Vail’s Epic Discovery summer plans approved | AspenTimes.com

Vail’s Epic Discovery summer plans approved

Melanie Wong
Vail Daily

VAIL — A few years after the project was first submitted, Vail Resorts' Epic Discovery summer adventure plans got the major and final green light from the U.S. Forest Service.

The Forest Service published the final record of decision for the project, Vail Resorts announced on Monday. The Forest Service's Dave Neely explained that publication is one of the final steps in the federal approval process. It means that Vail submitted a draft of their project, and after a 45-day public comment period, in which there were no objections, the decision was published.

The project, which includes a number of new recreational uses on Vail Mountain, was made possible by the 2011 Ski Area Recreational Opportunities Enhancement Act sponsored by U.S. Sen. Mark Udall and signed into law by President Barack Obama shortly afterward. The law allows ski areas to add summer recreation amenities to existing ski resorts operating on federal land. Vail's proposal is the first of its kind in the country following the passage of the law.

Vail Resorts submitted its proposal for activities that include a zipline, Forest Flyer alpine coaster and more in summer 2012. The resort had to wait for the regulations of the law to be put in place, and Forest Service officials then had to go through the various legal steps in the National Environmental Protection Act. For Vail Mountain's proposal, officials also had to go through the usual steps of seeking public comment, evaluating those comments, then issuing the policy.

Coasters, ziplines and trails

Vail Resorts expects to begin construction on the project in summer 2015, with the majority of activities operational in summer of 2016. Epic Discovery will include:

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• Micro-interpretive centers for education: Integrated with trails and activities around the mountain, these interpretive experiential centers will provide visitors with hands-on information and activities about forest health, wildlife and the mountain geography of the White River National Forest.

• Game Creek and Front Side zipline tours: These guided tours will immerse visitors in the forest habitat with an array of ziplines and aerial bridges. Expect the half-day Game Creek tour to debut in 2016, with the Front Side Tour following.

• More hiking and mountain-biking trails: Between 55 to 65 miles of new trails will be added. For biking, expect more family-friendly options similar to Radio Flyer and an extension of the Grand Traverse into other back bowls. Look for more short, intermediate hiking trails similar to Fireweed.

• Family Forest Adventure Park: A playground of rope challenges and bridges at Adventure Ridge to introduce young children to the forest.

• Forest Flyer: An alpine coaster that runs on raised rails, the Forest Flyer winds its way down the mountain, following the natural contours of the landscape through the forest.

• Wildwood Observation Deck: A panoramic viewing balcony nestled within awe-inspiring scenery of alpine forests, meadows of wildflowers and wildlife.

"We're thrilled that this final record of decision will allow us to move forward with the first phase of our construction plans next summer and have Epic Discovery — including new activities, experiences and educational opportunities — fully operational in the summer of 2016," said Chris Jarnot, senior vice president and chief operating officer of Vail Mountain. "We are grateful for our continued partnership with the U.S. Forest Service leading to this positive change that will benefit our economy and our mountains."

'Learning through play'

Officials said the Epic Discovery initiative will encourage "learning through play" by combining extensive environmental educational elements with a variety of fun experiential activities for both children and adults.

"It's a way to use ski areas as a portal to connect people to the national forest," Neely said. "The opportunities (introduced by Epic Discovery) are unprecedented in national forest land."

Neely added that the details of the project are still subject to design review, just like any other construction on Forest Service land, including new lifts.

Udall said the Vail Mountain project shows how his legislation is helping Colorado move forward.

"These new activities will create jobs, drive tourism and keep Colorado's economy on the right track," Udall said. "I will keep working with Colorado's ski areas and the U.S. Forest Service to ensure my bipartisan ski-area-jobs law is used to strengthen local economies, support jobs and protect our natural resources."

Partnering with The Nature Conservancy, Epic Discovery will complement the eco-discovery activities across the mountain with informative, scientific content. Subsequently, Vail Resorts will support The Nature Conservancy with its "1 Percent For The Forest" program, contributing 1 percent of all summer lift ticket and activity revenue to the environmental nonprofit.

Epic Discovery at Vail Mountain is the first installment of summer mountain adventure plans that Vail Resorts has for several of its resorts, including Breckenridge and Heavenly.

EPIC DISCOVERY TIMELINE

2011: Ski Area Recreational Opportunities Enhancement Act is sponsored by Colorado Senator Mark Udall and signed into law. The law allows ski areas to add summer recreation amenities to existing ski resorts operating on federal land.

July 2012: Vail Resorts announces Epic Discovery, a plan for warm weather recreation on Vail Mountain.

Aug. 2013: Vail Mountain opens a ropes course and zipline at Adventure Ridge, the first of the Epic Discovery plan. The rest of the plans await decisions by federal agencies.

April 2014: U.S. Forest Service releases final policy regarding expanded summer recreation at ski resorts, clearing the way for Epic Discovery plans.

Aug. 2014: On Wednesday, Aug. 20, the U.S. Forest Service releases the final environmental impact statement and the draft record of decision for Epic Discovery at Vail Mountain.

Oct. 2014: After a 45-day comment period, the draft decision becomes final.

Summer 2015: Construction on Epic Discovery expected to start at Vail Mountain.

Summer 2016: Vail Mountain expected to introduce the majority of new activities to the public.

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