After a 25-year battle, opponents of a proposed ski resort in Eagle County, Colo., have reason to celebrate.
The brainchild of developer Fred
Kummer, Adam's Rib ski resort was slated for Forest Service land
halfway between Vail and Aspen (HCN, 2/19/96). But after a two-year
review, the agency frowned on Kummer's plans for condos,
restaurants and a hotel at the base of Adam Mountain. Officials
felt the plans were too expansive, and seemed to take precedence
over the proposed ski mountain development
The 68-year-old Kummer, who has been
pursuing Adam's Rib from the start, then withdrew his application
in May, saying, "Life is too damned short."
Members of the local opposition group Concerned
Citizens for Eagle County hailed the Adam's Rib demise at a potluck
near Eagle. The main course of conversation: one rib, well
"It's a tremendous relief," says Gene
Lorig, president of the group. "It was sure fun fighting it; it was
a great hobby."
Kummer, a St. Louis-based
hospital and luxury hotel developer, got the idea for Adam's Rib
while vacationing in Vail in the late 1960s. Surveying the new
Forest Service list of potential ski area sites, he chose Adam
Mountain, 15 miles south of Eagle and adjacent to Eve Mountain. A
low ridge - the rib in Adam's Rib - fronts both
In 1972, Kummer applied for a
special-use permit to start the project. Even then, locals raised
concerns about how a ski development would affect undeveloped Adam
Mountain, and how Kummer's planned real estate development would
change the narrow valley at the mountain's
Still, in 1983 the Forest Service granted
Kummer a permit to use federal land for a ski area with about the
same ski-run capacity as Beaver Creek, Vail's sibling. Eagle County
also gave him tentative approval for a golf course, thousands of
housing units, and a resort complex.
1993, after the Army Corps of Engineers rejected Kummer's
application to develop in wetland areas, he suggested an even less
popular alternative: slicing off the top of the ridge (the rib) to
create a bench for a village on the side of the ski mountain. The
proposal garnered more criticism from local residents, and the
Forest Service ordered a study of the whole
For two years a Forest Service study
team skied and walked Adam Mountain, looking at the project's
potential environmental impacts. What they found most troublesome
were Kummer's plans for the valley below the mountain, particularly
wetlands and riparian areas, much of which Kummer
Finally, in a March 18 report, the team
concluded the ski resort was simply a magnet Kummer would use to
lure real estate buyers. "Skiing appears to be a secondary amenity
to real estate development around the base of the mountain," it
Kummer met on May 8 with Eagle District
Ranger Anne Heubner. "We were pretty honest with each other," she
says. The next day Kummer faxed letters to both the Forest Service
and the Army Corps, ending the project he had spent more than $30
million pursuing. If he chooses to sell his local real estate
holdings, however, he should recover his
Still, Kummer was disappointed by the
project's failure. "The so-called environmentalists," he said in an
interview. "They don't know how to get anything done, but they know
how to stop things."
The Forest Service did Fred
Kummer a favor, says Jerry Jones, a Colorado ski industry veteran.
Adam's Rib would have cost $50 million in infrastructure and
planning costs before opening, he argues, and even with good
business and savvy marketing, the area would have run a $1.5
million annual deficit.
The ski industry has
simply reached its limit, says Jones.
resorts in the state, such as Vail and Breckenridge, have absorbed
most of the state's ski business and real estate investment, making
it tough for smaller start-up resorts to survive. Jones doesn't
expect to see a new ski development on federal land in the West for
another 20 years. "There's no need for a new ski area. The market
is flat and the cost of a new area is substantial."
Nationally, too, smaller ski areas are folding
as mega-resorts tap the ski market dry. The number of ski areas in
the country plummeted from 735 in 1983 to 519 in 1996. While one
ski resort proposal is still on the books for Colorado - Catamount
ski area near Steamboat Springs - financial backing has been hard
to come by (HCN, 6/26/95).
Harry Frampton, former
head of Vail's ski operations, says ski area developers will only
succeed if they include local residents in the planning process.
"Every year it is getting more difficult to do developments," he
said. "And every year in the future it will get more difficult."
The writer works at the
Vail/Beaver Creek Times.