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Save Peak 6 and 5, Enough is Enough | 02/08/2011, by SavePeak6
Breckenridge Colorado isn’t known as a winter backcountry ski mecca – continental snowpack, dense forest, wind scoured summits are just a few of our evils. But there are some good stashes close to town and lucky for you, I’m going to give all the beta on a couple local favorites – Peak 6 and 5.
Of course, this beta comes with a price. We need help this spring writing letters to the White River National Forest. We could lose this magical landscape to a massive expansion proposal by Breckenridge Ski Resort, owned by Vail Resorts, who has plans to develop 450 acres on Peak 6 and 5.
To put it in perspective, the Tenmile Range runs north to south through the length of Summit County. As the name suggests, the ten peaks are unimaginatively named 1-10. Today Breckenridge Ski Resort occupies Peaks 7, 8, 9 and 10.
Breckenridge Ski Resort, not satisfied with that, now wants a six person chair lift to travel 1600 feet topping out just shy of Peak 6’s summit at 12,573 feet. This lift would introduce new access to an entire mile of ridgeline, and includes all the terrain 1600 below. This proposal will change forever two high alpine basins, three distinct creeks, and impact hundreds of acres of some of our healthiest remaining living forest. Let’s not forget the restaurant at a mid load station – those hot chocolates and slices of pizza is a huge chunk of change for Vail Resorts. They claim this expansion is strictly to help crowding, but most of us know it is as much about marketing.
Peak 6 and 5 are both nondescript flat summits and so not often a big attraction, but if your timing is right and the wind hasn’t blown, you will find incredible skiing right from the top. The runs average around 1000 feet and range between 22 and 35 degrees so avalanche activity is avoidable. You have options to ski south, north or east. It’s not often that conditions work in our favor, but even if the snow isn’t great, it’s the perfect introduction to backcountry skiing – a couple hours to the summit, easy route finding, and low avalanche terrain makes for a great day. Access is either through a gate off of the Independence Chair, or skinning the Peaks Trail to where it crosses Cucumber Creek and then heading uphill west to treeline and gaining Peak 6’s east ridge to the top.
What we love about Peak 6 is how it still offers that precious feeling of solitude despite being so close to the busiest resort in North America. While Breckenridge ski resort sees a million plus visitors a year, and all our National Forest trailheads to the south see thousands and thousands of guests both summer and winter, Peak 6 and 5 see very few humans. They actually fit the traditional characteristics of wilderness. There are no trails on Peak 6 and 5, no roads, and despite the rugged terrain to the south, this region is much more gentle, which makes it great habitat for one of our dwindling elk herds. Because there are so few people who come here, it is a wildlife playground– great lynx habitat, snowshoe hare, marten, mountain lion, elk, moose , pika, ptarmigan.
But the biggest tragedy from this proposal would be the destruction of healthy spruce and fir forest. Our county is going through a major mountain pine beetle epidemic. 90 percent of our predominant lodgepole pine forest is dead or dying. It is just mind boggling that this expansion will only destroy LIVING spruce and fir forest, about the size of 60 football fields. A million plus skiers skiing this new terrain will probably eliminate much of it as wildlife habitat. Most wildlife tends to avoid humans, and in particular ski resorts.
But Breckenridge Ski Resort knows that new terrain, especially new terrain above treeline is a great tourist attraction. When they built Imperial Lift, “The highest lift in North America” they saw a hefty increase in skier numbers that year. Unfortunately the Forest Service doesn’t have a mandate to approve expansions for marketing purposes so the reasons given for the Peak 6 expansion are: ‘to reduce crowds; provide more intermediate terrain, disperse skiers on peak days and new snow days.”
Our current upper lifts at Breckenridge Ski Resort are often plagued by high winds and poor visibility in particular the existing Imperial Lift, which like the proposed new lift on Peak 6 travels a whopping 1000 feet above treeline. Even if it’s a great powder day down low, you sometimes won’t see anyone on this lift because there is no visibility or the wind is ripping. This January during one of our biggest snow weeks ever, the upper lifts had to shut down four out of six days due to weather.
High alpine lifts like the one proposed on Peak 6 would offer a limited-use benefit towards dispersing crowds. Like Imperial Lift it will open late because of avalanche control work, shut down from our common high wind incidents, or even if it can run, if you can’t see, few will use this lift. They claim this lift is for intermediate skiers, but think of your intermediate skiing friends – aren’t they looking for that perfect groomer below treeline? Grooming is difficult at high altitude, it only takes a little wind to wreak havoc on corduroy. In the spring, during a warm spell, the snow at this altitude doesn’t quite soften up as well as the lower mountain and most skiers stick to the lower lifts.
Another strong reason to oppose this expansion is that many of us within our community have reached a tipping point. Enough is enough. Breckenridge Ski Resort already has Peaks 10, 9, 8 and 7, and previous expansions haven’t helped crowds. Our town, our roads, are just too crowded. Parking can be a nightmare. On some weekends we know better than to leave the house between 3-7 p.m. Because Vail Resorts sells such discounted ski passes and because we are so close to Denver, our quaint little town is packed every weekend while weekdays are relatively normal and quiet on the slopes. I-70 from Denver is becoming a nightmare drive for the city dwellers and the highway closes more and more due to weather or accidents. Social Services in our county are stretched thin. Vail Resorts is also steering visitors away from the core of town and luring them into staying at their full service amenities on Peak 7 and 8, a mile from town center. Many town businesses are struggling to survive.
The Forest Service is writing the Draft of the Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) as we speak. It is due out this spring. Comments are due for 45 days after the release of the EIS. Please help us out and write a letter. Send us your email, and we will put you on the mailing list for when and how to comment.
You can email us at email@example.com or “Like” us on facebook “Save Peak 6” or
You can also contact the White River National Forest for more information on this proposal at 970-262-3440 or email Jan Cutts <firstname.lastname@example.org>