The Forest Service is allowing Breckenridge ski area to proceed with a controversial, 550-acre expansion known as Peak 6. The decision announced last week outlined White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams’ reasoning for allowing the expansion after more than five years of environmental review.
The 2.3 million-acre White River National Forest is about 70 percent roadless wilderness with about 50,000 acres of lift-served skiing at multiple resorts that host more than 7 million annual skier visits. Balancing that recreational experience and the economic impact it makes in local communities with his agency’s mandate to protect natural resources is “a balancing act we do every day,” Fitzwilliams said.
The expansion falls within Breckenridge’s Forest Service ski permit and was zoned for lift-served alpine skiing in the White River National Forest’s 2002 master plan. The proposal was designed to disperse crowding and reduce lift lines at Breckenridge, which sees more than 1.6 million skier visits each season.
Breckenridge exceeds its “comfortable carrying capacity” of 14,920 skiers on 40 days every season. The Peak 6 expansion grows capacity to 16,170 skiers. The expansion will have a six-person chairlift, a lower fixed-grip lift, 413 acres of lift-serviced skiing, 143 acres of hike-to skiing, a 1,500-square foot restroom facility and a 500-square foot ski patrol building.
Of greatest concern to environmentalists is Fitzwilliams’ decision to exclude the project from federal law requiring new projects to connect swaths of old-growth lynx habitat.
Vail Resorts said it expects the new Breckenridge terrain to be available for the 2013-14 season.