Vail Resorts, Forest Service shoot down idea of EagleVail chairlift to Beaver Creek
A chairlift, in various forms, has been discussed in EagleVail since its inception in the '60s
EAGLEVAIL — Citing wildlife impacts, the Forest Service and Vail Resorts recently told EagleVail officials that they aren’t interested in pursuing a chairlift connecting EagleVail and Beaver Creek.
“A chairlift from EagleVail, across National Forest, and into Beaver Creek is not possible right now,” Aaron Mayville, district ranger for the Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District, wrote in an email to EagleVail Metro District manager Steve Barber on May 4.
“We are not interested in discussions regarding a lift from EagleVail to Beaver Creek at this point,” wrote Chris Jarnot, Vail Resorts executive vice president, Mountain Division, to Barber on May 6.
Vail Resorts owns and operates Beaver Creek Resort.
EagleVail officials wanted to explore the potential of a chairlift, pointing to community surveys in 2012, 2014 and 2017 that showed a lift was the most desired amenity by EagleVail residents. They also pointed to the potential increases in property values as a boon for homeowners and a catalyst for renewal.
“It’s definitely a setback,” said David Warner, vice president of the EagleVail Metro District board and a longtime proponent of the lift. “These were not good letters.”
A $5.2 million lift
Some members of the EagleVail Metropolitan District and the EagleVail Property Owners Association boards envisioned a lift stretching from the current location of the driving range of the EagleVail Golf Club up to Allie’s Cabin or Rose Bowl.
Proponents believe they had received encouragement from Vail Resorts about the chairlift idea in 2016. A chairlift, in various forms, has been discussed in EagleVail since its inception in the ’60s.
Before Beaver Creek was built, a plan was considered to connect EagleVail with the old Meadow Mountain ski area. A 1988 study detailed a proposal to connect EagleVail and Beaver Creek.
Warner said he received a bid of $5.2 million from a ski-lift company to build a 11,250-foot-long lift from the driving range to Rose Bowl. Supporters envisioned asking voters to pass an additional sales tax or using revenue from the one passed in 2018 to finance the construction and operation of the lift.
Members of the Property Owners Association board came to a Metro District meeting in April, asking the Metro Board for its blessing to conduct a $15,000 study that would examine whether there were any “fatal flaws” in the lift plan.
Members of the Metro District suggested simply reaching out to the Forest Service and Vail Resorts to ask whether they supported the concept.
The answers came back as a resounding “no.”
Mayville wrote in the May 4 email that “the entire hillside above EagleVail is an ‘elk refuge’ of sorts — when Beaver Creek was built, (a memorandum of understanding) was signed between the Forest Service, Division of Wildlife, Vail Associates, and others to set aside that area for the protection of wildlife (mainly the elk herd).”
Mayville cited a larger conversation in the community about dwindling wildlife.
The county’s elk count is down 50 percent from numbers recorded in 2003, Colorado Parks and Wildlife said last year. During the past 20 years, local elk figures have dropped 40 percent. Wildlife officials say there wasn’t a single factor that caused the decline, but pointed to human encroachment as a reason — including recreation and development.
Even in the 1988 EagleVail chairlift study, the Colorado Division of Wildlife cited the concerns over elk protections, saying the agency could not give the proposal a favorable review.
Mayville also said his staff already has too much on its plate with current initiatives.
“For now, given the wildlife concerns in the community, given the Vail Resorts lack of interest and Forest Service lack of bandwidth, this is not something we are going to be entertaining,” Mayville said in an interview this week.
In a comment issued this week in response to questions about the issue, Jarnot said that Vail Resorts explored the idea of the lift a few years ago following inquiries from the EagleVail Metro District. He said that once the company learned of the elk protections established when Beaver Creek was developed, it agreed with the Forest Service and the Division of Wildlife not to pursue development in the area.
“We aren’t willing to invest more time and resources to further pursue the idea given the extremely high likelihood that there is no chance it will ever happen,” Jarnot said in the statement.
‘Heart and soul’ of EagleVail
Some members of the EagleVail Metro District board expressed concerns about the costs of the project; the impacts such as traffic and parking; and even the potential negative side effects of rising property values for the community.
At the April meeting, board secretary Ken McCann noted that he’s an avid skier, but voiced concerns about how a lift would impact the “heart and soul” of EagleVail.
“I’m an advocate for community,” McCann said. “If it would in any way impact our community negatively, such as driving up the cost of rent, driving up home prices, driving people out of EagleVail, I would be against it.”
The Metro District is a quasi-governmental entity that operates and maintains community facilities such as the golf courses, pool, EagleVail pavilion, athletic fields and trails. It also provides services that enhance streets, safety and transportation.
Trail approved in area
Mayville and Jarnot both offered to meet with EagleVail officials to discuss further. EagleVail plans to take them up on the offers.
“We will still have the meetings, but I’m not particularly encouraged,” Warner said.
Warner questioned why a new trail in the area, the Everkrisp trail, was approved by the Forest Service in light of the wildlife concerns.
“How do you explain a bike trail bisecting this migration path in half with actual human beings that’s less damaging than 12 lift towers that will stand there all year?” Warner said at the May Metro District board meeting.
Mayville pointed to stipulations in the Everkrisp trail approvals that mandated trail closures during the winter and spring.
“The biggest wildlife concern in that area is winter range,” Mayville said. “We were able to put a winter closure on the Everkrisp trail. That’s why maintaining that closure is so important.”
A window of opportunity
Warner ran for the board in 2015 with a platform that included researching a chairlift link between the neighborhood and the ski mountain. He saw the lift as a catalyst for spurring revitalization in EagleVail — similar to what Coors Field did for LoDo in Denver.
“My idea of the lift was more to spur economic growth and revitalize EagleVail — more than just a lift going to Beaver Creek,” Warner said.
Warner said that three years ago, Vail Resorts officials were encouraging EagleVail to continue with planning for the chairlift. Warner, in turn, participated in public meetings explaining the chairlift to the community and various stakeholders.
But in 2016, a proposed sales tax hike of up to 2.9% that could have financed a chairlift failed, striking a blow to the forward progress of the concept.
A 1 percent sales tax was passed two years later, but, at the time, officials said it would not cover the cost to fund a ski lift. The 2018 tax was intended to fund projects such as streets, trails, sidewalks and bus service.
“We got the opportunity,” Warner said. “We lost that vote (in 2016) — it was really close — and here we are in 2019.”
In terms of area, it’s the county’s smallest conservation deal ever. In terms of location, it’s one of the county’s rarest acquisitions.