The ski resort industry in Colorado is big business. With 25 resorts located throughout the state, the ski industry generates millions of dollars in tourism dollars every winter. Ski resorts range from the mega gigantic (think Vail) to the little local hill like Echo Mountain near Evergreen, and everything in between. Here in Nederland, we have our own local ski resort, Eldora, which is more like the local mountain, but desperately wanting to compete with the big resorts.
Eldora was started in 1962 and has waxed and waned over the years, trying to find its niche. Eldora is forutnate enough to be on of the few ski areas served by public transit (RTD’s N bus), and be one of the few ski areas that doesn’t require a drive on traffic-clogged Interstate 70. But as an older resort without the benefit of big corporate money, it operates a lot of older lifts, and its facilities are dated. It is also challenged by Nederland’s famous winter winds, which can at times shut down most of the main front side lifts, sending skiers to other resorts on the other side of the divide.
Like most ski resorts, Eldora leases most of its land for skiing and lifts from the U.S. Forest Service. For the Forest Service, the ski resorts provide plenty of money through its permits and leases, and sometimes that relationship can appear in conflict with the lands the Forest Service manages. In the case of Eldora, its boundaries border the scenic Indian Peaks Wilderness area. So when Eldora sought to expand its boundaries, encroaching on certain wetlands and habitat for wildlife, it stirred up a bit of a firestorm with environmentalists.
As an avid skier, and a former employee of Eldora and other ski resorts, but also someone who has worked in the parks field for many years, I have a unique perspective. I love skiing, and believe downhill ski resorts provide an incredible experience for winter enthusiasts, as well as incenting people to exercise and get outdoors in the winter. But I also believe that ski resorts have a duty to act responsibly and be good stewards of the land while operating their businesses.
In early March, the Forest Service issued a draft decision on Eldora’s request to expand its boundaries, approving its plan to improve facilities, upgrade lifts, and expand it’s boundaries, despite strong opposition from many organizations in Boulder County including the Boulder County Commissioners, the Sierra Club and other groups. Though the final decision was to be issued later in the year, and a public comment meeting was held in July, it seemed a formality that the expansion would go through.
But in the meantime, the Forest Service supervisor was mysteriously “replaced” and a new supervisor brought on board. Lo and behold, last week, while the Forest Service approved Eldora’s request to improve lifts and facilities, that approval was only within its existing boundaries. At this time, they will not be allowed to proceed with the expansion, “to give the interested parties a chance to work out their differences.” Very little translation needed to see clearly this was a huge victory for the environmentalists, and certainly a blow to Eldora.
I for one am happy with the decision. I would love to ski more at Eldora, but would like to see a commitment to them spending money to improve existing facilities, to demonstrate to the community that they want to provide the best possible experience. Show me, and I will trust you. The future will tell whether they are deserving of more or not.