Ski resorts eye summers for business growth in Aspen, elsewhere
TO COMMENT ON SNOWMASS SUMMER PLAN
Submit comments to Scott Fitzwilliams, c/o Roger Poirier, Project Leader, 900 Grand Ave., Glenwood Springs, 81601, or submit electronically at https://cara.ecosystem-management.org/Public/CommentInput?Project=49057.
Ski-area creation and expansion has probably come to the end of an era as resort operators, including Aspen Skiing Co., look to summer activities as their next big opportunity to grow business.
“We’ve been doing lifts and restaurants and ski runs for 50-some years,” said White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams. “Now we’re doing coasters and bike trails and canopy cruisers.”
The White River receives more recreation visits than any other forest in the country, in large part because 11 resorts use the national forest for their operations. As is often the case, the White River is “first out of the chute” for innovative uses of public lands for recreation, Fitzwilliams said.
Snowmass is the third resort in the White River National Forest to seek approval from the U.S. Forest Service for an extensive addition of summer amenities. Vail’s plan was approved. Breckenridge is further along than Snowmass in the review process.
The White River National Forest is currently accepting public comment on Snowmass’ plan. The main components are:
Ten new mountain-bike trails that will add 13 miles to the existing, extensive network at Snowmass and a skills park that will add 1.5 miles of trails.
A mountain coaster, which is a gravity fed amusement ride where bobsled-like cars ride on tracks. Skico is proposing one in a timbered area between Gunner’s View and Sandy Park ski trails. The downhill track would be about 3,300 feet long and the uphill track would be 2,300 feet long. It would be about a seven- to nine-minute ride, with the riders able to control their speed. It could be operated both summer and winter.
A canopy tour with nine low-speed zip lines traversing timbered areas to platforms integrated into the canopy. Groups of as many as eight would be accompanied by guides along the tour.
A high-speed zip line about 3,000 feet long allowing two riders to zip side by side.
A challenge course with 30 to 40 individual challenge elements that would be built up in the air on platforms that use large trees for anchors.
A climbing wall that would be 40 feet high and 50 to 70 feet wide. It would accommodate a wide range of abilities and use materials that mimic a natural wall.
All the features are proposed on the Elk Camp side of the mountain, which Skico designated as the hub for summer activities in 2009.
The Forest Service and Skico held an open house on the Snowmass summer plan proposal Thursday evening at the Treehouse Kids’ Adventure Center in Snowmass. Attendance was sparse, with about a dozen members of the public attending over the first hour.
However, the public has until April 29 to weigh in (see related fact box on how).
The apparent lack of concern over the summer activities is in contrast to a furor that a proposal for an alpine slide at Aspen Highlands triggered in the early 1980s.
Aspen Wilderness Workshop (now Wilderness Workshop) and the Roaring Fork group of the Sierra Club led the opposition to the slide, which proved successful. The Aspen Times Weekly quoted the head of the local Sierra Club as attacking the slide as a “visual blight” which would create a “Coney Island/Disneyland world and is hardly in keeping with that of a quality destination resort.”
Thirty-five years later, views of alpine coasters and other amenities in the forest have changed. Former U.S. Sen. Mark Udall championed a bill to clearly authorize summer and year-round activities at ski areas using public lands. It was signed by President Barack Obama in 2011. The Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act defined allowed uses, such as coasters, and removed ambiguity from previous rules on ski-area uses.
“We’ve made a mental shift since the law was passed,” Fitzwilliams said.
The Forest Service’s goal is to release a draft environmental impact statement on the Snowmass summer plan in late 2016 or early 2017 and to issue a final decision later in 2017. Fitzwilliams said it is conceivable that Skico could be in position to start first phase work next year.
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David Lesh’s latest saga of alleged abuse of public lands is scheduled to go to trial in July.