Construction on the proposed capital enhancement projects at Keystone and Breckenridge Ski Resorts could begin as early as this summer in preparation for the 2017-18 winter season.
The two Vail Resorts, Inc. properties announced intentions to upgrade a chairlift each — the Montezuma Express Lift at Keystone that dates to 1990 and the Falcon SuperChair on Breckenridge's Peak 10 from 1985 — to six-passenger capacities. Both resorts also plan for additional improvements.
As part of its expanded summer activities through its Epic Discovery program, Breckenridge hopes to build a 2,500-square-foot storage facility within an existing storage yard on Peak 7. The new structure would offer a secure depot for signs, operations and safety equipment.
To improve communications, Breck also hopes to lay 735 feet of buried fiber optic line and build four 35-foot towers, to be camouflaged as artificial trees, in various locations on the resort. Those sites are requested as the top of the Independence SuperChair, near the restaurant and adjacent to Ten Mile Station, all on Peak 9, as well as near to the top of the Colorado SuperChair on Peak 8. The fiber optic cable would be installed in previously undisturbed areas at the Peak 9 restaurant, Ten Mile Station and Colorado SuperChair, on top of equipment being added to the existing warming hut building on Peak 6.
Resort staff states the lift swap, which requires replacement of existing towers, terminals and accessory components, will increase capacity on Breck's southern-most peak by 25 percent. That should improve guest circulation and wait times.
"Breckenridge has seen many large projects over the last six years and we're ecstatic to continue with a new Falcon SuperChair for winter 2017-18," John Buhler, resort COO, said in a December release.
Vail estimates it has invested about $100 million in guest experience updates across its holdings nationwide this winter, and that same amount each year the last five seasons for a total of more than $500 million in investments toward improvement projects. Keystone would be the benefactor of even more of the proposed enhancements.
Aside from a similar 25-percent capacity upgrade for the Montezuma Express, the primary lift on Dercum Mountain's intermediate and beginner terrain, Keystone would install four of its own 35-foot, camouflaged comm towers, near Dercum's Summit House, near the top of the gondola, near the Outback Express lift and adjacent to Labonte's Smokehouse BBQ. Some additional equipment atop the Santiago Express, and 450 feet of buried fiber optic line in previously undisturbed areas at the Outback Express and between the gondola and Labonte's, would be included.
"We are committed to continually reinvesting in the mountain experience across Vail Resorts and are confident that these upgrades will elevate the guest experience at Keystone," Mike Goar, vice president and COO at Keystone, said in the December release.
Keystone is also aiming to re-grade and increase water and energy conservation on the Spring Dipper trail by relocating a snowmaking hydrant in addition to applying new drainage and revegetation measures. Creating a more consistent trail width, between 3 and 5 feet, on the existing Boy Scout mountain biking trail for added consistency of terrain along 2,500 of the route through drainage, resurfacing and tree clearing, as well as relocating 250 feet of trail, is part of the proposal, too.
Finally, Labonte's restaurant would receive a facelift, with a remodel of the kitchen and expansion of existing indoor seating to a 150 capacity. The current outdoor "ski beach" area would be maintained in the makeover, and all existing on-site utilities would be upgraded as necessary to meet building code requirements. Any impacts are expected to happen within the staging and construction processes.
Due to the Forest Service's assessment of minimal new disturbance from the projects, Scott Fitzwilliams, the White River National Forest's supervisor, granted an exclusion from the need for a more in-depth analysis through an environmental assessment or impact statement. When a disturbance would affect no more than 5 total acres in each proposal, such an exclusion is available.
The White River's Dillon Ranger District began soliciting public comment on the projects on Feb. 21 and asks those be submitted on or before March 15. Both Vail and the Dillon Ranger District acknowledge the projects still require Forest Service review and approval, and until those exercises are completed, nothing is guaranteed.
"Even under a categorical exclusion, research specialists still have to learn the potential impacts to individual resources," said Bill Jackson, Dillon District ranger. "So we require feedback from a wildlife biologist, hydrologist, archeologist, botanist and others as part of the analysis. We don't expect there to be any significant impacts, but if there are, we will revisit it and could go to the next level up, with an environmental analysis in this case."