Vail arson had impacts in Summit County | SummitDaily.com

Vail arson had impacts in Summit County

BOB BERWYNsummit daily news

Special to the Daily/Peter FredinSmoldering remains are all that is left of the Two Elk restaurant on Vail Mountain on October 19, 1998. The Earth Liberation Front claimed responsibility for the attack which caused $12M in damages at several buildings. Copyright Photo by Peter M. Fredin

SUMMIT COUNTY – The 1998 arson on Vail Mountain that destroyed Two Elk lodge and destroyed or heavily damaged several other buildings and lifts at the Eagle County ski area was accompanied by a veiled warning that hinted at future strikes against other ski resorts in the region.Taking credit for the fires, the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) warned skiers to stay away from Vail Resorts-owned ski areas, suggesting that more attacks could be in the cards if the resort company didn’t back away from its path of what ELF characterized as unwarranted destruction of wildlife habitat.As a result, the fires had repercussions in Summit County, as Vail Resorts boosted security measures at Keystone and Breckenridge. At the start of the 1998 season, for example, security vehicles were more visible than usual at the Keystone base area. Patrols were stepped up around the ski resorts, and some on-mountain facilities were staffed day and night.While a similar attack is not near the top of the list of present concerns, at least some of those security measures are still in place, including increased use of video surveillance at all four of the company’s resorts, said VR spokesperson Kelly Ladyga.

“The safety of our guests and employees is our top priority,” Ladyga said, adding that she couldn’t discuss any additional security measures.The Vail arson also had a direct impact on Summit County’s law enforcement resources, said former Sheriff Joe Morales, now director of the Colorado Department of Public Safety.The top concern at the time was securing the access routes to Vail’s Category 3 expansion area, now known as Blue Sky Basin. Since the main route to the area started on the Summit side of Vail Pass, the sheriff’s office was involved in that effort, Morales said.The threat of additional attacks against Vail Resorts meant local deputies had to step up patrols around Summit County resorts. Morales said a new lift on Peak 7 at Breckenridge was under consideration at the time, raising security concerns in that area.

“We were concerned enough that those people would go to that level that people could potentially get killed,” Morales said, emphasizing that it was lucky no one died at the mountaintop fires at Vail.Morales said there were several other incidents of eco-sabotage, or vandalism, that were investigated while he was sheriff, including some tree-spiking, as well as damage to heavy equipment around construction areas at Keystone, as well as some equipment under contract to the Forest Service for work on public lands around Montezuma. Any imminent threat of a ski area attack has faded to the background, but it’s still on the radar screen, as is the potential for other types of eco-sabotage, according to Summit County Sheriff John Minor. “Domestic or international terrorism is never off the radar screen,” Minor said.

In the context of environmentally motivated attacks, Minor said local law enforcement officials take heed when there are activities in other parts of the state, or even in adjacent states. For example, after a series of arsons targeting SUVs at car dealers in California, the Silverthorne Police Department stepped up patrols around local dealers. Similarly, arson attacks against trophy home construction sites elsewhere spurred local authorities to try and better secure local construction sites.But a bigger concern is a more general threat to all sorts of facilities in the county after Sept. 11, Minor said, referring to increased efforts to protect important infrastructure like Dillon Dam and the Eisenhower Tunnel. Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or at bberwyn@summitdaily.com.