Time for Skico to make a bold statement
The time has come for the Aspen Skiing Co. to make the ultimate environmental statement – it must abandon its plan to expand further onto Burnt Mountain.The Skico has deservedly earned a reputation over the last decade as an environmental leader in the ski industry. We believe the efforts headed by Director of Environmental Affairs Auden Schendler and guided by Chief Executive Officer Pat O’Donnell are sincere and enlightened. Corporations of any and all types would do well to follow the Skico’s example.But to reach full credibility, the company must end an expansion plan that raises legitimate and grave concerns in its own back yard.The Skico wants to add about 500 acres of terrain in the trees of Burnt Mountain. It currently has one trail there called Long Shot. Skiers and riders must hike to the trail; it isn’t served by a chairlift. Like Long Shot, the other proposed trails would guide skiers and riders through glades on ungroomed terrain.An extensive review by the U.S. Forest Service cleared the way for the Burnt Mountain expansion in 1994. Because of a long delay in enacting the plan, the agency was required to revisit the proposal. We expect the Forest Service to approve the Skico’s plan and give the company the legal standing to pursue the project.Although the Skico has made concessions – such as dropping plans to run a gondola to the summit of Burnt Mountain and replacing a chairlift with a catwalk – they don’t go far enough.Some environmentalists make a good case that expanding farther east onto Burnt Mountain brings activity and commotion closer to valuable roadless areas that are adjacent to wilderness. Those roadless lands someday might be eligible themselves for wilderness protection if a more environmentally minded administration takes power in Washington, D.C.To be clear, the Forest Service doesn’t recognize most of the land where the Skico wants to expand as roadless. But turning that terrain into a regular part of the Snowmass Ski Area eliminates an important buffer for the roadless lands and wildlife habitat they contain.We’re also unconvinced Snowmass needs to develop this terrain to make itself more appealing to customers. In survey after survey, Snowmass earns kudos for its diversity of terrain. The ski area’s problems – outdated base area facilities, a lack of retail, restaurants and nightlife – are being addressed with the Base Village development.Snowmass is also underused, according to a study for the 2002 White River National Forest management plan. The ski area has a capacity for 1.8 million skiers per season. It only pulls in between 700,000 and 900,000.There is plenty of room for more visitors without a terrain expansion at Snowmass. The Skico only stands to cement its environmental credibility by dropping the Burnt Mountain plan.
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