With chair lifts at two ski resorts already transporting powder lovers to sought after peaks, and many other resorts poised to open, shoulder season in Colorado is quickly becoming a distant memory.
Both Arapahoe Basin Ski Area and Loveland Ski Area kicked off the winter sports season on Thursday, Oct. 29. Rob Goodell, director of operations at Loveland, was thankful the weather cooperated.
“Mother Nature helped out with the natural, and then our snowmaking crews kept things going,” he said.
The pair of openings was certainly cause to celebrate, Melanie Mills, a representative with Colorado Ski Country, said.
“It’s awesome to have two openings on the same day,” she said. “It gives us a bit of critical mass.”
Mills, who attended the Loveland kickoff, said she comes out for every opening day possible.
“The energy and vibe of opening day is the best,” she said. “In Colorado this is where skiing happens in the U.S. right now.”
As mild fall weather lingered into mid October, ski and snowboard enthusiasts waited for the skies to shower us with white. Prayers were answered on Thursday, Oct. 22, when Summit County awoke to a proverbial winter wonderland. Russell Carlton, senior communications coordinator at Keystone Resorts, said since then Mother Nature has provided a total of 13 inches. He also noted that Breckenridge (17 inches) and Vail (14 inches) were narrowly ahead in the early season snow totals. Keystone is slated to open for snow devotees on Nov. 6.
Lower temperatures meant manmade snow could also contribute to the pack on the mountain.
“We needed that humidity to drop down, and that made it tough,” Goodell said. “Once we got to those cold nights and low humidity we were able to rock.”
Kristen Stewart, senior communications manager for Breckenridge Ski Resort, confirmed the snow totals, noting the resort will start the season on Friday, Nov. 13 at 9 a.m. As per tradition, Peak 8 will open first with the Colorado SuperChair helping riders ascend to descend.
“The annual Wake Up Breck event will be held on Nov. 12,” she said.
To thank the community, free coffee and mugs will be available at Breck coffee shops. More details will be announced next week, she said.
Copper Mountain Resort, set to open on Nov. 13, will offer patrons several new dining options this season. Stephanie Sweeney, communications manager for Copper, said a new Starbucks Coffee is set to open on the first floor of the Mountain Plaza building next week.
Other dining additions include Mahi Fish Tacos, which will take up residence in Center Village in the spot formerly occupied by Belgian Bean. Offering grab and go options, Sweeney said the operation will specialize in a variety of fish, but will also feature salads and quesadillas.
Belgian Bean will relocate to the hill the location previously known as Flyer’s Soup Shack. Their new location can be found just below the top of the American Flyer lift and in between the American Flyer and Moz trails. Belgian waffles and a wide variety of coffee beverages will be available.
At Keystone, Carlton said the resort would again offer a kids ski free program. Children under 12, whose parents stay at least two nights, can ski or board for free. Thus far the resort has given away over 90,000 free tickets for children.
“We pride ourselves on our family friendly offerings,” he said.
Carlton noted Keystone has three peaks and the most skiable acres in Summit County. He said that Kidstopia will kick off after Thanksgiving and provide daily activities for little ones.
Summit County is really getting into the spirit. It is almost overwhelming the amount of Halloween-themed events taking place throughout the week — check out the Wednesday, Oct. 28 edition for a roundup of haunted houses, trick-or-treating and other special events happening around the county. Below are a couple highlights, but by no means the end to a long list of activities. I will shamelessly admit that my current weekend plans involve a night watching “Hocus Pocus” with coworkers, but also a stop at The Barkley Ballroom on Saturday for its Halloween party featuring three live bands and a haunted house.
FRISCO HAUNTED HOUSE
The former community center at 110 3rd Avenue has been transformed into a house of teenage horrors. While the town of Frisco constructs the walls inside the haunted house, everything else is put together by youth from Mountain Mentors Teen Program, Activities Run by Youth (ARBY). The kids not only design the entire haunted house, but also do all the acting inside and their own makeup. The Haunted House will be up from 6-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. I had the chance to attend the Haunted House Wednesday for its media night, and it is amazing. Every year, I am so impressed with what the kids come up with. I actually fell way behind my group trying to check out everything in each room. There is some truly creepy stuff in there, the acting is frightening, and that cheerleader ... well, you’ll see.
The third annual HOWLaween Ball is Friday, Oct. 30, and benefits Far View Horse Rescue, Animal Rescue of the Rockies and League for Animals and People of the Summit (LAPS). The event is a great way to get into the spirit a day ahead of Halloween, strut your stuff in the costume contest and support several great local nonprofits. The ball will be held from 7–11 p.m. at the Silverthorne Pavilion. Go to howlaween.com for more information or tickets.
The Breckenridge Heritage Alliance and Breckenridge Tours both offer spooky tours to get into the spirit. The tours are not only entertaining, but also offer a glimpse into Breckenridge’s interesting history. A couple of highlights are the BHA’s Paranormal Investigation and Breckenridge Tour’s Ghostly Tales. The Paranormal Investigation is an attempt to communicate with the spirits in an old, historic home in Breckenridge, using ghost hunting tools. Check out Page A14 for a first-hand account of the tour. Ghostly Tales, offered by Breckenridge Tours, is a combination of a historic walking tour and ghost hunt.
With the hardware in place and app development under way, “Smart Bus” will be ready to roll into town by the end of November. The bus tracking and passenger counting system, developed by DoubleMap, will be implemented into the Summit Stage system to help visitors and locals alike keep track of their ride.
“This is a huge step forward, I think,” Summit County transit board chair Kent Willis said at a Summit County transit board meeting. “The sooner we have it, the better the guests, especially the out-of-town guests, are going to do. Having it by New Year or Christmas-time would be best.”
Summit Stage Director Jim Andrew said they hoped to have the first phase of the system up and running by Nov. 22.
The initial phase will feature a smartphone app and a website passengers can use to track buses on a map in real time and pull up route information. It will also include a passenger counting system to help Summit Stage assess which routes see the most traffic at different times of year.
In the future, the system will also be able to text an estimated time of arrival for a bus at any particular Summit Stage stop for passengers who do not have smartphones.
The second phase of the project, originally set to be implemented early next year, will include an on-board annunciation system, with both a voice and an LED sign that will name the next stop on the line.
“Right now, our drivers are announcing stops, but that’s kind of hit-or miss,” Andrews said.
The system will also feature electronic signs at bus stops, listing the time to the next bus.
While not drafted in plans, Willis noted that, at some point, he would like to include other local bus routes, such as Breckenridge’s Free Ride system, to help passengers plan their entire route.
“There are people coming from the north side of the county to Breckenridge who need to interface with the Free Ride,” he said. “I think, ultimately, that it would be really nice to be able to coordinate and have both systems sync with each other.”
The project, with a one-time acquisition cost of about $479,000, was made possible with a $60,000 grant from the Colorado Department of Transportation to aid the Stage with installing a passenger counting system.
Phase one was estimated at $222,415, with phase two coming in at $207,174. Annual maintenance costs come in just under $50,000.
“It’s going pretty well,” Andrew said. “DoubleMap is doing a great job. … We hope to have the entire system done by April of next year.”
Another El Niño winter is in store for Summit County, according to a six-month forecast released by meteorologist Joel Gratz and his team at OpenSnow. The forecast predicts about average levels of snowfall for Colorado from November through April, with the season favoring ski areas in the south and less predicted precipitation for those further north.
“We show a range since it’s a six-month forecast, so we can’t be too specific. It’s around average, plus or minus,” Gratz said. “El Niño does not have a huge impact on Summit County snowfall, unfortunately.”
OpenSnow creates the forecast by gathering snowfall data from weather stations near ski areas, assessing and forecasting ocean temperatures and forecasting how those will translate into snowfall patterns throughout the winter season. El Niño signifies warmer than average water temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, bringing in heaver precipitation in the south and east coast regions.
The six-month forecast, released Oct. 21, defines below-average snowfall as less than 90 percent of normal snow, average snowfall as 90 to 110 percent and above-average as greater than 110 percent.
“A lot of places last year ended up somewhere between 75 and 100 percent of average. That’s entirely possible this year,” he added. “Really, what it comes down to is just a couple of big storms can provide more than half of the snowfall during a season. That’s the real challenge when you look at all of these averages. You get a couple of big storms, and things look good.”
OpenSnow forecasted a bracket of expected snowfall for each individual ski area. For example, Arapahoe Basin Ski Area is forecasted at 76 to 114 percent of average snowfall, while Breckenridge Ski Resort is forecasted at 79 to 117 percent of average.
By comparison, Wolf Creek Ski Area, located south in the San Juan national forest, is forecasted at 95 to 129 percent of average snowfall. North of Summit County, Steamboat Ski Resort is forecasted at 70 to 106 percent of average.
All averages will be updated on Nov. 10, further into the winter season.
“Pretty much what we’ve been advertising is that El Niño favors the southern mountains, central mountains and eastern slopes,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Kyle Fredin.
While the snow may come a bit later this season than average, Gratz added the possibility of a strong spring season, like last winter, was a possibility.
“Looking at some of the past El Niño years, there has been a trend toward good snowfall late in the season,” he said. “That could be a local special.”
At this point in the season, it’s too early to tell.
“Every El Niño year is a little bit different,” he added.
Loveland Ski Area announced that it would open for the winter season on Thursday, October 29. Snowmaking efforts ramped up as white flakes began falling from the sky last week, bringing 17.5 inches of natural snow and cold temperatures after an unusually warm fall.
Snowmakers ran for more than 12 consecutive hours last Wednesday, anticipating the arrival of Thursday morning’s winter storm.
“They have done an incredible job getting the mountain ready for the first skiers and riders of the season,” Loveland Director of Business Operations Rob Goodell stated of the snowmaking team. “The warm fall weather delayed the start of snowmaking this year, but Mother Nature finally came through.”
Last week, Loveland Marketing Director John Sellers said the ski area was waiting for an 18-inch base to open for the season. Loveland met those requirements this week and will provide one top-to-bottom run with a solid, 18-inch base.
Lift 1 will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Thursday, with access to the Catwalk, Mambo and Home Run trails, making for a run that is more than a mile in length and nearly 1,000 vertical feet.
“We will continue to make snow on the bottom portion of the mountain, but the coverage up top is outstanding,” Goodell said in a statement. “We have been waiting all summer for this moment and invite everyone to come up and help us kick off the ski season.”
Last winter, Loveland opened on November 1. The ski area will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays and 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends and holidays. Early season lift tickets are $53 for adults and $25 for children ages 6 to 14.
Pennsylvania Mountain rises to 13,006 feet in the Mosquito Range of Colorado. From the summit, you can look down on the old mining towns of Leadville and Fairplay as well as a mining operation on a nearby mountain.
The above-treeline slopes of Pennsylvania Mountain, however, have remained pristine, distant from pesticides and other human influences.
Or so researchers studying wildflowers and bumble bees thought. Then they noticed something that surprised them. The bumble bees above timberline were different than they were in the past. Historically, alpine bumble bees comprised 95 to 99 percent of bumble bees on the above-treeline slopes of Pennsylvania Mountain as well as two other sites in Colorado’s Front Range. Now they share the habitat with lowland species, but even more surprisingly, the tongues of the alpine species are shorter than in the past.
These bumble bees were part of what scientists call an ecological partnership, or a mutualism. For long-tongued bees, with tongues up to half the length of their bodies, they were able to efficiently forage and pollinate the long-tubed wildflowers of Indian paintbrush, monkshood, and other alpine species. Both partners benefited from this specialization. The flowers get pollinated and the bees get nectar.
To find out why tongues of bees had shrunk, they pursued several hypotheses through field research on the three mountains during the summers from 2008 through 2014.
They have concluded that the high-altitude bees have been adjusting to warming temperatures. In their research summary, published in the Sept. 25 issue of the journal “Science,” they point to a decline in wildflowers as the base cause. With fewer of the already more-rare long-tubed wildflowers available, the bumble bees adapted to the broader menu of more abundant shorter-tubed wildflowers. To adapt, the bees developed shorter tongues over the space of 40 years. The bees reproduce annually.
Scientists not involved with the study described it as important. “Very powerful,” said Koos Biesmeijer, an ecologist at the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden, the Netherlands. That the changes occurred in just 40 years “is a really significant finding,” he told “Science.” He said this suggests that bee populations can adapt to effects created by warming temperatures.
Jennifer C. Geib, a biologist at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., and one of the study authors, told Mountain Town News that she had been traveling to Colorado to study the plants on Pennsylvania Mountain since she was a graduate student in 2003. Her study was about how the abundance of bumblebee pollinators benefitted the plants.
In 2012, she, her former adviser Dr. Candace Galen, and Dr. Nicole Miller-Struttmann of SUNY-Old Westbury, formed a collaboration to compare alpine plant-pollinator interactions in modern times to those of the past. That’s when the anomaly was discovered. The short-tongued bumble bees were much higher on the slopes than was expected.
Geib says the current study would have been impossible had it not been for researchers in the 1960s and 1970s who had taken measurements, providing baselines for comparison.
One important comparison is temperature change. The paper reports that summer minimum temperatures have increased about two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) on Pennsylvania Mountain since 1960. But some plants like it cooler. The changes have not favored them. From 1960 to 1985, temperatures associated with reduced flowering occurred 12 percent of the years on Pennsylvania Mountain, but 48 percent of the years since 1985.
Warming summer minimum temperatures in the last 56 years have also been recorded on two other mountains in Colorado’s Front Range, Niwot Ridge and Mt. Evans, which were used in the study from 2012 to 2014.
Alpine flowers don’t grow as well when nighttime temperatures stay above 37.85 degrees Fahrenheit (3.25 degrees Celsius).
This loss of wildflowers wasn’t universal on the mountain. Toward the summit, flowers still did well. By definition, however, there’s less land near mountain summits. On Pennsylvania Mountain, total food resources for alpine bumble bees have fallen 60 percent since the 1970s.
Bumble bees adapted by developing tongues that are on average nearly 25 percent shorter. As bees reproduce every year, this adaptation has occurred over the span of 40 generations. With fewer of the long-tubed wildflowers to draw nectar from, they improved their odds by having a broader menu.
Geib routinely arrives in Colorado in mid-June, hiking every morning above treeline to study bumble bees and the wildflowers until thunder clouds chase her down the slopes in the afternoons. She stays two months.
The effect of this new tongue length cannot be registered quickly on the wildflowers because they have long lives, 50 and even 100 years.
Does this mean that the wildflowers above treeline will forevermore be more scarce? Not necessarily, says Geib. Climate change models predict increasing warmth, decreasing soil moisture, and decreased snowpack.
“But if this doesn’t hold true, then the plants should be able to recover. If that happens, then instead of this being a change, it would just be a hiccup.”
Keystone Policy Center senior policy director Doug Young testified before the U.S. House Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee on Wednesday, Oct. 21, to inform lawmakers on possible solutions to address the national problem of abandoned mines leaking toxic runoff into Western waterways.
Young, a former congressional staffer and adviser to multiple Colorado governors, specifically focused on “Good Samaritan” reforms.
He spoke about past efforts to pass those reforms — legislation that would allow third parties, including states and tribes, to remediate abandoned mine sites without incurring legal liability — and described Keystone’s ongoing work to find collaborative solutions.
Christine Scanlan, Keystone Policy Center president and CEO, said, “The fact that Congress asked Doug to testify about possible ways forward only underscores how Keystone is at the forefront of confronting this national problem. We look forward to working with lawmakers and other key stakeholders to reach common higher ground.”
For more than 40 years, the Keystone Policy Center has brought together teams of stakeholders with diverse perspectives that recognize a need to collaborate on urgent issues and create lasting action-oriented approaches to problem-solving.
WESTERN SKI TOWNS DISCUSS CLIMATE CHANGE RESILIENCE
Elected officials from Western ski towns joined members of the Mountain Pact on Thursday, Oct. 22, for a walking tour in Estes Park highlighting recovery that has taken place since the town was devastated by flooding in 2013 as well as the climate change threats mountain communities face.
As a recent report by the Mountain Pact outlined, by 2030 a projected 15 percent decrease in snowpack is estimated to result in $120 million annually in lost economic output just for Summit County, Utah (home to two international ski resorts), which would result in 1,137 lost jobs and $20.4 million in the form of lost earnings.
The officials present included Telluride councilwoman Jenny Patterson, Estes Park town administrator Frank Lancaster, Crested Butte councilman Jim Schmidt, Jackson councilman Bob Lenz, Avon councilwoman Sarah Smith Hymes, Durango mayor Dean Brookie and Nederland mayor Joe Geirlack.
Follow the walking tour, attendees discussed natural disasters, how mountain towns are grappling with the climate change impacts at the start of ski season, and the steps they’re taking to build resilience and safeguard their local economies.
The Mountain Pact promotes public awareness and new policies that protect these communities whose financial survival depends on winter sports and recreation. For more info, visitwww.themountainpact.org.
“What we’re here to celebrate tonight is community,” Breckenridge Ski Resort chief operating officer John Buhler opened at the Summit County Community Grants Reception.
On Thursday night, nonprofit leaders mingled and toasted to the funds and hours invested into the community by EpicPromise, a branch of Vail Resorts dedicated to conservation and community. For the 2015-16 grant cycle, EpicPromise pledged more than $2.3 million to 50 Summit County nonprofits.
“We want all of the money to stay local, and want the focus to be on kids and the environment,” Nicky DeFord, Senior Manager of Charitable Contributions, said. “Together, it’s been a journey for the last seven years.”
The program, dubbed EpicPromise last year, has consistently given at least $2 million to the community during the last seven years. A few of this year’s grantees include the Summit Foundation, SOS Outreach, the Summit Community Care Clinic, the Keystone Science School, and High Country Conservation Center.
Keystone Resort chief operating officer Mike Goar was quick to point out the value of the 20,000 hours of volunteer work contributed by Vail Resorts employees.
“I also say more than the dollars is the work that all our employees do and the work our nonprofits do,” Goar said.
But before the celebration began, Buhler paused to remember Grand Vacations owner and co-founder Rob Millisor, who left behind a legacy of charity when he died on October 9, 2015.
“He recognized how important it was to share what he had and what Grand Vacations had, that they were willing to give it to this community for all the right reasons,” Buhler said.
He announced EpicPromise would donate $10,000 to the Millisor family fund through the Summit Foundation.
“It is truly an honor to do so, and he is truly an individual that will be sorely missed, but his legacy will never be forgotten in this community, there’s no doubt about that,” Buhler concluded.
THE GRANT THAT GIVES BACK
Since the creation of EpicPromise, DeFord said that the program has focused in on larger, more thoughtful grants to more specific programs.
“We’re trying to do bigger grants with more impact,” DeFord said. “It’s not like we just write a check — we stay in contact with the nonprofits.”
One volunteer with SOS Outreach stepped up to share the impact the program had made with at-risk youth. Jessica Fernandez, and eighth-grade student at Summit Middle School, said her experience as a mentor leading a group of young skiers.
“SOS has not only taught me how to snowboard or basic leadership skills, but they’ve taught me how to incorporate courage, discipline, integrity, wisdom, compassion and humility in my everyday life,” Fernandez said. “At the end of a day, it’s a great feeling, because as a team you all accomplish something and your community benefits from it. Everyone benefits from it.”
EpicPromise also awarded a cash contribution to High Country Conservation Center’s Energy Explorer’s program, which provides hands-on education on renewable and nonrenewable resources to fourth-, eighth- and ninth-graders.
The program also pledged to support to the Summit Community Care Clinic’s oral health care efforts, providing dental care to children in schools. EpicPromise will also continue donations to the Universal Breakfast Program through the Summit School District, providing free or subsidized breakfast available to all students.
DeFord added that the district had seen test scores go up since the breakfast program was put in place.
To top it all off, EpicPromise made several donations to the Summit Foundation, a Summit County nonprofit that has been in place for 31 years. In addition to the gift in memory of Millisor, EpicPromise donated to the Foundation’s Patron Pass Program, used to raise funds for several local nonprofits, and to their scholarship program, which distributes about 100 scholarships to local students.
Summit Foundation Director of Development Kasey Provorse said that the Summit Foundation was able to raise $1 million annually to give back to nonprofits in Summit County, by selling 301 transferrable ski tickets.
“We ultimately support about $2 million in grants, and $230,000 in scholarships to about 100 students,” Provorse said. “It’s just the cornerstone of the Summit Foundation’s fundraising.”
Thursday morning began with the first flurry of winter, as large, soggy snowflakes tumbled down from a cloudy sky. While the weather brought good news for ski resorts, it also resulted in a traffic snarl along Interstate 70.
“The first snowfall of the year is always one of the busiest (days) for us,” Colorado State Patrol Trooper Josh Lewis said. “People sometimes need a reminder to slow down. … Unfortunately, that’s a lesson people learn the hard way.”
Traffic jams started around 8:30 a.m., as cars skidded to the side of the highway, lacking traction driving up to the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnels. Lewis said he was not aware of any injuries resulting from the crashes.
While he did not have a final count for the number of crashes that morning, the accidents resulted in the closure of one lane east of the tunnels and, subsequently, full closure of the highway from Silverthorne for two hours.
“The snow came in so quickly that folks were having difficulty getting traction,” Colorado Department of Transportation spokeswoman Tracy Trulove said. “If there are people up there (who) aren’t prepared and trying to drive in it, that’s a lot of what slows us down.”
She encouraged drivers to equip their vehicles with adequate snow tires, chains or other traction devices and to use four-wheel drive in icy conditions. The exhortation is just one small piece of a campaign by CDOT to encourage — and enforce — proper traction for drivers.
The National Weather Service forecasted the snow to continue throughout the night and subside early Friday morning. Kyle Fredin, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said the storm developed over the Four Corners and will move into eastern Wyoming.
“We had a good trough of low pressure, but it wasn’t that cold. It was more moist than cold,” he said.
He expects this winter to be another El Nino season, with snow favoring mountains in the south of the state.
“It’s a long winter yet to come,” he added. “You can’t write off that it’s gonna be a dry or extremely wet winter anywhere.”
Summit County resorts used the snowfall as an opportunity to ramp up snowmaking operations in anticipation of the season. Loveland Ski Area started snowmaking Wednesday evening, continuing late into the following morning.
“Somebody finally flipped the switch and turned it to winter,” Loveland Marketing Director John Sellers said.
Loveland reported seven inches of snow following the storm, with no set opening date, but plans to open after the ski area acquires an 18-inch base.
“We still have a lot of work to do. We’re not gonna open this weekend or anything like that,” he added. “I think this snow will definitely stick around for a little while. The nights are looking really good. If we’re able to be productive, we can make a lot of progress.”
The race is on for Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, which is using an 18-inch base on High Noon as the mark for turning on the first lifts. A-Basin reported six inches of fresh snow by Thursday afternoon.
Copper Mountain and Keystone Resort both reported a few inches as well. The two resorts both have scheduled opening day for Friday, Nov. 6. Meanwhile, Breckenridge Ski Resort will open on Friday, Nov. 13.
“We’re definitely excited Old Man Winter showed up,” Copper Communications Manager Stephanie Sweeney said. “Any little bit helps, for sure.”
Frisco’s Main Street is set to open the morning of Wednesday, Oct. 21, with paving of the two-block stretch of construction completed ahead of schedule. The sunny autumn afternoons allowed Columbine Concrete to begin laying the pavement last week, leaving the asphalt a few days to set.
Over the next two weeks, construction crews will finish brick pavers, electrical work on streetlights and construction cleanup, looking to finish ahead of the Oct. 31 completion date if the weather complies. Summit Stage bus stops will remain at their temporary locations, and temporary parking and roadway closures may be expected as construction continues.
“We are excited to finish up the third phase of Step Up Main Street. We couldn’t have asked for better weather for this project, and the street looks great,” town manager Bill Efting said in a statement. “We’re looking forward to wrapping the whole project up in the spring with the final phase from 2nd Avenue to 4th Avenue.”
The project finished phase three of four for the town’s Step Up Main Street project, designed to lower the road by 10 inches, improve drainage, and add widened sidewalks, sharrows for cyclists, brick pavers and street lamps. The town’s main drag was last improved in 1982.
With budgets set for the upcoming fiscal year, the Colorado Department of Transportation has several large projects slated for Summit County. But with tight funding and flat revenues, two State Highway 9 projects were only approved with the aid of local government matches.
Construction on the first of the two projects — an 11-mile stretch of Highway 9 north of Silverthorne — will wrap up in mid-November at about 50-percent completion. The $52 million project — which features two wildlife overpasses, five underpasses, fencing and a roadway realignment — is set to be finished by fall of 2016.
Next spring, construction is slated for a re-alignment to Highway 9 that would straighten the main artery between Frisco and Breckenridge. Both projects are funded through CDOT’s RAMP (Rapid Acceleration of Maintenance Partnerships) program, meaning that they require a local match and proof of a safety need to be selected for funding.
At first, with a $1-million cost increase this spring, it appeared this Iron Springs project was off the books. But, after Vail Resorts and the town of Breckenridge stepped up to add to grants pledged by Frisco and Summit County, CDOT was able to fast-track the $22 million project.
“We knew if it wasn’t a RAMP project, there was no way we could envision it being funded in the future,” Summit County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier said. “We made a point of thanking all the partners because if Vail Resorts and Breckenridge didn’t step up and if we didn’t have this great partnership with town of Frisco, this project would have been dropped.”
Construction is slated for 2016 and 2017, but traffic impacts should be minimal as most of the construction will take place off the roadway.
The new alignment would move the highway west, bringing it away from the reservoir and removing a tight curve known as “Leslie’s Curve” that has been the site of many accidents. In addition, the existing bike path will be moved to the side of the reservoir.
“It’s going to be such a beautiful recreational and environmental enhancement,” Stiegelmeier added.
In addition, CDOT will look at continuing a $4.2 million bridge repair project from Eagle County through Summit. The department will use the funds to repair bridge joints — a critical safety improvement.
CDOT will also team up with Breckenridge to add a roundabout at the intersection of Park Avenue and 4 O’Clock Road. The right lane of eastbound Interstate 70 between Officers Gulch and East Frisco will also be resurfaced next year.
While CDOT also has several “wish list” projects for the county, no funding is currently allocated for some of these plans. All three of the projects are listed under Senate Bill 228, which states that a five-year block of transfers is made from the General Fund to the Highway Users Tax Fund (HUTF), the Capital Construction Fund and the General Fund statutory reserve when personal income growth is five percent or greater.
“These are projects that have risen to the top in terms of the most important needs in the area,” CDOT Region One project manager Grant Anderson said. “They are candidate projects if our funding gets more defined.”
One long-discussed project for the Summit County area is work to the I-70 West/Silverthorne interchange to create a diverging diamond interchange to improve safety on the entry/exit ramps. Also on the list are improvements to Exit 203 in Frisco, including a bridge expansion and the addition of an eastbound auxiliary lane from Frisco to Silverthorne.
With tight funding — due to an expanding Colorado population and a flat gas tax that has stayed at 22 cents per gallon since 1991 — CDOT has little space for new projects. With a 2016 budget of $1.38 billion, a slight increase from last year’s $1.12 billion budget, maintenance dominates the state’s transportation budget.
In addition, the federal gas tax, which makes up nearly half of CDOT’s budget, has stagnated at 18.4 cents per gallon since 1993.
“There’s nothing we can do about it unless we choose to tax ourselves more or get Congress to allocate more money,” Stiegelmeier said. “General polling has shown people don’t want a tax, but they want better roads.”
She compared Colorado’s funding to Utah, which has similar tourism infrastructure and challenges in snow-laden mountain roads. But while Colorado’s transportation budget is about half federal funding, she said, Utah’s is 75 percent state-funded.
“It is really frustrating because of all the things you’d think there would be 100-percent agreement on is that everyone needs to pay for more infrastructure in general,” Stiegelmeier said. “There’s nothing partisan about it, but it does cost money.”
Discussions at the federal level, meanwhile, have been postponed time and time again as lawmakers struggle to reach a solution. Transportation funding discussions were postponed until the end of October, with several short-term extensions affecting larger projects, as state governments hesitate to take on longer-term projects without the guarantee of current funding levels.
“That’s the conundrum — the ridiculous state of Congress where they’re operating on these ridiculous continuous resolutions,” Stiegelmeier said. “The expectation is that (funding) will be about the same, but nobody has a clue.”
Earlier this year, the town and ski area parent company Vail Resorts both agreed they needed to work together to improve local parking and transit. The town created a task force to discuss studies, polls and solutions including an F-Lot parking garage, roundabouts on Park Avenue, more employee parking and increased bus services.
Local residents, property owners and skiers grew concerned about the hostility between the town’s two largest players.
At the last minute, the town and the resort company drafted a compromise agreement that has been applauded by most residents.
The lift-ticket tax agreement won’t take effect, though, without voter approval.
HOW THE TAX WORKS
The agreement has multiple parts. The town would require the company to collect a 4.5 percent sales tax on all single-day and multi-day Breckenridge Ski Resort lift tickets, regardless of how or where they are bought.
The tax, which would start in July 2016, would exclude season passes, multi-resort lift tickets and summer activities. Vail Resorts, the world’s largest resort company, agreed not to sue the town if the tax passes.
The tax would be tied to a new fund dedicated to transit and parking improvements, and the ski area agreed to continue to provide transit services at, or above, its current level.
The most important part of the agreement to many was the company’s $3.5 million annual guarantee, which would increase each year for inflation by 1 percent to 4 percent, based on the Denver-Boulder Consumer Price Index.
The deal specifies that if taxes amount to more than the guarantee, Vail Resorts could save the excess to cover any deficits in the next two years. For example, if tax receipts total $3 million in 2017, the company would be obligated to pay the town the $500,000 shortfall. If the receipts totaled $4 million, the resort company could save the extra $500,000 to cover deficits in 2018 and 2019, but not 2020.
The agreement would end if a future town council expands the lift-ticket tax to include more ski area activities or admissions.
In that case, Vail Resorts would no longer have to guarantee the town the adjusted $3.5 million. However, the 4.5 percent lift-ticket sales tax would remain.
Supporters say the tax accomplishes the goal of creating long-term funding for parking and transit improvements, improves the Breckenridge experience for residents and guests, continues the town and resort company’s longstanding partnership and does not affect season pass holders.
Though no comments in opposition were filed with the Summit County Clerk and Recorder’s Office by the deadline, a couple of people have expressed concerns about the tax to the Summit Daily, arguing that the town should reprioritize its current budget, so visiting skiers don’t have to fund the town’s parking and transit improvements.
According to town manager Tim Gagen, the town’s proposed parking and transit improvements are expected to cost between $4 million and $5.5 million annually, which the town would not be able to afford without new long-term funding, in addition to the $3 million a year already spent on parking and transit.
Gagen and town council members have said the town will continue to consider public input on parking and transit changes, but the town needs voters to pass the tax to move forward on those improvements.
6:30 p.m., Blue River Bistro, 305 N. Main St. Chef Brandon Farr will take guest on a culinary tour of Italy. Experience an elegant four-course dinner, pairing Italy’s most prestigious wine appellations with authentic cuisine from each region. 100% of proceeds benefit the National Repertory Orchestra. For reservations call (970) 453-5825 or www.nromusic.com.
Frisco, Oct. 22
9 p.m., Barkley Ballroom, 610 Main St. Cabinet plays bluegrass music that might have its roots in the past, but its jams are current and vibrant. Free show at 9 p.m.
Barre Fusion Drop in Class
Breckenridge, Oct. 19
5:30 p.m., Breckenridge Recreation Center, 880 Airport Road. Barre Fusion is a great core workout, combining standing core exercises, Pilates, ballet barre and dance-based moves. Get a total-body workout that is great for balance, strength development and injury prevention. Barre Fusion is free with Rec Center daily admission. (970) 453-1734.
Ice Skating Lessons Begin
Breckenridge, Oct. 19
3:30 p.m., Stephen C. West Ice Arena, 0189 Boreas Pass Road. Students arrive at Stephen C. Ice Arena for a 30-minute OUTDOOR skating lesson followed by 30 minutes of free-skate time to practice their new skills on-ice. A snack is provided for all participants along with skate and helmet rental.
Strange But True
Breckenridge, Oct. 19-23
2 p.m., Two Wild Sisters, 100 N Main St. #113. This walking tour is all about disappearances, suspected kidnappings and other strange events, including the fate of the Breckenridge Navy. Hear about the weird and unusual events that in Breckenridge from 1961 when the ski area opened to present day. Please call for reservations: (970) 485-2894 or (970) 343-9169. $15.00 Adults, $10.00 Children (8-12).
Summit County Comes Together
Frisco, Oct. 20
6 p.m., Next Page, 409 E Main. In these interactive talks, Jonathan Geurts will highlight the unique challenges and opportunities inherent to a multi-generational workforce. He will draw primarily from the book Sticking Points, in which Haydn Shaw proposes a five-step process with which the generations can overcome many of their most common hurdles.