Lamm points out that the bitterness and intensity of the opposition to Beaver Creek was based to some extent on conditions unique to the time. "We needed some rational way to deal with some 100 applications for ski areas that were pending at that time, some systematic way of having state input," he says. "In recent years, the economic climate has changed and most of those requests to build new areas have withered away."
But in 1975 the future of Beaver Creek was very much in doubt. There were arguments over virtually every aspect of the development: water supply, population density, air quality. Not until March 1976 was the area granted the essential Forest Service special-use permit, and even then some environmentalists were angered that it was given. The Environmental Defense Fund sharply criticized the Forest Service for not preparing a statement on a broader geographical basis that would have included Beaver Creek's environmental impact on the entire Upper Eagle Valley—an area that had been scarred with an unsightly sprawl of condominium town houses and apartments in recent years. The environmentalists were also very concerned because the ski area bordered on the proposed Holy Cross Wilderness Area, and they wanted a study on what the impact might be on wildlife there.
The battle was joined, but instead of attacking with anger and vindictiveness, Parker and Vail Associates embarked on an enlightened strategy of patience and forbearance. It was a time-consuming and costly approach that, despite its success, is fraught with discouraging echoes for future Beaver Creeks.
Says Parker: "Quite simply, rather than fighting or habitually refuting the environmentalists' concerns, we made a concerted effort to demonstrate either that the negative impacts they predicted would not—could not—happen, or we came up with mitigations that corrected anything they felt would go wrong. Instead of bitching back and forth, letting our emotions guide us, we tried to answer their concerns reasonably. To do that, we had to have the facts."
Vail Associates had earlier hired the Rocky Mountain Center on Environment (ROMCOE) to produce some of the most detailed impact studies ever done. "We wanted to anticipate the environmental opposition, and the ROMCOE study gave us all the basic building blocks for understanding the ecology of the area," says Parker. "Then, for example, when the environmentalists came along and said, 'You're going to ruin the range for the elk herds,' we'd say, 'No, we're not,' and we had a precise and accurate statistical basis for saying so."
The impact study for Beaver Creek is a masterpiece of its type. It included voluminous information on how the ski resort would affect everything from bird migration to soil erosion, from the mating habits of elk to the preservation of some decrepit old pioneer cabins. It examined the effect of the ski area on water flow volumes in Beaver Creek and the Eagle River, on the life of fish and pollywogs and beavers there. It went so far as to measure the amount of air pollution that might be caused by smoke from fireplaces. The ROMCOE findings resulted in Vail Associates' promising that there would be a local ordinance requiring residents to snuff out their fireplace fires if smoke levels reached a point of irritation. Depending on air quality, Beaver Creek could be limited to as few as 1,000 fireplaces. The survey examined the possible impact of loose dogs on the elk, and Vail Associates proposed to implement strong leash laws—or, if that wasn't enough, to prohibit dogs from the place.
"We designed our surveys to avoid confrontation," says Parker. "And we thought up our own standards sometimes if we didn't think the environmentalists were tough enough. We wanted to head off all litigation; we wanted everyone as satisfied as possible. In the long run, we left them no substantial issues to pin an appeal on."
It cost a lot of money—the surveys, legal fees, engineering studies and analyses involving everything from transportation routes on the mountain to the visual impact of the ski area as seen from Interstate 70, the superhighway at the foot of Beaver Creek Valley. Vail Associates spent $7,250,000 before any construction work began on the mountain.
It was probably worth it, because even opponents of the project now feel pretty good about how things worked out. Clif Merritt, executive director of the American Wilderness Alliance, says, "We're basically happy with what we got, and Vail Associates has been quite sensitive over the years to wilderness and environmental values."
"I think this is one of the best resorts in the world from an environmental standpoint," says Governor Lamm. "I'm disappointed they went back on the transportation plan we'd agreed on, but I understand the reasons." (The governor refers to the fact that in June 1977, after having gotten approval for Beaver Creek, Vail Associates summarily announced that, rather than entirely banning the use of private automobiles as had been proposed, it would permit the people who rented or owned property in the village to enter with their cars—a change which Lamm at that time defined as a breach of contract. "We never planned to ban all vehicles," says Parker.)