Peak 6 could mean more peak days, more business in Breckenridge
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Editor’s note: This is the second in a three-part series that examines the environmental, recreational and socio-economic impacts of Breckenridge Ski Resort’s proposed expansion to Peak 6. The first story covered the fate of “legacy” trees located on Peak 6. The next story will explore the growth and on-mountain changes that might follow the Peak 6 expansion. The public comment period, the last window when comments on the Forest Service’s draft EIS will be accepted, ends Friday.
BRECKENRIDGE – Breckenridge Ski Resort’s proposed expansion to Peak 6 – a plan that won favor with the U.S. Forest Service following a recent study of the project – could mean more busy days and more business in Breck.
Data included in a recent study of the proposal indicates a possible increase in the number of annual peak days for the town and the mountain, but also shows the expansion will likely pour millions into the local economy.
With the last opportunity for the public to comment on the study approaching, the Breckenridge Town Council drafted a list of requests to send to the Forest Service, asking, among other things, that daily skier visits be capped, “which, in turn, will lessen in-town capacity impacts on peak days.”
The expansion proposal, which would include 550 acres of intermediate and advanced terrain as well as a new lift, was put forward to help mitigate growing crowding and capacity problems at the resort.
The Forest Service’s environmental impact study (EIS) also looked at the potential impacts of two alternatives to the expansion, a no-action alternative and a lesser development option designed to help reduce crowding without expansion. Despite its controversial reception from the public, the ski resort’s proposal for expansion was selected as the favorite of the three options. The Forest Service will take public comments through Friday and deliver a final decision some time next year.
The construction of Peak 6 is expected to accelerate the resort’s already steady growth in annual skier visits.
Breckenridge Ski Resort would likely see a 2 percent yearly increase in skier visits over the next 10 years after building Peak 6, compared with only a .75 percent yearly increase without the expansion. The third alternative would foster a 1.25 percent yearly increase in skier visits.
Over 10 years, the Peak 6 expansion would grow Breckenridge’s number of annual visits to 1.95 million, 250,000 more than if the Forest Service went with the “no-action” alternative, according to analysis included in the draft EIS.
But the additional visits aren’t necessarily expected to beef up the 20 already-packed peak days the town and ski resort experience each year, according to Vail Resorts and the EIS.
“Even in a year where our numbers might be up, those peak days are not growing,” Breckenridge COO Pat Campbell said.
Instead, the number of “peak days” – days when the town and ski resort see 20,000 or more visitors – each year would likely increase, something the town has been trying to avoid.
“When we talk about those 15-20 days, the (SustainableBreck) committee looked at trying not to see that number increase in the next 20 years,” town manager Tim Gagen said. “You can live with 15 days a year because that’s kind of the bread and butter, but we would like it not to get up to 25 days a year.”
The days of 20,000 skiers and possibly more in-town visitors are hard on Breckenridge’s limited infrastructure.
Together, the town and ski resort have enough parking to accommodate just over 21,000 skiers per day, a supply that is sometimes overwhelmed on peak days, town officials said. Meanwhile, the throngs of people create congestion both on Interstate 70 and on Highway 9 as well as lift lines, crowding and long waits at local restaurants.
Local officials worry that more days with such overwhelming numbers of people will not only begin to impact quality of life for locals, but also hurt the guests’ experience of Breckenridge.
But among Breckenridge business owners, who depend on seasonal influxes, few people are complaining about the idea of more busy days.
Many local entrepreneurs, particularly on the north end of town, are in support of the expansion, saying it will stimulate business and make for happier customers.
“The gondola has already brought a lot of attention toward the north end of town,” said Richard Snider, who owns Daylight Doughnuts. “(Downstairs at) Eric’s used to be the end of town, and now the end of town is probably this building. I’m all for (Peak 6). I see it as positive. It’s going to bring more people here.”
The increases in visitation are expected to create more than 800 new, full-time jobs regionally and increase economic activity by $97 million annually in the next 10 years, according to the draft environmental impact statement.
Cumulatively, the expansion could generate close to 5,000 new positions and pour more than $580 million dollars into the economy over a 10-year period. Without the Peak 6 project, the local economy would likely see a cumulative dollar flow increase of just over $200 million and could add approximately 1,700 new jobs.
Not all business owners assumed the resort’s expansion to a new mountain would mean dollars in their pocket, but most saw it as an opportunity for the town and said it wouldn’t hurt them.
“We’re in favor of it,” Breckenridge’s Avalanche Sports owner John Shand said. “I think it’s going to be better for the mountain. The whole idea is if people have a better experience on the mountain, then they’re going to come back to Breckenridge. Will we get their business next time they come back? Hopefully.”
The construction of the new mountain would also be a significant four-year boost for the local economy, according to the EIS analysis.
Like the town itself, the Breckenridge Town Council remains split on the Peak 6 project and was unable to come to an agreement on which alternative to support. So rather than throwing its weight behind one alternative, the town instead submitted comments to be considered by the Forest Service depending on which alternative is ultimately selected.
Among the council’s 14 suggestions were requests for a cap on daily skier visits, which ski area execs have said they are not willing to consider. The town also asked that the ski resort improve its existing lifts to help reduce crowding, that the resort use “best management practices” to have terrain open early and that there be access to the backcountry included in the expansion in the vicinity of Slalom Drive.
The ski area, in a response to the council’s comments, would not commit to any lift improvements publicly, but was open to the proposal for backcountry access.
The council also made recommendations for the Peak 6 lift’s alignment to better allow skiers immediate access to intermediate terrain and asked that an agreement between the ski resort, town and county government which was the result of two years of negotiations to mitigate the social impacts of the expansion, be attached to the Forest Service’s final decision document.
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