Is Telluride Ready to Tackle Lift 7 Subarea Master Plan?
by Gus Jarvis
Jan 31, 2012 | 2943 views | 7 7 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Telski Is Planning Own Master Plan, Focus Now on Telluride Side of Mountain

TELLURIDE – With the Telluride Ski and Golf Co. in the process of drafting a new ski area master plan, Telski CEO Dave Riley put a blunt question before the Telluride Town Council: Is council ready to resume master planning the base of Lift 7.

A council that ran into a buzz saw of controversy surrounding Lift 7 Master Planning three years ago, on Tuesday agreed only to ponder that question at a council retreat two weeks from now.

To which Riley responded: “I think that’s a good start.”

Talks between Telski and the Town of Telluride have been nonexistent since the collapse of an effort by the town to plan the future of the Lift 7 base. Riley told council Tuesday that he and his staff have spent most of the previous three years working instead with the Town of Mountain Village while it drafted its Comprehensive Plan.

Riley explained that the U.S. Forest Service has asked Telski to update its ski area master plan and the company has been in the process of doing so for the past five years. Once completed, a plan for the future of the ski areacould take anywhere from ten to 15 years to implement. Planning should ideally be conducted jointly by the ski area and the two towns at its base, Riley said, and with with the Mountain Village Comprehensive Plan now complete, Riley, as a courtesy to Telluride, said he was before council to gauge whether or not the town was ready to move forward with its own planning for the north side of the ski area, particularly at the base of Lift 7.

“To be honest with you, I haven’t spent a lot of time in in this forum during the past three years,” Riley said. “I have been very involved with the Town of Mountain Village process. I think it’s been apparent the ski area has been concerned about the bed base balance and how it will work out in the long run. Telluride, Mountain Village and the ski area are critically important to solving these problems. We have focused on Mountain Village because there was a process to focus on. When I first came here, there was a process to focus on in Telluride and then it stopped.

“I think we are at a point in time where its right for the ski area and the Town of Telluride to sit down and figure out how to help each other and be honest about where our challenges are. I’m not trying to be heavy handed here.”

With a number of capital improvements/upgrades needed at the ski area, Riley, said that Telski is trying to figure out how to best invest its resources for capital improvements. While many of the improvement details need to be hashed out, Riley observed that one of the most essential upgrades is to snowmaking infrastructure on the Telluride side of the mountain. This includes actual snowmaking equipment and the installation of a new pump house to draw water from the upper San Miguel River and pump it to the ski area’s storage ponds on the mountain.

The underground steel pipes that connect the north side’s snowmaking, Riley said, have a lifespan of 20 years and most are older than that. When there is a leak and a repair is needed on the pipes, Riley likened it to trying to weld potato chips together. The worst case scenario for that snowmaking infrastructure would be a combination of the pipeline breaking in early December, crews unable to fix it and then low natural snowfall, meaning the north side may not open all year because it has no snow.

“That possibility is very real,” Riley said.

Obviously the need to upgrade the north side’s older lifts is an issue as well.

“The infrastructure on the north side of the mountain is aged and we have some of the same concerns for the other side of the mountain and, in some cases, we have addressed some of those,” Riley said. “I’m not proposing anything here. I want to have a dialogue with town council to help the right solution emerge. If there isn’t any appetite for any of this stuff, I am OK with that. We want to understand what the vision is.”

Riley said if there is a desire by Telluride to improve the base of Lift 7, it would “accelerate” Telski’s ability to invest in the infrastructure on this side of the mountain.

“Obviously what was planned last time, wasn’t acceptable,” he said. “I have some ideas on how to approach that area that might be acceptable.”

Riley fielded a variety of questions from council during the discussion including the costs of lift improvements, the right mix of hot beds that may work for the Lift 7 area as well as questions about Telski’s overall goals.

Some members of council were openly unenthusiastic about opening a conversation that was so controversial in the past, with Councilmember Bob Saunders telling Riley that it would be up to Telski to get support from the community to make it happen.

“If you want support for this, you have to get it from the community,” Saunders said.

“I agree,” Riley said. “The right kind of project in front of Lift 7 that has the character of the community and that provides guest accommodations, I think the vast majority of Telluride will accept it if it is really thoughtfully done You could take this on yourself or put it in front of the community for a vote.”

Councilmember Ann Brady said it should be up to council to move beyond a plan that was effectively shot down three years ago.

“We need to be open to having this conversation,” Brady said. “We need to be able to sit down and, perhaps, put it as a goal. We need to be open to conversations and not just reject them.”

For the ski area, Riley planning for the future requires a degree certainty – particularly with respect to land use. The base of Lift 7 should have guest accommodations, he argued, “at a scale that's tasteful and that every body is happy with.”

Hearing the word “certainty,” Councilmember Thom Carnevale expressed caution.

“I not sure we can ever really count on certainty,” Carnevale said. “We can count on a direction and we can agree to a plan but within two years the circumstances could change. It troubles me a little bit that you are so concerned about certainty. I don’t think you will ever get that.”

“I am here to open the conversation back up,” Riley said. “I am just trying to help you guys understand what we are talking about and the challenges we are facing.”

Mayor Stu Fraser summed up the conversation by saying it was up to council to decide if Lift 7 planning is something it wants to tackle.

“We can’t go around burying our heads in the snow anymore,” Fraser said. “We need to ask ourselves what we want out of it and what do we have to do to get something out of it.”

Comments-icon Post a Comment
February 03, 2012
Good morning Mr Face on Mars-

Good thoughts.

Seems that town is empty. Is it snow or lack therof or are we overpriced?

Every hotel is massively discounting to fill the beds.

This situation that we are in is almost a classical oligopoly.

We need fewer Cadillacs and more Subaru station wagons full of kids.

Enjoy the snow.
February 13, 2012
Mr Responsible...the town doesn't seem empty, it IS empty! I have been a business owner for over 10 years, and this is, by far, the worst I've seen. This is the first time ever that I've had customers ask, "What is going on, how come there is no one here?" It's very creepy here in town..kinda like the Shining.

If you saw the occupancy rate in December, it was 36%. That means that 64% of the rooms were EMPTY, and during DECEMBER!

I don't know what that means for all this "Lift 7 development" non-sense, but I guess we won't be satisfied until we build more "hot-beds" and drive the occupancy rate to single digits.
February 03, 2012
RFP: I believe the common denominator you've cited is more a reflection of what might be the tactical miscalculations of Telski vs. what could be their underlying strategy of trying to reshape the "square hole" of the larger economic local landscape to be more "circular" in order to suit their "round peg" marketing plan - which seems to favor providing a high end service to fewer visitors from the elite end of the spectrum vs. lower prices and increased volume.

So, for those business owners who depend upon volume & might not be paying attention, don't be fooled ... you're not down yet, steep grades and sharp curves ahead! It might seem counter intuitive to oppose a ski area expansion as well as a facelift for a town which isn't "finished", but when one looks at the dynamics of what might be driving this persistent effort and how it may adversely impact business models which depend at least partly upon volume, then maybe business owners will start to connect the dots.

Taxpayers should already be weary ... again, to the tune of $250k big ones!

4-star branded hotel hotbeds in town might be more obvious, but in the case of Bear Creek, it seems to be an attempt to deliver more of a "controlled adventure" to an elite socio economic demographic which is otherwise unable (on average) to independently safely negotiate the terrain which currently exists in Bear Creek without the assistance of either a guide or other control measures.

February 02, 2012
Well, Mr Face On Mars, for not knowing where to start you sure put out some strong thoughts. Would like to know your comments on the comparisons of Lift 7 Sub Area Development and Bear Creek Expansion. Seems to me, both failed "master" plans had a common denominator-the total ignorance of the underlying easements for development at 7 and underlying concerns and wishes of private Bear Creek owners including the claim by GHDC that it has a right to a federal road that Telski uses for some of our longer runs...does this common denominator of not knowing or not caring what the easements say or mean demonstrate ...what does it demonstrate of our managers who rent our public land?
February 01, 2012
I don't even know where to start. Perhaps with the observation that this has been resurrected (in the face of fierce opposition) by Dave Riley. To me, this is a clue that maybe Telski was the original proponent of the lift 7 concept which got pushed through into the planning stages & ultimately burned through over a quarter million dollars of taxpayer funds.

And we're being asked again to embark upon this road of corporate welfare in name of "certainty"?!?

Seems to me such "worse case scenarios" are being painted as scare tactics to get a foot in the door and rekindle the so-called "dialogue".

Seems councilperson Brady was eager to ask "how high" when told to jump ... at least in terms of getting roped into a dialogue in the first place. Seems the mayor was also potentially eager to establish a dialogue. Hopefully the people of Telluride will see the folly in the apparent attitudes of Fraser & Brady. Do they also try to "not bury their heads in the sand and ask themselves what they want" (re: content of the caller) when they receive an unsolicited phone call looking to sell them on something?!?!?

I'm amazed to hear a glorified "renter" of public lands (NFS) is possibly seeking to prompt the equivalent of an urban renewal project involving private property as well as potential upzoning of other public lands to suit their own myopic agenda which seems to hinge on an ultra elite marketing plan.

Perhaps the citizens of Telluride will speak up and demand that their elected officials will not embark upon a similar path which squandered a big chunk of change in the past.
February 01, 2012
Interesting article. A couple of observations from a non-skier but huge fan. Riley seemed to be only trying to open a dialogue which I think is pretty important.

Glider Bob states "if you want support for this, you will have to get it from the community". Has Bob forgotten that is what our town council is for? You were elected to represent the town, or at least a segment of the residents. Riley came to council to open a dialogue for that exact reason. I can almost guarantee that if Riley took out a full page ad on "opening a dialogue" without first coming to council, there would be outrage in council chambers.

I agree with RFP on the high cost of visiting Telluride. With somewhat affordable properties surrounding lift 7 and carhenge right there, why not focus on middle and low budget minded visitors and day trippers at the west end of town? I know the argument of "yeah but rich people always have money", but if there are only 9 rich people, the argument still holds true but doesn't really help us all that much.

The world has changed and the glory days crushed by the recession are not coming back. If anything, things will probably get worse. We have empty hot beds and a crumbling monster called Element 52 sitting vacant. Maybe we ought to be reevaluating our mix of visitors and our greed induced desire to be Aspen light.

But then again, maybe not.

January 31, 2012
Well, we do need snowmaking ability on this side of the mountain.

Infrastructure comments are probably true-if the pipeline failed it could be a bit of work to fix.

Believe that any "planning" should be arms length and created like all planning done in the people who want to build. Submit the plan in the usual channels and open it all up for prolonged public comment.

Here is my comment.

The hotels we have sit empty because it is too damn expensive to ski here in Telluride. This TSG pricing scheme, along with high transit costs, restaurants which are unable to achieve sufficient turnover due to too few visitors lead to Telluride and Mountain Village being ghost towns at night.

Riley has control over some of this. TSG should lower prices to spur volume at the ski hill and in both towns.


Don't come asking for planning and zoning variances until we have so many people in town that people are sleeping in cars, on sofas, etc.

We can do it..we just have to want to do it.

Lower prices, save someone's job.

See you at Town Hall with my CAVE friends otherwise.