Lawsuit over Vail Resorts' planned roller coaster -- or is it an alpine slide?

When you've dropped two or five or ten million on that second or third home in one of the more desirable Colorado mountain resorts, there are a few items that you take for granted will not be next door. Walmarts, trailer parks and rendering plants are probably high on the list. But so are roller coasters -- which is why hundreds of riled-up, deeply invested Beaver Creek homeowners announced the filing of a lawsuit against Vail Resorts this week, alleging a long string of broken promises and scheming behind proposed construction of what critics are calling "amusement park rides" at the base of the ski area.

Seeking to maximize the area's year-round recreational potential, Vail Resorts has obtained approval to build a complex on the mountain in full view and earshot of Beaver Creek Village that would feature a ropes challenge course, a tubing course and something described as a "forest flyer," which backers describe as a kind of alpine slide -- albeit one with a mechanized system to carry customers upslope and capable of hurling 500 riders an hour along a half-mile of steel track. Homeowners call it a coaster and say that it will bring noise, blight and misery to the occupants of seven-figure homes located as close as 200 yards away from the course.

"You can put lipstick on a pig, and it's still a pig," says Chuck Montera, spokesman for the Beaver Creek Property Owners Association, which represents more than 700 households. "You can see it a mile away, and their plan is to operate it year-round."

Negotiations over the new attractions have been protracted and complex. According to Montera, Vail officials first approached the good burghers of Beaver Creek several years ago, seeking their support for federal legislation that would make it easier to develop amenities on nearby U.S. Forest Service land. But amusement parks aren't considered an acceptable use by the USFS, and homeowners felt betrayed when Vail Resorts announced it was proceeding with this particular project on land it already owned -- while carefully avoiding terminology such as "roller coaster," "amusement park" and "tourist trap."

"Why would it be okay to build this fifty feet above Beaver Creek Village but not on Forest Service land?" Montera asks.

The BCPOA complains that the ropes course would be situated on wetlands and that the forest flyer would not only wipe out hundreds of aspens but "would be visible to most homes in the valley, permanently altering the views of this pristine area." The group is also steamed that a children's ski school -- another development initially supported by the locals -- is now seeking a liquor license, suggesting that Vail Resorts plans to use the structure as a bar-and-grill for flyer riders in the summertime. The lawsuit contends that the developers are violating government regs as well as the resort's own development restrictions in the attempted "Elitchization" of Beaver Creek.

In a statement, Beaver Creek chief operating officer Doug Lovell responded that Vail Resorts had "dramatically revised" its plans for the attractions in response to local concerns and promised that the complex "will engage a broader group of kids from different income and diverse backgrounds at our premier resort."

Barry Parker, vice president of the BCPOA board, called the proposal "not a good fit and very off-brand for Beaver Creek."

More from our Business archive: "Photos: Five most expensive homes for sale in Vail."

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast