Vail Resorts’ latest environmental mishap delays Keystone lift expansion
New lift definitely not opening in 2022-23 season
Unauthorized road construction, tree removal and the damaging of wetlands at Keystone Resort will require further environmental review by the U.S. Forest Service, Vail Resorts confirmed on Thursday.
Vail Resorts was attempting to have a 555-acre expansion of Keystone’s lift-served terrain ready in time for the 2022-23 season, but found itself in hot water with the U.S. Forest Service in July after taking a bulldozer blade to sensitive terrain in the area, removing trees and clogging a stream with dirt.
These actions were taken during the construction of a road that was not allowed according to the approvals of the Bergman Bowl expansion project, which is taking place on land leased to Vail Resorts by the White River National Forest.
The U.S. Forest Service has determined that high alpine portions of the project will need to undergo further environmental review, Keystone announced on Thursday.
“As a result, Keystone will not complete the Bergman Bowl Express lift for the 2022-23 season,” Keystone Vice President and General Manager Chris Sorensen said a statement.
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Vail Resorts is required to complete a restoration plan to get back in compliance with the Forest Service, and that plan has been approved, Vail Resorts’ confirmed on Thursday. The plan will attempt to fully restore the affected area.
“In partnership with the U.S. Forest Service, we started some of this work after their initial notification to us in July, and we look forward to continuing this work now that we have a fully approved restoration plan to execute,” Sorensen said.
White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams, who told Vail Resorts to shut the project down in a July 8 notice of non-compliance, said Vail Resorts hired a contractor to draft the restoration plan.
“They stopped everything and immediately got a company that specializes in ecological restoration,” Fitzwilliams said.
The installation of snowmaking equipment and the removal of trees for runs in Bergman Bowl is allowed to continue, along with the expansion of the Outpost Restaurant, which is still scheduled to open this season.
Bergman Bowl will also be open, as in years past, as hike-to terrain during the 2022-23 season, Sorensen said.
“We are grateful for the U.S. Forest Service’s partnership throughout our work together on this project,” Sorensen said. “We greatly respect their expertise and look forward to working together on both the restoration plan and the supplemental environmental review. We are optimistic that we will be able to complete the Bergman Bowl project next summer for the 2023-24 season.”
In an earlier statement, Sorensen said the Bergman Bowl mistake was a result of a misunderstanding by Keystone’s construction team.
The mistake comes less than a year after an environmental catastrophe in which Vail Resorts was found responsible for the death of 120 fish in Gore Creek following a discharge of pollutants from a nearby snowmaking system.
On Tuesday, Vail Town Council member Pete Seibert Jr., son of Vail founder Pete Seibert, cited the fish kill and the Bergman Bowl setback in voting to suspend Vail Resorts’ permits in the company’s ongoing effort to construct high-density housing on bighorn sheep habitat in East Vail.
Seibert had previously supported Vail Resorts’ development efforts in East Vail by acquiescing the company’s request to vote against condemning the project.
But Seibert reversed course on Tuesday, saying “I’m not so sure it is responsible to leave things to Vail at this time.”