A substantial change in the Gunnison Basin
By Katherine Nettles
Gunnison National Forest District’s ranger Matthew McCombs recently weighed in on his expectations of working with Vail Resorts as the new owner of Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR). McCombs spoke to the Mt. Crested Butte Town Council during its October 16 meeting, formally introducing himself since having taken the post last year and giving other forest service updates as well.
First came a topic very much on people’s minds as winter approaches—the Teo II expansion at CBMR, first proposed in 2013 as part of a new master plan. The proposed expansion, which includes plans for two new lifts; 500 acres of developed and undeveloped intermediate and advanced terrain; an adjustment of the ski area boundary; realignment of the North Face Lift; additional snowmaking; and summer recreation improvements will presumably be concluded by the new owners of the resort and is in the final stage of the internal review process.
The Forest Service’s decision to accept the proposal is still being vetted at the Forest Service’s regional and national levels.
“The process is in its final stages,” said McCombs. Once it is complete, a report will be published, followed by a 90-day comment period, and then resolution of any objections. Upon those resolutions, barring any litigation, we would sign and implement that decision at the pace that Vail Resorts would decide on,” he said.
That internal review process is expected to finish in the next couple of months, with the report on the decision “hopefully right after the holidays,” said McCombs. “It’s been a substantial effort on behalf of my local staff as well as working with our contractor and then working closely with the community and with the resort.”
McCombs then segued into the transition of CBMR ownership to Vail Resorts and Vail’s future management of CBMR.
McCombs said he hired a new mountain sports program manager with the news that Vail Resorts had decided to acquire the resort. “I said what this means is that we are going to have to be ready for a substantial amount of investment and a substantial amount of potential change, based on our experience with regards to the previous owners.”
McCombs said that expectation was based on his former experience as a deputy ranger in the Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District, where he had permit jurisdiction over the Vail and Beaver Creek resort permits, saying, “This is not my first rodeo with Vail Resorts.” McCombs recalled having worked closely with Chris Jarnot, who is currently the vice president of Vail Resorts, on projects back when Jarnot was vice president at Breckenridge.
“I have a certain set of experiences and relationships with this new permitee that I think will make the transition very smooth. And it can benefit the communities as well, as they work to transition over. It’s a substantial change for this community, it’s a substantial change for the Gunnison Basin, and everyone is very curious about what is coming next,” said McCombs.
McCombs anticipates a potential revised master development plan, and a more accelerated pace, once the final decision on the expansion is done, than what may have occurred with the previous owners. But he emphasized that he was only making predictions.
“I do not have that in writing anywhere. I have experienced with Vail Resorts that they are a really good partner, as far as their ability to have the resources to effectively mitigate the actions they propose. They have been a really good partner in the communities in which I have worked in the past as well.
“We as a district have a really positive attitude toward the transition, trying to establish quick and durable relationships to make it such that we can cooperate effectively—and not just representing our regulatory role but representing the values of the communities that we serve as well,” he concluded. He offered to continually be a point of contact to the council for the transition.