NEDERLAND — If the fate of Eldora Mountain Resort's expansion plans were in the hands of people attending an informational session Tuesday night just a few miles from its slopes, there would be some pressure to limit improvements within its current parameters.
"Polish the gem you already have," urged Eldora resident Laura Fisher, "without expanding the boundaries."
Roughly 35 people turned out to the Nederland Community Center for a meeting hosted by the U.S. Forest Service, which must ultimately approve any improvements that are carried out on federal land under the resort's master plan, which was approved in 2011.
If you go
What: A second public discussion of the U.S. Forest Service draft environmental impact statement on Eldora Mountain Resort's expansion plans is planned for 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Boulder's West Senior Center, 909 Arapahoe Ave.
Although Tuesday's meeting was not billed as a public hearing — all comments to the Forest Service must be submitted only in writing — public sentiment was nevertheless voiced.
When Fisher spoke up, she was attempting to direct questions toward Jim Spenst, formerly the general manager of the resort and now its planning director. He was sitting several rows behind Fisher and her husband, who is equally adamant that Eldora's improvements not cross its present boundaries.
Proposed Eldora expansion includes:
Ski trails: Expansion plans envision 15 new ski trails totaling about 58 acres, as well as the creation of about 57 acres of new tree and gladed skiing areas.
Lifts: Two new chairlifts are called for — the six-chair detachable Placer lift, and the four- or six-chair Jolly Jug Lift. The existing four-person Corona lift would be replaced with a six-person lift, while the existing Challenge and Cannonball lifts would be removed and replaced with one six-person lift.
On-mountain facilities: The new Challenge Mountain Facility, at 16,000 to 20,000 square feet, would be built below the top terminal of the Indian Peaks chairlift, accommodating up to 850 guests. The existing Lookout facility would be expanded from 3,000 square feet to 7,700 to 9,700 square feet.
Parking: An additional 560 parking spaces are planned.
One alternative under consideration would require an 86-acre expansion on Eldora's north side, extending to the south bank of Middle Boulder Creek. A second possibility would increase its expansion by 18 acres on the south side, with four runs crossing the Jenny Creek Trail.
One version of Eldora's plan involves 58 acres of additional snowmaking. Another would result in 52 acres of additional snowmaking coverage.
Details: There are three scenarios addressed by the Forest Service study, and elements of the expansion differ from one scenario to the next. To read the draft of the U.S. Forest Service environmental impact study, and to make written comments by April 14, go to eldoraeis.com.
But because it was the Forest Service's program, Spenst declined the opportunity to take part in a dialogue in the midst of the agency's PowerPoint presentation, which offered a thumbnail sketch of the draft environmental impact statement.
"I think that's a travesty," Fisher said, when Spenst declined to respond to questions she raised about whether he could provide data concerning lift closures caused by high-wind days at Eldora this year.
"Every year is different, but we've had almost no significant down time," Spenst said later to a reporter, during an informal opportunity for people to chat and examine maps showing proposed changes at the resort. "I just don't have all that data off the top of my head. But it has been minimal."
Spenst provided his email address to Fisher and many others at the meeting, explaining that he would address their questions that way.
Before the meeting had commenced, Spenst addressed the scenario Fisher and others are advocating, an "infill" strategy that includes replacing and improving lifts where necessary, upgrading the existing Lookout lodge and building the new Challenge guest lodge beneath the top of the Indian Peaks lift, expanding Eldora's parking — but leaving its current boundaries unchanged.
"It's not fully utilizing the topography that Mother Nature has given us," Spenst said. "That doesn't give us as much variety and increased vertical for the skiers' and riders' experience, and won't allow us to compete in the marketplace."
The Forest Service is past the midpoint of a 45-day period in which it is taking written public comment on the draft of the Eldora environmental impact statement, which closes April 14. The final version of the impact statement will likely be completed in September, and the Forest Service's final decision on Eldora's plans is expected in December.
The Forest Service has offered an analysis of three different scenarios — what it calls Alternatives 1, 2 and 3 -— in which the first alternative is to make no changes at the resort.
The second and third alternatives share many commonalities, but also key differences. Perhaps the biggest difference between the second and third option is that the second alternative calls for a significant boundary push northward to Middle Boulder Creek, and a new six-person Placer chairlift serving that area, whereas the third alternative instead adjusts the boundary on the south side, extending a new Jolly Jug lift and four ski trails across the existing Jenny Creek Trail, popular with backcountry winter sport enthusiasts.
Wendy Cookler, of Nederland, was among those concerned about how a growing Eldora might detract from others' high-country recreation.
"I understand the need to expand," she said. "I just think they need to protect the wilderness experience for people who are not alpine skiers."
Nederland resident Betty Bass had come to the meeting from a day skiing at Eldora, her pass still on a lanyard around her neck. Hers is an enthusiastic voice in favor of Eldora's growth.
"I think they need (new) lifts, and if they have more lifts, they're going to need more space," Bass said. Eyeing a large map showing the vision of the full growth to which Eldora aspires, she pointed at it and said, "Wouldn't that be cool?"
Contact Camera Staff Writer Charlie Brennan at 303-473-1327 or firstname.lastname@example.org.