Improvement to Copper Mountain Resort chairlifts raises concerns on environmental impact |

Improvement to Copper Mountain Resort chairlifts raises concerns on environmental impact

Copper resident Frank Walter, age 95, greets skiers and snowboarders at the base of American Eagle chairlift during opening day Friday, Nov. 10, at Copper Mountain.
Hugh Carey /

If Copper Mountain Resort gets it way, the POWDR corporation resort will replace and upgrade both its American Eagle and American Flyer chairlifts in time for next ski season.

But the U.S. Forest Service will first have to sign off on the plan, as each lift corridor up the mountain would have to be doubled from 30 feet wide to 60 feet wide, among other noted forest and potential wildlife impacts. Both lifts are located within the resort’s existing special use permit and operational boundary within forest service land.

For the American Eagle lift out of the resort’s Center Village, Copper wants to install a combination six-passenger chairlift and eight-person gondola cabins. Copper says the new lift would increase lift capacity by over 40 percent. It’d be along the same alignment of the current detachable quad lift, the only difference being American Eagle’s top terminal would be shifted approximately 150 feet downhill from its existing location.

For the American Flyer lift — also out of the resort’s Center Village — Copper wants to install a six-passenger bubble — or weather protection cover — chairlift, with the American Flyer bottom lift terminal relocated approximately 30 feet to the east, the resort says, to improve skier circulation.

Though existing ski trails overlap much of both the American Eagle and American Flyer corridors, some additional tree removal would occur for both new 60-foot wide corridors to be installed, which is a requirement by tramway regulations.

In addition, for the new American Eagle and Flyer lifts, the existing tower foundations for both lifts would need to be replaced, with approximately 54 new towers installed. The construction of temporary roads for logging and lift construction, grading at the top of the lift terminals and the construction of two new buildings — one for each lift — are also part of the resort’s construction plans.

Earlier this month, White River National Forest supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams put out the resort’s plans for public comment, adding that he believes the proposed projects “are consistent with the goals and objectives of the (resort’s) 2011 Master Development Plan.”

The resort says the improvements are necessary to address aging on-mountain lift infrastructure — the Eagle and Flyer lifts were constructed in 1989 and 1986 respectively — and to improve guest experience. In his description of the purpose and need of the project, Fitzwilliams adds that both lifts are near the end of their operational life expectancy and that there is a need for “reliable, increased lift-carrying capacity” in the area of both lifts — in part, due to the resort’s increased summer offerings in recent years.

Fitzwilliams further deemed the projects to fit a categorical exclusion from any new environmental assessments or impact statements, as the project requires modification of fewer than five acres of contiguous forest service land.

A public comment period regarding the project closed on March 23, and four of seven commenters enthusiastically supported the project while one commenter, Mark Bissell of Black Forest, cited resort overcrowding and environmental impacts as his reasoning for opposition.

The other two public comments included National Enviornmental Policy Act considerations, drafted by Greg Warren. Warren, concerned with skier density per acre, wrote he felt a reasonable alternative to expanding each lift — and in turn widening the corridors — would be to retain and replace the American Eagle lift as a detachable four-person lift while also constructing what’s come to be known as the “N-Lift.” The “N-Lift,” described in the resort’s 2011 Master Development Plan, would be a new lift connecting from the bottom of the resort’s Carefree trail to the west, to the top terminal of American Eagle.

The final public comment was from Colorado Parks and Wildlife district manager Tom Davies. Davies wrote that any construction this summer before June 30 would have to be limited to between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., daily, in order to minimize disturbing nearby calving and fawning areas frequented by elk and deer. Davies also advised a raptor survey before any construction, as the areas at the top of the lifts are frequented by ptarmigan and their young.

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