The incredible growing shrinking ski resort!

 

Do you remember those little packets of gel-cap pills? The ones that would, when submerged in water, swell to become little sponge dinosaurs? Only the little sponge dinosaurs were tiny and flat and lame and never came close to the awesomeness promised by the full-sized dinosaurs rampaging across the label?

Seems that could be the parable for lots of ski area development proposals these days. There's Battle Mountain, a private ski area proposed for Minturn, Colo., whose original developer pulled out and whose new developers, who came on the scene last year, have whittled it down considerably. There's the infamous Bitterroot Resort just outside of Missoula, Mont., which fell into foreclosure in 2009, but whose developers are still, apparently, clinging to hope.  And then, there's a personal favorite of mine, at least as far as soap-operatic twists and turns go: The ambitious Village at Wolf Creek in Colorado, which  came up in the news again earlier this month.

Packaging: Ever since the project surfaced in the late '80s, it has appeared to be something of a T. Rex. The baby of ClearChannel Communications cofounder B.J. "Red" McCombs, it roared ferociously in with enough space to house 10,000 people -- that is, 1,200 hotel rooms, 1,661 multi-family dwellings, 129 lots for single family homes, 4,525 covered parking spaces, and 220,000 square feet of commercial space -- on an inholding within the existing, relatively wee Wolf Creek Ski Area, deep in the San Juan Mountains. This in a county with fewer than 1,000 permanent residents. (Run away! No, wait ... If you don't move, it can't see you ...)

The reality: Of course, when you propose to build a new luxury town from scratch on top of a relatively undeveloped and extraordinarily beautiful part of Colorado -- one that happens to be smack dab in the middle of a habitat corridor used by threatened Canada lynx -- and if you maybe get some special favors from federal officials behind closed doors -- you can expect a fight from somebody. Indeed, everyone from the Wolf Creek Ski Area owner to various environmental groups have piled on, stalling the project most recently through legal challenges of the Forest Service's decision to grant a right of way across a swatch of the Rio Grande National Forest to allow developers to access their project.

Then in 2009, the developers missed a key deadline, and the Forest Service killed its environmental review of the village's access road altogether. Perhaps more significant was the fallout from the explosion of the housing bubble in late 2008, which rocked even previously untouchable, already established resort communities like Snowmass, Colo.

Just add water? (with possible impacts on neighboring wetlands!): The Forest Service recently announced that it would conduct a new environmental review of the developers' latest proposal: A land swap which would eliminate the right-of-way battle altogether by trading out the inholding for a similarly sized parcel on the highway. Groups like Friends of Wolf Creek are still concerned about the project's impacts on lynx, where it will get its water and what its presence will do to local water quality and wetlands, etc. But the village is now looking a bit more like a velociraptor than a T. Rex -- still threatening, perhaps, but much less intimidating, with the first phase of development squeaking in at just under 500 units, and with continued development (up to around 1,700 units) predicated on further expansion of the existing ski area.

Rarr?

 

Sarah Gilman is High Country News' associate editor

Photo courtesy Travis Nicholson.

High Country News Classifieds
  • MANAGER PERMACULTURE LANDSCAPE CONTRACTOR
    Permaculture / Landscape Company Manager / Site Lead Red Ant Works, Inc. - 20+ year landscape construction and horticultural care company seeks manager and site...
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Field seminars for adults in natural and human history of the Colorado Plateau with lodge, river trip and base camp options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER
    San Juan Citizens Alliance is looking for a passionate, dynamic, organized, and technology-savvy communications professional to help grow our membership and presence in the Four...
  • ENERGY AND CLIMATE PROGRAM ASSOCIATE
    San Juan Citizens Alliance seeks an Energy and Climate Program Associate to focus on public outreach, education and organizing to advance campaigns to mitigate climate...
  • REAL ESTATE SPECIALIST
    This position provides professional real estate services and is responsible for managing and completing real estate projects utilizing a project management database that is designed...
  • WILDFIRE MITIGATION SPECIALIST
    The Wildfire Mitigation Specialist is responsible for delivering wildfire risk mitigation information, recommendations and programmatic resources to wildland urban interface homeowners, community members and partners....
  • DEVELOPMENT POSITIONS
    Thorne Nature Experience is hiring for a Development Director and Senior Individual Giving Manager. Individuals will work collaboratively with Thorne's Executive Director to develop and...
  • SENIOR PROGRAM MANAGER, LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION & ENERGY
    The National Parks Conservation Association, a 100-year-old nonprofit advocacy organization and the nation's leading voice for national parks seeks a Senior Program Manager, Landscape Conservation...
  • BACKCOUNTRY AND FRONTCOUNTRY STEWARDSHIP CREW MEMBERS
    The San Juan Mountains Association (SJMA) is hiring a crew of ambassadors to work in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service to educate visitors on...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NATURAL HISTORY INSTITUTE
    The Executive Director is the chief executive officer of the Natural History Institute (NHI). The Executive Director has broad authority to lead and manage the...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR AT FRIENDS OF CEDAR MESA
    - The Land, History, and People of the Bears Ears Region - The Bears Ears and Cedar Mesa region is one of the most beautiful,...
  • SENIOR DEVELOPMENT ASSOCIATE
    Greater Yellowstone Coalition seeks a Senior Development Associate to coordinate the organization's individual giving program. The position description is available at http://greateryellowstone.org/careers Please email a...
  • TRAIL CREW TECHNICAL ADVISORS
    SEEKING TALENTED TRAIL CREWLEADERS The Pacific Crest Trail Association, headquartered in Sacramento, California ,is dedicated to protecting, preserving and promoting the Pacific Crest National Scenic...
  • ENDANGERED SPECIES POLICY ADVOCATE
    Are you a Guardian for wildlife, great and small, across the West? WildEarth Guardians (Guardians) seeks a full-time Endangered Species Policy Advocate (Advocate) for the...
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Native plant seeds for the Western US. Trees, shrubs, grasses, wildflowers and regional mixes. Call or email for free price list. 719-942-3935. [email protected] or visit...
  • ASSOCIATE PROGRAM MANAGER - GRANTS & CONTRACTS
    ORGANIZATION BACKGROUND Parks California is an ambitious new organization working to ensure that our state's parks thrive. From redwood groves and desert springs to lighthouses...
  • WILDLANDS ATTORNEY- SOUTHERN UTAH WILDERNESS ALLIANCE
    Immediate Opening-Wildlands Attorney The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) has an immediate opening for a full-time Wildlands Attorney. Interested applicants should email a cover letter,...
  • STREAM RESTORATION PROJECT MANAGER
    The Clark Fork Coalition seeks a Stream Restoration Project Manager to develop and manage a suite of restoration projects near Missoula, MT. The Stream Restoration...
  • THE LAND DESK: A PUBLIC LANDS NEWSLETTER
    Western lands and communities--in context--delivered to your inbox 3x/week. From award-winning journalist and HCN contributor Jonathan P. Thompson. $6/month; $60/year.
  • CONSERVATIONIST? IRRIGABLE LAND?
    Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.