Battle brews over Breckenridge plan
Summit County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. ” A proposal to add new lifts and trails on Peak 6 at Breckenridge is shaping up as a classic battle over ski area expansion.
Breckenridge Ski Area wants to add more intermediate terrain to help spread out skiers, while some conservation groups and backcountry skiers claim the addition could fragment important wildlife habitat and result in the loss of non-mechanized recreational opportunities.
An open house in Breckenridge Wednesday evening gave interested citizens a chance to get a close look at the plan, with ski area executives and Forest Service rangers on hand to answer initial questions and explain the review and approval process.
After accepting the ski area proposal in December, the Forest Service is launching an in-depth Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) with a public comment period to help shape identify potential issues and shape the scope of the study.
“Some people think Breckenridge is already big enough,” said Roger Poirer, winter sports ranger for the White River National Forest. Poirer acknowledged that the proposal is likely to be controversial. The Forest Service will try to all the environmental and social issues in the EIS, he said.
“Lynx is obviously a big issue,” Poirer said. Working with wildlife biologists and other federal agencies, the Forest Service hopes to find unique ways to mitigate any potential impacts to habitat for the rare cats.
As outlined in the formal scoping notice, the Forest Service posit that Breckenridge needs new terrain to meet peak day demand: “High trail densities and long lift lines are common, primarily associated with three periods: 1) peak days; 2) average days during key egress periods; and 3) new snow days in areas of off-piste lift-served terrain.” The scoping notice also cites guest surveys showing that Breckenridge scored below average on lift line waits during peak times.
According to the proposal, as develop in partnership by the Forest Service and resort, the new terrain on Peak 6 would address some of those issues by increasing the ski area’s comfortable carrying capacity by about 8 percent, from 14,920 skiers at one time to 16,090 guests.
In an e-mail alert to members, the Backcountry Snowsports Alliance said the resort and the Forest Service could address skier circulation and dispersion issues by making improvements to existing lifts and trails, thus avoiding potential impacts to natural resources.
“We really don’t want to see this built,” said Rocky Smith of Colorado Wild, a group that traditionally opposes resort expansion. “But if you are going to build it, there are some things you can do to minimize the impacts,” Smith said at the open house.
Colorado Wild will submit its detailed comments as part of the scoping process in the next few weeks, Smith added.
The ski industry and Forest Service watchdog group opposes the proposed expansion because of concerns about potential impacts to wildlife habitat and water quality.
Breckenridge spokesperson Nicky DeFord said the resort welcomes public participation.
“It’s a great opportunity to explain to people how (the Peak 6 proposal) addresses the need for more intermediate terrain,” DeFord said.
“The concerns we heard are the ones we expected,” DeFord added, explaining that some people at the open house raised questions about wildlife and watershed impacts, as well as use of an old mining road for access to the new terrain.
Some Breckenridge town council members previously called for an independent wildlife study to assess potential impacts.
DeFord said upgrading existing infrastructure doesn’t address the fundamental question of the need for more intermediate runs.
“You have to look at how and where people are skiing. We could add a lift on Peak 9 but it wouldn’t get people off Peak 9,” she said.
The new Peak 6 terrain would include construction of about 67 acres of developed trail skiing and about 285 acres of lift-served skiing above treeline. About 100 acres of hike-to terrain would also be added.
The Forest Service is accepting comments through Feb. 17. Another comment period will follow the release of the draft environmental impact statement. For an electronic version of the scoping notice, including all contact information for comments and maps of the project area, go to http://www.dillonrangerdistrict.com/projects.htm.
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