Breckenridge group urges caution on ski expansion | VailDaily.com
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Breckenridge group urges caution on ski expansion

Steve Lipsher
slipsher@summitdaily.com
Breckenridge, CO Colorado

BRECKENRIDGE, Colorado “-With Breckenridge, Colorado at a perceived “tipping point” for crowds, the task force looking into community impacts of a proposed ski-area expansion will unveil its recommendations at a public meeting Wednesday night.

The group has established some general principles “-but not specific details “-of how to address the shortage of affordable housing, impacts to social services, parking and traffic and quality-of-life concerns surrounding plans by Breckenridge Ski Resort to expand to Peak 6, according to facilitator Sarah Stokes Alexander of the Keystone Center.

“Both the task force and the letters from the community gave the sense that Breckenridge is sort of at capacity, and Peak 6 represents a tipping point in some way, shape or form,” she said. “The task force took the stance, ‘Let’s agree in principle that we want the resort to mitigate the impacts but recognize that there may be different ways to do that.'”

Among the principles the group has crafted:

– The Peak 6 expansion should not drive up the demand for affordable workforce housing.

– Ski-area operator Vail Resorts should maintain at least the same level of support for social-support and health-care organizations such as the community-care clinic and the Summit Foundation.

– The ski area, the town and the county should work toward reducing the number of days when traffic and parking are at capacity, currently estimated at 20 days each winter.

Although the task-force recommendations are not binding, resort officials say addressing those issues is integral to the community’s nascent “2030 Vision” process.

“The key issues raised are issues that have faced the Breckenridge community and been on the table for discussion for years,” said resort spokeswoman Kristen Pettit. “They will continue to be issues to work on collectively, whether or not the Peak 6 proposal goes forward.”

Another 450 acres

Resort officials want to establish some 450 acres of new terrain on Peak 6, including about 285 acres of advanced skiing above timberline, and a new lift and a 150-seat restaurant to accommodate existing demand.

Breckenridge annually rivals sister resort Vail as the busiest ski area in the country, but it claims only about half as much terrain and faces increasing calls for more intermediate skiing.

But task-force member Chad Christy, the managing owner of Great Western Lodging, worries that the expansion would generate only more crowds, and the resort has reached “the point of diminishing returns” if the issues in town aren’t addressed adequately.

“The ski area says the expansion could increase skier visits by 8 percent,” he said. “That creates 8 percent more problems, from traffic to parking to affordable housing to day care for the community. That has a price tag.”

In the past, he said he’s generally been in favor of ski-area expansions, figuring “what’s good for the resort is good for the town.”

“I’m not sure I necessarily feel that way now,” he said, calling for greater collaboration between the town and the ski area on planning and management of crowds. “A lot of people in the community feel we’ve crossed that bridge, crossed that line, and say ‘Enough is enough.'”

Social impacts

The task force specifically has avoided delving into environmental issues, which will be considered by the U.S. Forest Service as part of its regular review of the expansion proposal.

Instead, the group has focused on the off-site “social” impacts of expansion that the Forest Service typically doesn’t consider.

Task-force member Dave Rossi, a member of the Breckenridge Town Council, said many of the recommendations could be cemented into the Forest Service approval of the project, but he pointed out that Vail Resorts hasn’t offered any concrete promises.

“I think it’s really positive to have the conversation about all these issues, even if Peak 6 were not on the table,” Rossi said. “We’ve enjoyed tremendous benefits from the growth here, but it comes at a cost.”

He also suggested that the ski company’s model of increasing business by 3 to 5 percent annually is “not sustainable” in a community where little land is available for further development.

But Vail officials now point to the weak economy to frame the debate, noting that the expansion would bolster the resort, keep skiers returning and support jobs.

“The world has shifted dramatically since the task force began meeting last summer. Preserving jobs and sustaining business is a much stronger focus,” Pettit said. “… In these challenging economic times, it’s more important than ever to work together to protect the jobs we have, create new jobs and invest in our community.”

Resort officials want to establish some 450 acres of new terrain on Peak 6, including about 285 acres of advanced skiing above timberline, and a new lift and a 150-seat restaurant to accommodate existing demand.

Breckenridge annually rivals sister resort Vail as the busiest ski area in the country, but it claims only about half as much terrain and faces increasing calls for more intermediate skiing.

But task-force member Chad Christy, the managing owner of Great Western Lodging, worries that the expansion would generate only more crowds, and the resort has reached “the point of diminishing returns” if the issues in town aren’t addressed adequately.

“The ski area says the expansion could increase skier visits by 8 percent,” he said. “That creates 8 percent more problems, from traffic to parking to affordable housing to day care for the community. That has a price tag.”

In the past, he said he’s generally been in favor of ski-area expansions, figuring “what’s good for the resort is good for the town.”

“I’m not sure I necessarily feel that way now,” he said, calling for greater collaboration between the town and the ski area on planning and management of crowds. “A lot of people in the community feel we’ve crossed that bridge, crossed that line, and say ‘Enough is enough.'”

The task force specifically has avoided delving into environmental issues, which will be considered by the U.S. Forest Service as part of its regular review of the expansion proposal.

Instead, the group has focused on the off-site “social” impacts of expansion that the Forest Service typically doesn’t consider.

Task-force member Dave Rossi, a member of the Breckenridge Town Council, said many of the recommendations could be cemented into the Forest Service approval of the project, but he pointed out that Vail Resorts hasn’t offered any concrete promises.

“I think it’s really positive to have the conversation about all these issues, even if Peak 6 were not on the table,” Rossi said. “We’ve enjoyed tremendous benefits from the growth here, but it comes at a cost.”

He also suggested that the ski company’s model of increasing business by 3 to 5 percent annually is “not sustainable” in a community where little land is available for further development.

But Vail officials now point to the weak economy to frame the debate, noting that the expansion would bolster the resort, keep skiers returning and support jobs.

“The world has shifted dramatically since the task force began meeting last summer. Preserving jobs and sustaining business is a much stronger focus,” Pettit said. “… In these challenging economic times, it’s more important than ever to work together to protect the jobs we have, create new jobs and invest in our community.”


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