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Sunlight growth to be forest’s fastest, says plan

Donna Daniels

The newly unveiled White River National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan makes some startling predictions for the growth of the ski industry in western Colorado.

Of the 12 ski areas in the national forest, from Aspen to Vail, and smaller areas like Ski Cooper, it is Glenwood Springs’ own Sunlight Mountain Resort that is expected to have the greatest proportional increase of skiers days in the next 10 years.

The forest plan predicts Sunlight will have an increase of 15,000 skier days in the next decade, a growth rate of 16.6 percent.

“Sixteen percent?” said Sunlight manager Tom Jankovsky, who Tuesday had not yet seen the final forest plan. “We’ll take it.”

Forest planners reached that conclusion based on the exponential population growth Garfield County has experienced in the last 10 years. It is local skiers, not folks from out of town, who will swell Sunlight’s numbers, the forest plan said.

Ski areas in Summit County will have the greatest potential for growth because they are closest to the burgeoning population of the Front Range. The plan predicted an 8.6 percent growth over the next 10 years for the Summit ski areas: Keystone, Breckenridge, Copper Mountain and Arapahoe Basin.

Vail and Beaver Creek will see less growth because they are farther from the pool of Front Range skiers. The plan predicts less than 8 percent growth for those ski areas.

Slowest-growing of all will be the Aspen-Snowmass ski resorts.

“Comparatively little growth is expected in the local population,” the forest plan said. “Aspen is too remote to gain many skiers from the Front Range, and the out-of-state destination business is flat and likely to remain so.”

In a change of direction from the 1984 forest plan that it revises, the new plan calls for no new ski area development. In 1984, the plan predicted new ski areas in Aspen, Breckenridge, Eagle, Redstone and Rifle.

The proposed 4,700-acre Rifle ski area will now be managed for elk habitat. The area never went forward because permit requirements were never completed by the developer.

While the 1999 draft forest plan called for no expansion for ski areas beyond current permit boundaries, this final version will allow modest growth. If ski areas wish to expand beyond their permit boundaries, they must demonstrate to the Forest Service that the expansion is demanded by the public, would alleviate congestion on the slopes or would reduce avalanche risk.

Under the new forest plan, Sunlight can expand west to Williams Peak where the resort now offers snowcat skiing.

Under the new forest plan, Sunlight can expand west to Williams Peak where the resort now offers snowcat skiing. In 1984, the forest plan allocated 2,390 acres north of the ski area, above Oak Meadows, for expansion. That area is now withdrawn for expansion under the new forest plan.

Other winter enthusiasts, namely snowmobilers, will be heartened by the final forest plan in at least one respect. While the 1999 draft plan sharply limited winter use of Four Mile Park near Sunlight Mountain Resort, the revised plan did not adopt that proposal.

Motorized use will also continue to be allowed in the Fryingpan River Valley near Hagerman Pass between Basalt and Leadville, but snowmobilers will have to stay on designated trails and play areas, the plan said.

One area that will see a change is Hay Park near Mount Sopris. The area south of the Hay Park Trail, on the slopes leading to Mount Sopris, will be off-limits to snowmobilers.

The change is intended to keep snowmobilers out of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area. Mount Sopris is in the wilderness area.


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