The U.S. Forest Service delivered some good news for Eldora Mountain Resort this week. The result may put the Colorado Front Range resort one step closer to expanding and upgrading the ski area.
“We’re in a situation where our lifts and terrain just need to take the next step,” says resort spokesperson JP Chevalier. “We need to expand with the times.”
The ski area holds a unique place in Colorado for skiers and snowboarders. It services the Front Range north of I-70 with prime easy-to-access slopes and is one of the state’s more affordable ski destinations. For beginners, Eldora’s learning terrain is sequestered on a slope without interference from more advanced skiers. When upslope storms deliver the goods, the snow chasers show up in droves. “We get hammered by the 18- to 35-year-old powderhounds,” Chevalier says.
But those attributes aren’t enough. Of the resort’s 11 lifts, none are high speed, and the mountain top food and beverage facility bursts with visitors on weekends and holidays. In 2011, Eldora’s Master Plan requested approval for upgrades and expansion. That process launched the development of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
Last week, the Forest Service published its approval in its Draft Record of Decision. The decision came down in favor of upgrading lifts and expanding terrain. It puts Eldora another step closer to being able to move forward.
Arapahoe and Roosevelt National Forest and Pawnee National Grassland Record of Decision has selected an alternative for Eldora's expansion.
Copyright: Arapahoe and Roosevelt National Forest and Pawnee National Grassland/NPS
The tentative approval combines elements from two alternative proposals in the Final EIS. The decision would allow for Eldora to bump out the ski area boundary to the north and the south, cut new ski runs, and glade several forested areas. It would also allow for installing four new chairlifts, some as replacements for current aging infrastructure that cannot handle big winds.
Currently, Eldora has all fixed-grip chairlifts: four doubles, two triples, and two quads. In addition, the resort has three surface lifts. The proposal would allow for detachable high-speed chairlifts to replace slower lifts. The proposed changes in chairlifts would convert Jolly Jug to a quad or six-pack. Both Placer Express and Corona lift can become six-packs. The proposal includes permission to dismantle Challenge and Cannonball chairs in order to install another detachable six-pack.
Eldora is 680 acres in size. The expansion would add less than 100 acres to the total, including five new Jolly Jug runs and six new Placer Express trails. Other terrain already within the boundary would get new runs, widened runs, and glades.
Other upgrades include adding snowmaking to 65 acres, constructing a new lodge at the top of the Indian Peaks lift, and doubling or tripling the size of the Lookout lodge at the top of Corona Chair. The expansion does not include hotels or base area lodging. “We are a ski area, a mountain resort for the pure experience of skiing,” says Chevalier.
Eldora Mountain Resort in Colorado usually benefits from upslope Front Range storms.
Copyright: Eldora Mountain Resort
But the approval is not a done deal yet. The Forest Service must allow for two objection periods—one of 45 days and the other of 60 days—before issuing the Final Record of Decision. The objection periods are scheduled to end in May 2015. “The government dictates the pace [of the process],” says Chevalier. “We’re just sitting tight.”
Not everyone in nearby Nederland and Boulder is a fan of the expansion. The Middle Boulder Creek Coalition (MBCC), whose members include the Indian Peaks Group of the Sierra Club, opposed increasing the footprint of the resort. According to a statement on the coalition’s website, the “MBCC is not opposed to many of the proposed improvements mentioned in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) only the expansion beyond current boundaries.”
Objections include the close proximity of ski lifts to the Fourth of July Road, snowmaking noise, and watershed issues. For summer hikers, the organization cites the “visual disturbances” of the “scarred hillsides of deforested ski runs.” Other concerns are for wildlife along Middle Boulder Creek, including black bears, mink, boreal owls, marten, and moose.
For now, Eldora must wait out the current objection period before the Forest Service can hand down the Final Record of Decision. The time frame to implement upgrades will depend on whether that decision will stand or be modified.