Vail withdraws Blue Sky catwalk proposal |

Vail withdraws Blue Sky catwalk proposal

Melanie Wong
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colorado ” Vail Resorts has abandoned plans to build a groomed catwalk to Vail’s Earl’s Bowl, meaning that skiers and snowboarders still must travel across uneven terrain to access the far side of the bowl.

The proposal was withdrawn after concerns were raised that the catwalk would disturb habitat for lynx, which are a “threatened species,” said Forest Service Snow Ranger Don Dressler.

“Anything that interferes with (lynx territory) is probably not going to be considered,” he said, adding the road would require cutting down trees and would bring more skiers and snowboarders into the area.

Right now, Earl’s Bowl, which is west of Blue Sky Basin, can be reached from Belle’s Camp and Champagne Glade by a narrow, winding path not accessible to snowcats. The area is within Vail Mountain’s official boundaries, but it is “outside the ropes,” meaning it is not regularly patrolled or groomed.

Vail Resorts considered the catwalk because resort planners and wildlife officials thought a road might keep skiers and snowboarders trying to get to Earl’s Bowl from dropping off the path into blocked off wildlife areas, said Tom Allender, resort planner for Vail and Beaver Creek.

Some of the tightly wooded areas between Blue Sky Basin and Earl’s Bowl is blocked off as habitat for snowshoe hare, which are hunted by lynx, Allender said.

“The idea is that if we built a road around it, maybe more people would go around the blocks instead of through them,” he said.

Vail’s abandonment of the plans is welcome news to some environmentalists who opposed the project.

“To (Vail Resorts’) credit, I think it’s great that they’ve withdrawn it,” said Hunter Sykes of the environmental group Colorado Wild.

Making Earl’s Bowl easier to access might eventually lead to development even more damaging than a catwalk, he said.

“Skier numbers would increase dramatically out there,” Sykes said. “If (the resort) saw a huge increase in a couple years, they’d say, ‘Lets cut some runs and put a lift in there.’ It’d be a no-brainer, but it just puts more human impact on the already strained habitat.”

The catwalk was one of several development plans proposed by Vail Resorts in 2007. The proposals included expanding the Golden Peak race venue, upgrading Chair 5, installing a new lift into Sun Down Bowl, building a new snowcat facility, and opening a new restaurant at Mountain Top.

All the plans must be approved by the Forest Service and go through a period of public comment. The initial review of the plans will be released in the next few weeks. Final decisions on the proposals will be made in the late summer or fall of 2009.

Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2928 or

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