The storied Colorado resort's new adventure park unlocks summer thrills amid spectacular alpine ecosystems
Mr. Luxury Ski
This 13,350-foot ridge on Vail Mountain’s western fringe frames Colorado's glorious Gore and Sawatch ranges in long panoramics. Pine forests and aspen stands spill down the south side, frontside ski slopes are cut into the the north face down to Gore Creek; to the east, Game Creek Bowl drains into the Eagle River Valley.
Debuting 28 June, Vail Epic Discovery unlocks this mountain ecosystem high in the White River National Forest for summer adventure, exploration, and education. The alpine experience accessed by Lionhead’s Eagle Bahn Gondola mixes high altitude thrills—a zip line tour, mountain coaster, climbing wall, and rope courses—with interpretive programing developed in partnership with The Nature Conservancy (TNC). The publicly traded company and influential non-profit environmental group will also pair up for “1% for the Forest,” wherein Vail will donate one percent of summer lift ticket and activity revenue to TNC’s forest restoration projects. Epic Discovery is being implemented at Vail Mountain and Heavenly, Califorina, this summer; and Breckenridge will open its Epic Discovery programing next summer.
The goal is to build new connections to the environment, said Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz at a mountaintop ribbon cutting. “We wanted to make this experience more than just an activity. We wanted to make sure we did something that was truly inspirational.”
Whiter River National Forest Service Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams concurred. “I think that this new adventure we are on is going to be something special,” he said of the partnership with Vail. “We want to connect people to their natural forest.”
And what better way to connect with the forest than flying over and through it at spine-tingling speeds? The crown jewel of Epic Discovery is brand new Game Creek Aerial Adventure, a guided seven-zipline tour soaring some two miles through the trees at heights reaching 300 feet above the valley floor. High wires, aerial bridges, and base towers reveal previously unknown Rocky Mountain views with the Sawatch Range’s Mount of the Holy Cross—so named for the snow-covered cliff and couloir that intersect on its northern face—the star of the show. Mr. Luxury Ski was also enthralled with northwest vistas all the way to the Flattop Wilderness outside Steamboat Springs during his sneak peak of the tour.
Expanded forest trails, an interpretive nature center, and paths with interactive learning games are the fruit of partnerships with The Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Forest Service, and Vail Valley’s Walking Mountains Science Center. “Healthy forests and rivers are really important, and so are our partnerships—today is one of those great examples,” said The Nature Conservancy’s Colorado Director Carlos Fernandez.
Backslapping among suits, greens, bureaucrats, and locals politicians during the June 28 ribbon cutting is forgiven—after all, it took a decade of negotiation and a 2011 act of Congress to put this all together on public lands. Vail Resorts' investment in this Epic Discovery flagship program alone is a reported $25 million. That type of investment in Colorado's tourism sector is good news for the Governor’s office too, with Lt. Governor Donna Lynne beaming, “This kind of opportunity allows kids a year-round opportunity to learn.”
Among the first to experience Epic Discovery were youth participating in Colorado's chapter of SOS Outreach, a national non-profit using the outdoors to engage undeserved students in stable, mentor-based relationships. After cutting the ribbon in front of business leaders and politicians, the kids were let loose to go wild in their White River National Forest.