Vail beetle battle will mean ‘different’ skiing
September 30, 2008
VAIL, Colo. ” As many as 7,000 lodgepole pines will be cut on Vail Mountain over the next month as a result of the pine-beetle infestation.
The cutting, which will happen west of the gondola and above the top of Chair 8, is designed to reduce the danger of the gondola getting hit by a fallen tree or fire, said Don Dressler of the U.S. Forest Service.
“If the gondola goes down through a fire or a wind event, then operations on the mountain would cease,” Dressler said.
About 5,000 to 7,000 trees will be cut as part of the project, said Jen Brown, spokeswoman for Vail Resorts. In terms of trees cut, it’s the largest pine-beetle project that has happened on the mountain, Brown said.
People ski in the area and will continue to ski there, Brown said. But she’s not sure how the skiing will change, she said.
“I think we’re going to have to wait and see,” she said. “It will be different.”
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Crews will cut every lodgepole pine that’s bigger than 5 inches in diameter in a 16-acre area on the mountain, Dressler said. Spruce, fir and aspen will remain, he said.
The 16 acres represents a small fraction of the total ski area, which is 5,289 acres in size.
Skid steers will be used to mash up branches and pine cones, which will allow the trees to regenerate more quickly, Dressler said. Big logs will be carried away.
The work will be done by a company contracted by Vail Resorts, which is buying the trees from the Forest Service for about $7,500. The logs will be sent to a sawmill in Montrose, Dressler said.
Vail Resorts and the Forest Service will be studying other areas on the mountain that may need this type of cutting. Vail Resorts operates Vail Ski Area on Forest Service land under a special permit.
Eric Lovgren, wildfire mitigation manager for Eagle County, said he was encouraged to hear about the plan.
“They’re kind of coming to grips of reality of the situation, it sounds like,” he said. “This sort of adds to the overall effort between the towns, the feds and us.”
This summer, crews cut trees on more than 200 acres around Vail in continuing efforts to battle the pine beetle epidemic.
The town spent about $530,000 for the work this year, and Eagle County and the U.S. Forest Service each chipped in $100,000 worth of work.
The work is part of the Vail Valley Forest Health Project, a multi-year plan that stretches from Vail to Edwards. Work is supposed to continue until 2010.
Lovgren said a survey last year showed that 78 percent of trees in the West Vail area had been hit by pine beetles.