AVON, Colorado - Vail Resorts can propose all the plans it wants for property on the ski areas it runs, but the final OK always has to come from the ski company's landlord - the U.S. Forest Service. And getting the landlord's blessing can be complicated.
The plans for Vail Resorts' proposed "Epic Discovery" summer programs are no different. While plans for those programs were announced in July of this year, work is unlikely to start before 2014. It's going to take that long to research, create and approve an environmental impact statement for the project.
While much of that work happens in offices, the Forest Service includes public comment periods in its approval process. One of those comment-seeking sessions was held this week at the Avon Public Library.
Crowd turnout was small - most of the people at the meeting worked either for the Forest Service, Vail Resorts or the press. But the handful of people who did attend learned about current plans, and had a chance to ask questions.
Vail residents Bob and Ann Louthan sat right up front for the presentation. They, along with Vail Homeowners Association Director Jim Lamont, asked Forest Service and Vail Resorts representatives.
Lamont wanted to know if the proposed summer trails for bicycles, hikers and horses would be separated.
Tom Allender of Vail Resorts said the trails would likely be separated by signs, adding that the trails to be built would be built to newer standards that lessen damage from tires and erosion.
Those trails will also require bigger maintenance crews - part of Vail Resorts' claim that the summer programs will help the company keep more employees working year 'round.
Lamont also wanted to know if resort and Forest Service officials are making plans in case people get lost on those new trails.
"That's why we've consolidated the trails," Allender said. "We don't want people leaving (the resort boundaries)."
And Vail Resorts' initial plans call for putting most of the summer activities on a fairly small portion of Vail Mountain. Only about 25 percent of the ski resort area will be used for summer programs under this plan.
Bob Louthan asked just how many people Vail Resorts expected in the summers compared to ski season crowds.
Allender said there aren't really any estimates now of how many people per day may end up on the mountain. In the winter, Vail Resorts can accommodate as many as 25,000 people per day, but the "comfortable carrying capacity" is closer to 20,000.
"The (summer) number will be much smaller than that," Allender said.
Vail Resorts' representative Kristin Kenney Williams said the mountain now has about 100,000 people over a roughly 100-day summer season. Winters can bring 1 million visitors or more.
"We'd like to double or triple the summer number," she said.
While Vail Resorts wants to lure people off Interstate 70 to visit in the summer, people who do stop will find something different than many roadside attractions, thanks to restrictions imposed by federal law.
While Vail Resorts plans climbing walls, zip lines and gravity-propelled "forest flyers" - company officials are adamant that the rail-riding cars are nothing like an "alpine slide" - will be joined by hiking and biking, the law prohibits golf courses, tennis courts and water parks.
There also won't be many nighttime events.
"We want most people off the mountain by 7 (p.m.) or so," Allender said.
All the resort company's plans will be evaluated by the Forest Service over the next several months.
Holy Cross Ranger District District Ranger Dave Neely said this first part of the evaluation will end Dec. 31. After that, work will start on a "draft environmental impact statement" that Neely expects to be finished by late summer of next year. When that document is issued, there will be another public comment period, after which the Forest Service will prepare a final environmental impact statement. That, and a "record of decision," could be issued about this time next year.
If the improvements proposed are built as proposed, Louthan said he's confident - "Vail Resorts does things in a quality way," he said.
Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or firstname.lastname@example.org.