I am writing with regard to the recent developments with the Village at Wolf Creek, and because I have received a number of inquiries on the subject.
The history of this project is now running towards 30 years. I will not bore readers with what could be a lengthy novel. Rather, I am writing to address the current situation and potential outcomes, which is really all that matters at this point.
Recently, there was a proposed Forest Service boundary realignment (also called a “land exchange”) that the Wolf Creek Ski Area considered to be a good solution to many of the problems that existed with the old property lines. It put historically used skiable terrain and wetlands back into the public lands while giving the developer land that was south-facing and connected with the Colorado highway systems.
This solution benefited the skiing public, the ski area, the developer, and Mineral County.
In response, several environmental groups challenged the land exchange, taking a hard line during the challenge that no solution is acceptable. In doing so, they won a battle by getting the land exchange overturned, but will lose the war to the detriment of everyone.
The boundaries are now being moved back to the old configuration; we have taken a step backward in protecting the valuable wetlands, and these environmental groups have complicated the future use of skiable terrain by the public.
During the recent lawsuit, our ski area understands that opportunities were presented through mediation and otherwise for the environmentalists to work with the developer in mitigating concerns about the land use plan. The environmental groups engaged in a no-compromise position. This is extremely frustrating to our ski area as it flies in the face of good planning practices in which open communication of values and issues are discussed and mutually workable solutions arrived at.
Wolf Creek Ski Area has always taken its stewardship of Forest Service lands very seriously.
Avoidance of wetlands is a priority.
We successfully built both the Elma and the Charity Jane Express by mapping the wetlands and designing the tower foundations to miss the wetlands. We also use a helicopter at great expense to deal with the dead wood on the permit rather than building skidding trails that lead to erosion.
We test all the water in every drainage looking for any sign of pollutants caused by grooming twice a year. We use 100% vegetable oil in all our mountain heavy equipment. We are one of the only ski areas in the nation that is certified to be running of 100% locally harvested solar power, with all of our nighttime power 100% certified renewable power.
While the ski area has had its issues with the Village at Wolf Creek developer in the past, and the developer is, of course, in the business of developing rather than land preservation, the ski area has found this developer to be very receptive to our recent suggestions and willing to modify its land use plan based on our input.
Further, as a practical matter, this developer is committed to the project, and after 30 years the ski area does not believe that it is going away.
Maybe it’s time for members of the public who care about skiing at Wolf Creek Ski Area, and people with a practical commitment to what is best for the environment, to try working with the developer rather than trying to stop a developer who by definition does have property rights, and the Forest Service which by definition must grant road access.
Perhaps the public should express their concerns to Rocky Mountain Wild, the San Juan Citizens Alliance, the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council and the Wilderness Workshop as well.
In doing so, it’s possible the public could end up positively affecting the final outcome of this saga.
Davey Pitcher is the CEO of Wolf Creek Ski Area.