CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. - Colorado's ski industry is worried that the recent denial of a western Colorado ski area's request to expand on national forest land might signal a new trend.
The U.S. Forest Service last month rejected the Crested Butte Mountain Resort's application for an environmental review of the proposed 262-acre expansion. The decision is believed to be the first denial of a ski area's proposed expansion without first going through an environmental analysis.
"I think the Crested Butte decision is really unprecedented, as far as it goes and the breadth of the decision and a complete lack of willingness to engage the public in the conversation," said Melanie Mills, president and chief executive of the trade group Colorado Ski County USA. "The entire industry that operates under special use permits is very concerned about this decision."
The Forest Service has cited a divided public, environmental issues and other concerns in its decision.
But some leaders in the town 230 miles southwest of Denver and Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., have asked the agency to reconsider. Resort officials say they will sue if the decision isn't reversed.
The ski resort says it needs to grow to survive. The proposed expansion would about double the resort's intermediate and advanced skier terrain.
"You see the expansions in Telluride, Breckenridge, Vail. They all have gotten bigger," Mount Crested Butte Mayor William Buck said. "We can't compete. We're smaller to begin with and we don't have the ability to expand."
Crested Butte's skier visits have dropped by 30 percent - from 549,000 to 360,000 - since the 1997-98 season, said Daren Cole, the resort's vice president of sales and marketing.
Mount Crested Butte, home to 848 people, is made up of second homes and is a vacation destination. The neighboring historic mining town of Crested Butte has a population of 1,651.
Opponents of the ski area expansion question whether the potential environmental impacts would be worth the benefits.
"I question the ski industry even assuming that more expansions are going to help them," area resident Vicki Shaw said. "They need to figure out how to get more people, not more acreage."