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Mountain News: It's zipped-do time on Vail Mountain



VAIL, Colo. — Zippety-do-dah, zippety-day. Vail Mountain is getting into the zipline business in a major way, with plans for 366-metre-long ziplines atop the mountain, plus two ropes courses.

Vail Resorts says this is just a glimpse of what can be expected in the future should the U.S. Forest Service approve plans for expanded use of the ski mountain during summer use.

President Obama two years ago signed legislation, the Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act, which gives the Forest Service expanded authority to permit non-skiing activities at ski areas. These new ziplines are consistent with the spirit of that law.

Vail hopes to have its expanded array of summer amusements in place by June 2015 — assuming, once again, that the Forest Service approves. Vail is seen by those both within the ski industry and the Forest Service as a test case for what will be permitted under the new law.

Chihuahua soon to be real doggone has-been

MONTEZUMA, Colo. — Transformation of Summit County from a mining economy to one based on recreation and leisure began in 1946, the year that Arapahoe Basin opened for business as a ski area.

Later, it was followed by Breckenridge in 1961 and then Keystone and Copper Mountain, plus golf courses and you name it.

But the transformation continues in small ways. The latest moving part involves the 43 acres of Chihuahua, a town created during the boom in silver mining in the 19th century. The land is located at about 3,000 metres just west of the Continental Divide; between the Keystone and A-Basin ski areas.

The town was part of the same excitement in silver mining that produced Aspen, Leadville and other mountain towns. For a time 200 people lived there after incorporation in 1880. Historical lore includes stories of brothels and outlaw hangings before forest fire destroyed everything in 1889. So much for Chihuahua.

In that brief spell, 500 long and skinny lots were created. In theory, they could still be developed. But the valley of the former town has valuable wetlands, and it also serves as a trailhead for a couple of 4,300-metre peaks, Grays and Torreys.

Since 2002, the landowner and the Forest Service have been working with Summit County officials to affect a land exchange. The swap has been completed, with the Forest Service getting the Chihuahua site, and the private landowner getting 21 acres of National Forest land near a gondola at the Keystone ski area, which is about nine kilometres away. The zoning permits 24 houses.

Summit County favoured the exchange, because it's all for clustering development in a few areas, instead of a hodge-podge of development scattered around the county. It already has plenty of that. A development at Chihuahua would have scarred a delicate high mountain meadow.

Adam Poe, of Western Land Group, said that the exchange was difficult in part because the townsite is so unusual, maybe even unique. Appraisals require comparables, and there just wasn't much to work with, he says.

As for that town, it still legally exists. For some reason, nobody ever bothered to disincorporate it. That legal footnote is scheduled for later in August.

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