December 8, 1998
Nestled in the heart of the Colorado Rocky Mountains, Summit County is home to some of the world’s finest skiing and alpine recreation. With four ski areas, man-made Lake Dillon, and thousands of acres of national forest scattered across its expanse, Summit County is one of Colorado’s best places to ski, mountain bike, hike and sail.
It is also Colorado’s most endangered county, thanks to the “bigger is better” mentality gripping the tourism industry. Better than a billion dollars worth of resort development is underway, including the next stage of Keystone Resort’s $700 million “master development plan.” Down the road on I-70, the dust is flying at Copper Mountain where $400 million worth of hotel rooms, condos, shops and “vacation value enhancements” are transforming this Colorado jewel into a full-fledged destination resort.
When well-heeled empire-builder Vail Associates, the king of the hill in neighboring Eagle County, purchased Keystone and Breckenridge Ski Resort in 1997, the nature of the resort game in Summit County changed. Soon thereafter, Copper Mountain was swallowed by Intrawest Corp. of Vancouver, B.C., owner of Whistler/Blackcomb. Two development-crazy resort companies, with tons of cash, were the new bad boys in town with big plans for making more money.
In a strange twist, the U.S. Department of Justice approved Vail’s purchase of Keystone and Breckenridge with the condition that Arapahoe Basin Ski Area be sold to a third party. Vail, with a wink of the eye, sold the tiny but popular ski area to Beaver Creek real estate company Dundee Realty USA. Few believe that Arapahoe Basin would fall outside the Vail orbit in future development. “The Legend,” as A-Basin is known, is set to be another real estate opportunity, or a suburb of Keystone. Already, efforts are underway to introduce snowmaking to A-Basin to keep the ski hill open year-round.
With thousands of square feet of conference space, hotel rooms and condos being built in Summit County, it’s unclear exactly who is going to fill all the space. Colorado skier visits, according to a June 23 article in The Denver Post, increased by 1.37 percent last season. Skier days dropped at Keystone (5.59 percent), Breckenridge (3 percent) and Vail (5.27 percent).
If not for phenomenon known as snowboarding, which Keystone once banned, the ski industry would be truly hurting. The ski industry often refers to the huge international ski market, which Colorado has barely tapped. However, locals and Denver-area skiers and recreationists will undoubtedly enjoy a less-natural, more commercialized experience in Summit County in coming years.
Already, bumper-to-bumper traffic in Dillon, Frisco and Breckenridge is a common occurrence during both winter and summer. The manic drive up I-70 from Denver has become a macabre version of Deathrace 2000. Somehow, “getting away from it all” is too often an ordeal that many in Denver are forsaking.
In a perverse way, that may be part of the plan. After all, the real money comes from Summit County’s out-of-state and international guests, who spend far more per day on meals, lodging and lift tickets than the natives. Amidst the building boom, locals are wondering about a seriously dangerous road system, escalating housing costs, additional expansion at Keystone, and the loss of quality of life in one of the Colorado’s most beautiful places.
We firmly believe a high-speed train should be built from Denver International Airport to Vail, with resorts along the way footing a large part of the bill. Such a proposal, however, seems unlikely in mass-transportation-phobic Colorado.
As the bulldozers finish carving up local favorite Copper Mountain’s B Lift area, we’ll remember what a quiet, secluded, convenient downhill ski experience this place offered.