While Eldora Mountain Resort received a green light to expand within its permanent boundaries in October — after years of controversy — discussions between the ski area and community critics will continue sometime in January.
When the U.S. Forest Service OK’d a number of proposed improvements for the ski area, it also deferred improvements that would expand Eldora’s boundaries by around 88 acres, to include two new high-speed chair lifts. Eldora appealed this decision but was denied in December.
Within the October ruling, the Forest Service instructed Eldora to work “collaboratively” to come to some agreement about further boundary adjustments with groups that were critical of the resort’s expansion.
For Nederland resident Bill Ikler, also wilderness chairman of the Indian Peaks Group of the Sierra Club, the upcoming conversation “just delays things.”
“We’re in the process of setting dates for those [meetings] in January,” Ikler says. “We want to continue our dialog with the Forest Service and Eldora, so we have plans to meet with those [groups] separately.”
But Ikler says it’s “really unclear” what those meetings will entail.
“Without having met with the ski area and the Forest Service it’s hard to say,” he says. “We haven’t set agendas yet. As far as any further comments, I basically would say what I’ve said all along: We hope that Eldora can accomplish their goals by staying in their current boundaries.”
The Middle Boulder Creek Coalition also hopes that further discussions lead to the ski resort only implementing improvements within the current territory. Dave Hallock, chair of the coalition, says this type of direction by the Forest Service to work “collaboratively” after a decision is new.
“It’s hard to say what these meetings will do. I guess for all three parties (the Forest Service, Eldora Mountain Resort and concerned residents) this is kind of uncharted territory. None of us have been through this before,” Hallock says.
But for Hallock, who has lived in Eldora more than 30 years, the process of opposing expansion of the ski area is nothing new at all.
“This is my third time through this … and the last time [Eldora proposed expansion] in the mid ’90s, we thought we had a solution where there was not going to be any more expansion on ski areas. We thought we had that in the wording of the Forest Plan … that basically said the ski area couldn’t expand out of these boundaries,” Hallock says. “Then 20 years goes by and all the Forest Service staff changes and all of a sudden that wording was interpreted differently, and that was a real shocker when this [most recent expansion] process started about five years ago. We don’t want to see expansion, and we know every 10 to 15 years we’ll be dealing with this again, so we’re trying to get a line in the sand some place.”
As for finding a new compromise at upcoming meetings, Hallock says he feels that concerned groups like Middle Boulder Creek Coalition and the Indian Peaks Group have already compromised “a fair amount by saying we wouldn’t object to any of the improvements within their current boundaries.
“Those [improvements] have a set of impacts,” he says. “Some of the wetland impacts are associated with the redoing of the Corona lifts. The additional runs cause fragmentation [of wildlife corridors]. There are a lot more impacts from what they want to do just within their permanent boundary.”
In denying Eldora’s appeal to the October decision, U.S. Forest Service said the resort can appeal again only when it prepares to execute the approved improvements within current boundaries.
Hallocks says that some of Eldora’s previous improvements haven’t lived up to expectations.
“The Indian Peaks [chairlift] was touted as a major expansion, but it’s not even open during the week. It was viewed as this great thing, and it’s turned into this mediocre thing,” he says. “The Corona pod [of trails] on the backside, there were terrible decisions made there: Runs were cut too wide and there is terrible wind there. The Forest Service, everyone backs off and doesn’t question the business decisions made by the ski area, but history shows they don’t always make the best decisions.”
Hallock says he and other critics wonder if there’s any end to calls for resort expansion.
“A lot of people involved with the Middle Boulder Creek Coalition, I’d say half are [Eldora Mountain Resort] season ticket holders. We’re not against the ski area, but the nature of the ski area is just always to expand,” Hallock says. “Those of us who live locally wonder where does this end — or does it ever?”