Breckenridge expansion begins review | AspenTimes.com

Breckenridge expansion begins review

Bob Berwyn
Summit County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. ” Plans for a new lift and 450 acres of terrain on Peak 6 at Breckenridge are formally on the table.

The U.S. Forest Service announced this week it will take public comments on the proposal through Jan. 21 as part of an initial scoping phase. The comments will help the agency focus public concerns about the plan, in part determining the direction of the subsequent Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

The proposal includes the development of new terrain and associated infrastructure at Peak 6. The project encompasses 450 acres of traditional downhill and hike-to skiing accessed by a single lift.

About six trails totaling 67 acres would be clear-cut below timberline. An additional 285 acres including intermediate, advanced-intermediate and expert skiing terrain would be above timberline and lift-served.

Breckenridge Ski Resort also proposes to construct a top terminal ski patrol and warming hut and a bottom terminal food and beverage facility.

“Breckenridge accommodates more visitors per acre than other surrounding ski areas. This project would allow us to better disperse skiers across the ski area,” said Dillon District Ranger Rick Newton.

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Preliminary plans for the new Peak 6 terrain have been under discussion for at several years. Under contract to Vail Resorts, wildlife biologist Rick Thompson has studied the area during that time to evaluate impacts to wildlife.

Resort and Forest Service officials have twice presented information to the Breckenridge Town Council. The first session was cut short by an awards ceremony, leaving some council members frustrated by their inability to voice their questions and concerns about the proposed expansion.

After those meetings, several council members expressed concerns about potential impacts to wildlife, especially with regard to elk, and from the standpoint of connectivity between the town’s prized Cucumber Gulch wetlands parcel and nearby uplands. They called for an independent study to scrutinize environmental impacts.

“I’m struggling with the Peak 6 plan,” Breckenridge Town Councilmember John Warner said last May. “I don’t think we have enough information on wildlife corridors. I would like us as a body to ask for that (information).”

There is no documented scientific evidence that new lifts and trails would affect migration corridors. But Warner said thorough and independent studies are needed to evaluate potential impacts.

“If we’re going to fight them on Peak 6, we can’t tell them ever again that they don’t have enough terrain,” Town Councilmember Eric Mamula said during the May meeting. “We’ve been telling them for years that Vail has twice the terrain,” Mamula said, referring to repeated discussions about the relative capacity of the country’s two busiest ski areas.

“Let’s face it. They want to do Peak 6 because that’s where their bed base is,” Towncouncil Member Jeffrey Bergeron said in May. “If you’re staying at Peak 7, Peaks 9 and 10 don’t do you any good,” he added.

During a meeting in March, several citizens raised questions about the town’s overall capacity, as well as concerns about impacts to wildlife from a Peak 6 expansion, noting that wildlife habitat in the Tenmile Range has been squeezed into an ever-smaller footprint, not only by ski area development, but by increased recreational activity in drainages just to the north of the resort.

Resort officials answered that the Peak 6 expansion wouldn’t significantly increase the number of skiers at Breckenridge. The idea is to spread out the massive number of skiers and snowboarders on peak days, according to Rick Sramek, vice president of mountain operations. Sramek also said the resort doesn’t want to increase peak-day crowds, but is trying fill in between those times.

But at other times, Forest Service and Vail Resorts officials have said they do expect growing demand and visitation numbers at Summit County ski areas, based on state population trends.

The Forest Service started to set the stage for the Peak 6 expansion a couple of years ago, when they made a behind-the-scenes boundary adjustment at the Breckenridge Nordic Center that cleared the way for a Peak 6 lift.

Some Breckenridge town council members also criticized the agency at that time for making the move without any public notice or involvement.

Newton said the boundary change was an internal administrative decision that didn’t require analysis or a public process, but an Environmental Protection Agency official familiar with the National Environmental Protection Act process said that, since the move was part of a larger ski area proposal, it should have been subject to public review.

As well, some Breckenridge residents have started raising the alarm about the loss of a favorite close-in backcountry stash. The Peak 6 area is easily accessible from town and the area includes terrain that is not overly prone to avalanches.

Forest Service officials have said they don’t characterize the proposal as an expansion since the Peak 6 area was allocated to lift-served, resort-based skiing under the 2002 White River National Forest plan.

A public open house will be held on Jan. 9 from 4 to 7 p.m. in the Quandary Conference Room at Mountain Thunder Lodge, 50 MountainThunder Drive in Breckenridge. Officials from both Breckenridge Ski Resort and the White River National Forest will be on hand to answer questions and provide additional information on the proposal.

Comments should be sent by mail to Forest Supervisor Maribeth Gustafson, c/o Roger Poirier, Winter Sports Program Manager, P.O. Box 948, Glenwood Springs, CO 81602-0948. Comments can also be e-mailed to: wrnf_scoping_comments@fs.fed.us.

Please include your name, address, telephone number, organization represented, if any; the fact that you are commenting on the Breckenridge Peak 6 proposal and specific facts and supporting reasons for your concern.

For more information, contact Joe Foreman, Winter Sports Administrator, at (970) 262-3443 or by email at or jgforeman@fs.fed.us.