Forest Service clears way for new summer program takes big step |

Forest Service clears way for new summer program takes big step

EAGLE COUNTY — The U.S. Forest Service this week released its final policy regarding expanded summer recreation at ski resorts. The policy clears the way for Vail Resorts “Epic Discovery” summer plans for Vail Mountain.

The news from the Forest Service made official a policy that took an act of Congress to start. In 2011, U.S. Sen. Mark Udall sponsored and Congress passed, the “Ski Area Recreation Opportunity Enhancement Act.” President Barack Obama signed the measure shortly after it was passed.

The law allows ski areas to add summer recreation amenities to existing ski resorts operating on federal land.

Passing the law was just the first step, though. Forest Service officials then had to go through the various legal steps in the National Environmental Protection Act. In the case of the Vail Mountain proposal, Forest Service officials also had to go through the usual steps of seeking public comment, evaluating those comments, then issuing the policy.

The Forest Service has also been working at the local level on the Epic Discovery proposal itself.

While there were no real problems with any of this, the federal government does move slowly, so everything has taken longer than even Forest Service officials expected.

News that the policy was finalized brought exactly the reaction you’d expect from Vail Resorts.

In a statement Tuesday, company CEO Rob Katz lauded the Forest Service’s new policy.

Katz said the law “represented an important new opportunity for the ski industry to provide additional recreational opportunities to a much more diverse set of guests year-round, as well as create more jobs in our local resort communities. We appreciate that the U.S. Forest Service created a broad, forward-thinking policy that meets the intent of Congress and allows us to make our national forests accessible and engaging to people of all ages and abilities not just in winter, but all year long. Our current proposals for Epic Discovery summer activities at Vail, Breckenridge and Heavenly mountain resorts will allow us to provide great summer recreational experiences under the new policy and guidelines.”

That leaves local approval as the final hurdle to starting work. In a March interview, Holy Cross District Ranger Dave Neeley said he expected the local process could be finished by mid-July or so.

If all continues to move as it currently is, then work could start this year on some Epic Discovery projects — which envision a combination of trails, ziplines and an alpine coaster the company calls a “Forest Flyer.”

That could make some activities available to summer guests next year, with the full program in place by 2016 or so.

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