Breckenridge Ski Resort working with town, Forest Service to lengthen ski season

It seems that little stands in the way of Breckenridge Ski Resort's efforts to elongate its ski season, but there's still some discussion to be had.

In an announcement heavily celebrated by plenty of winter enthusiasts, Breckenridge Ski Resort recently unveiled its plans to run lifts into late May, starting this year and continuing into future ski seasons.

The resort had previously set the closing date for the 2018-19 ski season on Sunday, April 21. After a healthy dose of early season snowfall, however, the resort now hopes to stay open through Memorial Day, as long as the weather and conditions will allow it.

What wasn't mentioned in the resort's Jan. 18 announcement, however, is how extending the ski season might affect Breckenridge's town operations, some of which work in conjunction with the resort.

A brief conversation between town staff and Breckenridge Town Council last week foreshadowed what some of these topics might be, as town manager Rick Holman mentioned potential implications on the town's public transportation system and the gondola as two examples.

Holman said the town needs to better understand what a longer ski season might do to its transportation system because the resort's plan to go into late May doesn't necessarily mean the town is going to run its winter operations that late into the year.

"There are several issues we have to consider," Holman added as he also brought up a long-standing agreement between the town and Breckenridge Ski Resort's parent company, Vail Resorts, regarding the resort's gondola.

"If you ran that realistically until the end of May and then they start up the summer in mid-June, you only have a two-week window without that operating," Holman said. "From our perspective, we need to talk about that with the ski area to see what they're looking at."

As part of the agreement the town committed up to $6.7 million toward the completion of the gondola. For its part the ski resort guaranteed parking at the gondola base, among other concessions.

On Tuesday, Breckenridge spokeswoman Haley Littleton said via email that town officials and representatives of Breckenridge Ski Resort had talked about the planned extension before the resort's public announcement, but those discussions did not go in-depth into operational details.

She added that representatives of the town and ski resort are going to get together again next week to talk about some of the specific operational impacts that might come with the resort's efforts to extend its season by over a month.

Breckenridge Ski Resort's efforts to extend its ski season are also subject to U.S. Forest Service approval, but district ranger Bill Jackson said he doesn't expect that to be too heavy of a lift.

"It isn't like analyzing a brand new chairlift," he explained as he said that resorts' efforts to adjust their open and closing dates are fairly typical.

All ski resorts that operate on Forest Service land do so under a 40-year permit. Within that permit, Jackson said, each resort has to submit winter and summer operating plans for annual forest service review.

Jackson said the forest service received Breckenridge Ski Resort's revised operating plan on Monday, and he expects to be in conversations with resort officials before making a recommendation to forest supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams, who will ultimately decide whether to approve the request.

If approved, the amended operating plan will only cover Breckenridge Ski Resort for one season, and the resort will have to submit additional operating plans detailing the opening and closing dates for future seasons.

"We've connected with the town of Breckenridge and the U.S. Forest Service on our plans to extend the season at Breckenridge Ski Resort," a resort spokeswoman said Tuesday. "We'll continue to work closely with both entities to ensure successful spring operations and a seamless guest experience this season and beyond."

Overall, Jackson said he sees a trend with a number of ski resorts trying to elongate their seasons, too, but he sees many of them doing so by opening earlier in the year, not going later. It's like what another Summit County ski resort, Keystone Resort, announced it intends to do by opening in mid-October instead of November. Jackson said he believes more efficient snowmaking capabilities are one reason some resorts are eyeing earlier opening dates, and so the longer ski seasons aren't just happening at the tail end but on front end, too.

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