Concerns exist over Golden Peak project
Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from a report by the Vail Homeowners Association board of directors. The association keeps a close eye on economic and political trends in and outside of the Vail community. The electronic version with links to supporting documents is available at http://www.vailhomeowners.com.
The Vail Homeowners Association has learned more about what is included in Vail Resorts’ application to expand facilities on Golden Peak. This proposed project has a long history, having been included in Vail Resorts 2007 Master Plan for the mountain. There is now considerable momentum for the project from both the U.S. Forest Service and the racing community. If approved, then it will convert Golden Peak into an international level ski venue with year-long racing and training that, if not managed correctly, and if appropriate mitigation procedures are not adopted as a condition of approval, then it could have effects beyond the immediate project area.
The project requires the clear-cutting of 42 acres of pristine aspen forest, which would remove about 80 percent of the forest on Golden Peak. This would require a super clear-cut to comply with FIS international race course standards, which are to be used for the construction of the new courses; those standards require de-stumping and smoothing of the surface. VHA asked for a pictorial depiction from the proponents but was informed that none would be available for at least two weeks, until the public comment period had concluded. VHA has posted its best effort to provide a pictorial rendering on its website.
Clear-cutting and smoothing such large areas with steep pitches raises environmental concerns about drainage and soil stability. This is a concern, not just for the project area, but because two of the proposed new runs will join into the existing Golden Peak race area, it is a concern all the way down to the base at Chair 6. Because of increased snow making and water injection to maintain the race courses at FIS international race conditions, the sub-soil under the courses will be super-saturated, so in addition to usual surface drainage issues, there could be significant sub-soil issues.
This is the first time that such conditions will be faced on Vail Mountain. Other race venues, such as International and the Birds of Prey courses at Beaver Creek, were one-off events, so those courses did not need to be maintained race-ready all year long. As of yet, it does not appear there are any provisions for the disposition of excess water or for reducing saturation of the sub-soil. Simply draining the excess water into the adjacent forest is insufficient and has the potential for creating erosion and mud flows. A well thought-out mitigation plan, covering the entire length of the new facility should be required.
The proposal would expand the facilities by creating four new ski trails — a women’s downhill, a men’s Super G, a mogul run and a skiercross course. These trails are to be built to international racing standards. These facilities would be used for local, regional, national, and international ski/snowboard racing and training. Between racing events, these facilities will be used virtually every day of the season for training. Last year, for example, the Golden Peak race venue was utilized for races, events, and event preparation for 91 days, and 13 mogul events were held on Cookshack; on other days, the venues were used for training. While earlier reports indicated that there would be periods that these new trails would be open to the public, even if there were open days, the trails will be maintained in race-ready condition, which would make them unsuitable and even unsafe for recreational skiers.
At a conceptual level, the purpose of these new facilities is to consolidate all racing and race training in one location, so that race activities are separated from the general public’s use of the mountain. It is believed that doing so will improve on-mountain safety and guest experiences. The project, however, only involves the new terrain, and as of yet, has not considered the potential safety effects, which the new race courses will have in the course finish arenas. Up to now, Golden Peak has only accommodated technical or relatively slower-speed events. Now, with international-level downhill and super-G courses, it will be a new day; racers will be reaching the bottom of the courses at high speed. Reportedly, there are no plans to change or enlarge the finish corral, but even though the finish area is outside of the scope of this project, the VHA believes that the U.S. Forest Service should treat this project holistically and both consider and address how to maintain separation of those participants from the general public in the Chair 6 area. This is necessary for both the safety of the general public as well as the safety of racers.
If you share these concerns or have other concerns or objections to this project — whether they be about the aesthetic effects of clear cuts on Golden Peak, increased congestion and parking issues in the Golden Peak area, or any other kind of issue—then it is incumbent that you make your views known to the Forest Service. The Association urges affected parties to become involved and forward their comments to the Forest Service by no later than May 1. Contact information to submit concerns is available on the VHA website.
The Vail Homeowners Association Board is Gail Ellis, president; Judith Berkowitz, secretary; Rob Ford, treasurer; and directors Jamie Duke, John Gorsuch, John Lohre, Andres Nevares, Trygve Myhren, Larry Stewart and Doug Tansill.
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