. Forest Service releases final policy regarding expanded summer recreation at ski resorts, clearing the way for Epic Discovery plans.

Aug. 2014: On Wednesday, Aug. 20, the U.S. Forest Service releases the final environmental impact statement and the draft record of decision for Epic Discovery at Vail Mountain.

Oct. 2014: After a 45-day comment period, the draft decision becomes final.

Summer 2015: Construction on Epic Discovery expected to start at Vail Mountain.

Summer 2016: Vail Mountain expected to introduce the majority of new activities to the public.