Toward a More Perfect Ski Town
by Seth Cagin
Apr 25, 2010 | 4749 views | 38 38 comments | 37 37 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The best ski town (Zermatt) doesn’t necessarily have the best ski area (Verbier). The best ski area (Verbier) doesn’t even necessarily have the best skiing (Chamonix). These are rough impressions gleaned from a recent European skiing adventure, my first, and are surely shallow and possibly unfair. There are so many more European ski towns to visit and more to ski at the resorts we did hit. And yet it is clear from visiting just these three that a ski town is comprised of elements bequeathed by nature plus elements created by its residents. Quality in a ski town calls for an exceptional natural environment plus a rich culture, a tricky recipe, and maybe nobody has it all.

Although, once, before we lost our innocence, it seemed that if anyplace could have it all, it might just be Telluride.

In modern Telluride’s founding myth, a group of town mothers and fathers went on a field trip to Zermatt in 1978 in search of inspiration. Like Telluride, Zermatt sits at the end of a narrow box canyon and boasts exceptional scenery. If Ajax Peak isn’t nearly as iconic as the Matterhorn, Telluride’s steeper terrain and more consistent snow quality make for better skiing.

Could we be the American Zermatt?

Thirty years ago it seemed possible. Back then almost anything seemed possible. Why not intercept all cars before they get to town and make Telluride a pedestrian village? If Zermatt could do it, why couldn’t we? Well, just because we’re American, apparently, and for the same reason that Geneva – where Carlos and Marta and I were stranded for extra days by the Icelandic volcano – has dozens of streetcar lines while Denver, a far bigger city, struggles to build just a few. That particular vision of a more perfect ski town in the form of a car-free Telluride seems all but impossible today.

Why do Europeans understand the virtue of dense urban areas and villages surrounded by farmland and open space and connected by public transit while we Americans insist on sprawl and highways?

And what gave the people of Zermatt the vision to preserve a large and diverse bedbase, which along with the pedestrian scale gives the town its vitality? Was it an ingrained Swiss-German culture of hospitality? A culturally inborn awareness that hosting visitors is an honorable profession and a viable basis of a sustainable economy? Like Telluride, Zermatters preserved their historic structures, but they also allowed density, to no apparent ill effect, which Telluride has resolutely shunned with one ill-conceived downzoning after another. In Zermatt, along with intercept parking, they built a train that operates with stereotypical Swiss efficiency to bring visitors to town. They have built a lift system of astounding breadth.

Well, in Telluride, at least we got one gondola that gets some of us out of our cars some of the time. In retrospect, having advanced no further toward pedestrianization, that seems like a huge accomplishment.

Meanwhile, over in Verbier, second homes and ski chalets sprawl American-style across the mesa. There isn’t a single two-star hotel in Verbier, and only one three-star hotel plus very costly four- and five-star hotels. We had to stay in a hovel down in Le Châble, and it wasn’t cheap. In Zermatt, there are hotels of every category and we were able to afford to stay right in town. We couldn’t afford to eat out in Verbier, either. In Zermatt, there were dozens of options within our budget. An ecosystem of small locally owned restaurants and retail businesses supported by visitors staying in hotels: What a concept!

But the lift-served skiing in Verbier was far more impressive, from what we saw on our brief stays in both places. Two cable cars access peaks that are almost entirely off-piste. In Zermatt, we found only one area of moderate steeps. It appeared that Zermatt supports a local community, to judge just from the owners of the hotel where we stayed. A middle-aged couple ran the place with their daughter. They welcomed us with exceptional warmth and affirmed that there are few black runs in Zermatt. It wasn’t our imagination.

We started our European tour in Chamonix. Les Grand Montets, the biggest ski area there, boasts an enormous vertical drop from the upper tram and plenty of black runs. In good snow, which we saw little of, it must be dazzling. But we got to ski a foot of fresh powder in the Vallee Blanche and onto the Mer de Glace. Now I get what Riley is up to with guided tours in Bear Creek. So the top of the Revelation Bowl isn’t quite the summit of the Aiguille du Midi, accessible by way of trams that carry skiers some 10,000 vertical feet above the town below. Bear Creek is not filled with (melting) glaciers and riddled with treacherous crevasses and seracs, but is perhaps even more exposed to avalanche chutes. Still, the appeal of lift served access to off-piste terrain is clear. That, more than what is available on-piste at Les Grand Montets, is what Chamonix is fundamentally about. It’s what local skiers love about Bear Creek and what they are passionate to protect.

But can Telluride really emulate Chamonix? Could there be a Tom Chapman in France? A property rights zealot who can single-handedly restrict access to the backcountry simply by acquiring an old mining claim and exploiting an obsolete law? Are the Europeans remotely as constrained as we Americans are by concerns about either liability or trespass?

We can be like Chamonix, with its deep, unfettered, professionalized mountaineering culture, no more easily, it seems, than we can truly emulate Zermatt, with its deeply ingrained culture of professionalized hospitality.

At all three European resorts where we skied, the vast majority of skiers were intermediate. They did not stray one single foot from the groomed pistes, even when there was untracked powder just a few feet away. We skied a lot of slopes that had barely been touched, but would have been entirely bumped up if they were in the U.S. Of course, we don’t have to worry about crevasses and seracs here or terrain so expansive and unpatrolled that one could easily get lost out there.

This likely varies from country to country, but where we skied it seemed there is a sharp distinction between recreational skiing – intermediate, stay on piste, enjoy a leisurely lunch, anyone can do it – and mountaineering, which is reserved for true experts. In America, we all imagine that we will not be intermediate for long and we will all someday stand on the summit. It takes five years of higher education to become a certified guide in Chamonix. Still, the unwary get in trouble all the time. Three skiers died in an avalanche off-piste at Les Grand Montets the day before we arrived. “It just means the snow is good,” the desk clerk at our hotel shrugged. Good off-piste, but not on-piste, and there’s the rub.

“There is nothing more beautiful than powder skiing,” our guide in the Vallee Blanche said, “and nothing more dangerous.”

Telluride has the essential ingredients for great on- and off-piste skiing that nature supplies: terrain and snow. It is our culture and our political system that, for better or worse, prevent us from offering what the best of the resorts in the Alps offer. In America, we allow a schmuck like Chapman to run amuck. By the opposite token, if Telluride were located in the Alps there would have been a tram from town up into Upper Bear Creek decades ago, and probably another accessing Ajax itself. We would be skiing to Silverton or Ouray from Telluride for lunch. We’d be off-piste in further reaches of the San Juans, as in Chamonix, where even the lesser ski areas provide lift access to great off-piste, according to our guide.

This is trash talk to our local environmentalist community, of course, which is up in arms over Telski’s modest plan for guided tours in Bear Creek, never mind any talk of future lifts there. Well, whatever it takes to protect our secret powder stashes, I suppose.

In the harsh aftermath of our great real estate bubble, there seems no doubt that Telluride has lost its innocence. And yet the die is not entirely cast, either. Though we have squandered far too many opportunities, there are great possibilities ahead. Unlike Chamonix or Verbier or Zermatt, we have not yet entirely fulfilled our destiny. We might still realize our potential to be something more, that rare place where the lift-served skiing is indeed great (like Verbier), the mountaineering is unfettered (like Chamonix), and, hardest of all given our all-American political and cultural biases and inhibitions and macroeconomic forces we can’t control, the community is intact (like Zermatt).

As we continue to dream of a more perfect ski town and strive to be worthy guardians of this place, both its exceptional environment and its endangered community, let us ponder the words of John Greenleaf Whittier: “For of all sad words of tongue and pen, The saddest are these: It might have been.”

Because someday, if we can’t figure out how to meet the challenges to our sustainability, we will run out of chances and it really will be too late.

Comments-icon Post a Comment
THC Whatever
May 01, 2010
Registration is a sop to punish those who dont share the company town we are all in the same bucket theory.

The local papers do a great job of presenting an alternative viewpoint than the company line "we are all family". We are not. Some of us think that monolithic development around a single entity's business model is one that will not serve the best interests of the many.

Some of us think that if you want to sell burgers-make a great one at a great value-that is what the crepe guy does...and not outlaw his existence.

Some of us think that saving Bear Creek for posterity and not putting it under central control is a great idea. Lucky for us that think this way we have on our side the actions of Mr. Chapman whose price point serves our interest.

If you are going to develop further on public land may it be at great cost.

Thanks Watch and the other guys...for giving voice to the little guy! May all of us share in the great beauty of Telluride!

Say What?
May 01, 2010
If it was easy, AOL wouldn't be wrestling with it.
FaceOnMars (nli)
May 01, 2010
Not exactly sure what is in the making with aol, but I believe Seth was referring to issues with respect to independently implementing and administering such a system on The Watch's site.

I suppose embedding a third party communication system such as Facebook for discourse on The Watch might be the direction things are headed; however, this is not without it's own set of controversy over privacy & legal issues.

It's one thing to post under a real identity, but it's and quite another to have one's friends, family, business associates, etc. all accessible to "bad apples" who are intent on character assassignation or worse.

On the other side of the coin, there would be a very detailed and verifiable electronic trail to associate culpability assuming facebook was able to reliably verify individual identities upon registration (which I think is what might be the sticky wicket).

I still believe the best system is anonymous registration via an integrated bulletin board systems like the one used on the Denver Post site as the best middle ground solution for the time being.

The current system here isn't very robust in terms of features and functionality, but I think it's sufficient. I also believe the moderation has been very good in terms of being light handed, but one of my main critisms is with respect to the inability to correlate posts with one or more people. IOW, one person could easily make several posts as if there were many people posting ... which can often be very misleading.

Seth better call AOL
May 01, 2010
...and warn them about the prohibitive "legal and financial" risks as he mentioned below.

I am sure they will listen since Telluride newspaper publishers are so respected everywhere else.

New Comments System on the Way

Valued AOL News readers, we have heard your requests for a commenting area that supports lively discourse -- including a wide range of opinion across the political spectrum -- but does not tolerate vulgarity and hate-mongering. Although it is taking some time, AOL is working hard to reconfigure the system so that it is a top-notch experience for all visitors to the site. In the meantime, Facebook users can visit AOL News on Facebook to join the conversations there. Please also continue to send us your thoughts via our feedback page.

jim bolen
April 28, 2010
I want to compliment Dave Riley on his vision for the ski area and the town. I am a firm believer of development inside town boundaries and open space outside and I think that places such as Zermatt and St. Anton are good Models.

I am not a local but do provide a hot bed in the form of a small in town condo in the rental pool, so I do have a stake in the town.

I am not involved in all the local politics but it is intersting reading the blogs.

I think Dave has brought excitement to the town with the expansions he has done. I come up from Durango with a buddy and we ski everything we can see. Although I have hiked Bear creek up to Gold hill in the summer and have skied into it from Ophir, I am not comfortable skiing from the ski area blind into Bear creek not knowing the cliffs and exits spots as well as avalanche potential.

I was disappointed at the prohibitive expense of the proposed guides and there must be a cheaper way.

I would hate to see lifts that go all the way to Bear creek road but I was wondering if lifts could be developed on the upper part of bear creek that would not interfere wiht the natural experience of Bear creek.

as an aside Jim Pettigrew Are you back in town? the last time I saw you you were running up the highline trail
Let's see...
April 27, 2010
Low volume, high yield visitors? I'm going to make it my full time job to make sure it's low volume AND low yield visitors who come here it Riley continues to try to develop Bear Creek.
Jim Pettegrew
April 27, 2010
Thanks for the initial commentary, Seth, and thanks to all the posters here ... this is a mostly beneficial discussion, on a topic central to our community, our ability to stay & thrive, or one's ability to return here.

The notion of a European hospitality culture is quite accurate, in my experience too.

Another notable difference I've observed, that contributes to their mountain communities' viability, that helps enable that hospitality culture, is their more widespread "mountain culture" ... and not just skiers or ski-racing fans, or mountainbikers, climbers & festivarians, but plenty of "regular" folks who take a mountain vacation seemingly more often than mainstream Americans do.

In the midst of ski season in western Switzerland, we've noticed any number of city dwellers out there on the (beautifully maintained) walking paths, in the shops & restaurants, enjoying a mountain holiday without skiing or boarding. And they're often there in off-season, too, to miss some of the crowds.

Like a greater willingness to leave the family car behind, this may be a fundamental cultural difference largely missing here in the New World. But Seth & Dave, I agree with your belief that we can learn much from the established resort towns of western Europe.
April 27, 2010
This blog is an indispensable tool for blowhards that don't have the nerve to say what they wanna say in public. Let's see you stand on the courthouse steps and say what you wanna say to everyone involved's face. Seriously, this sh*t is getting boring to read, like facebook's super boring "what I did 5 minutes ago" drivel. BORING! Go have a cup of coffee and introduce yourself to whomever you are having a "discussion" with and get on with the discussion.
April 27, 2010
Seth (and Marta and Carlos)

My comment on this page is going to lack the excitement of the others but I wanted to contribute.

It sounds like you guys had a great time over in Switzerland and the trip was a success. I'm very glad to hear that. Having skied at Verbier a few years ago, I knew you guys would love it. It was interesting to read what you observed in the various European ski towns and how Telluride could learn from them, and I agree with you entirely. However, and maybe it's just because I only spent 3 months in town, I still think Telluride has one of the best small-town ski vibes in North America coupled with top-10 terrain -- a combination to be proud of and enjoyed. Again, thank you for sharing Telluride with me and I'm glad you'll be working to keep it amazing.

Hope all is well,

Miss you guys

April 27, 2010
Ok, one more comment. Seth - hats off to you for providing a flashlight illuminating what goes on in this town. A true fourth estate. The blog is an indispensable tool for generating public energy and as such is a form of free press that our founders can be proud of.

Cheers to Seth Cagin and his Watch.
April 27, 2010
Hi Dave-

I do think we are in a paradigm shift in how we should view our future development. Our current place, Telluride and TSG, in the same bucket, was borne of speculators who observed what was going on over on the front range and wanted in. Timing was everything then as it is now. Our future place is a result of our irrational exuberance - our national and global economies are basically bankrupt- and we must look at our hand, my generation raped the earth and many economies are teetering. The ski hill is quite a hill but it is not sustainable year round-your emphasis is more development on public land and more efficiencies from existing development. You continually point to Europe and I continually ask you to examine income distribution there. We both want the same thing-year round sustainability. I dont see that we need to grow our boundaries, growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell. I do think your hand needs to be checked-no carte blanche anymore. You represent TSG and not the interests of the whole. These are my beliefs, right or wrong.

Bear Creek is off limits as far as I am concerned. Should development plans be issued for BC development I will work tirelessly against it.

Seriously, gotta jump on a plane. Have a great day. I didnt mean to get in a one on one with you but it worked out that way. Sure wish you had the class to apologize for calling me a dope smoking whatever; if you cant win in the market place of ideas then I guess name calling works.

See you around.
FaceOnMars (nli)
April 27, 2010
Dave, while I happen to adamantly disagree with you on many issues, please know I hold absolutely no ill will towards you as a person. I just happen to believe some of your positions are misguided & hope you "see the light" one day. Maybe you feel the same way. Ok, back to business:

If the TSG is positioning itself to "provide an exceptional experience for a fairly small amount of people" ... then why the apparent big push for more hot beds if we're currently at 50% annual occupancy with respect to our current bed base? I have wonder whether or not the "right kind of hot beds" might be somewhat of a self-serving request in so far as being able to cater to an elite market which immediately understands that "no wake zone" = ski/ride slow?

While LUC stipulations might be more stringent vs. other communities I would venture a guess that most hotels which set their sites on a reasonable "middle of the road" compromise in so far as the benefits for variances exchange negotiations would have a much easier time obtaining approval. Let's get real, most developers will try to see how much they can get out of the deal ... which I don't begrudge, it's the nature of the beast of free market capitalism (which I support to an extent). Having said that, why shouldn't the community have the ability to scrutinize vs. rubber stamp development? Let's not lose sight of the rationale behind LUC restrictions: preservation of the unique natural attributes which make the Telluride area so appealing and a mechanism which allows entities to co-exists peaceably in such an environment.

Dave, I'm a little confused whether or not you're making the claim that 1/10 of 1% of the ski area's total skiable acreage resides on NFS land, or whether the NFS land the ski area leases is 1/10 of 1% of the total GMUG NFS? If it's the former, then you may have something in so far as the relevance of the usage of NFS land (re: existing ski area boundaries) by the ski area unless there's a crucial segment of NFS land needed for egress. However, if it's the latter ... then it's clearly a "weak sauce" argument, IMHO. The Telluride area is clearly one the CROWN JEWELS of any concentrated cluster of NFS land in the state (arguably the country). Diminishing it's relevance by citing it's overall low proportion of total acreage misses the point entirely. OK, after looking the county maps system, the majority of the ski area appears to reside on NFS land, but I can't say with 100% certainty.

Seth, your position is based upon a belief system as well, but I wouldn't say you necessarily have a categorical difference from mine in so far as a humanistic point of view (at least if I understand you correctly). I don't make any claims that my position is somehow "more correct", but I simply try to understand and process the logical consequences of both prongs in many terms; and I'd prefer to live in a system which gives everyone an equal chance on a fair & level playing field vs. playing with cards which are being dealt from a "stacked deck" ... even if it means not necessarily having all the financial security which the dealer might promise. In any case, I do appreciate your general take on allowing conversations to take place here online. I know it's probably not always easy walking what might be a delicate and fine line.

Ok, I need to get back to work ....
Dave Riley
April 27, 2010
THCPA, I ask you the following questions about the public/private partnership between the Federal Government and Telski:

A)In hindsight, would this community be a better place if the Forest Service had not issued a Special Use Permit to a private company to develop the Telluride Ski Area in the first place?

B) Would you even live here in Telluride if the ski area didn't exist?

C) How would you describe the difference in community between Silverton and Telluride, adn what would you attribute the difference too?

D) Where did the capital come from to generate that difference - the public or the private sectors?

April 27, 2010
Well, another bright day in the neighborhood!

Dave- we just disagree.

On registration I haven't questioned anyone's sex or whether or not they smoke the weed, you did. I simply question some of the policies in this town and the special interests that want a voice at the table. No name calling from over here. So when it comes to character buy a mirror.

When are you going to publish the financial results of our bucket, er, I mean your ski company? That is right, it is a private company and you dont have to. I get that. Accepted. Is it not disingenuous to argue for full open handed we are in the same bucket lets build hot beds,plow into BC, run off the two guys in a cart selling hot dogs to help my real estate holdings, TSG is going to expand left and right into hotels and hot beds and food and ski tours and ski clubs and then argue that you are only looking out for the common interest?

Yes, Dave, you have our back. Clear as day, now.

Seth's defense is really not my philosophy but I appreciate his stance on information/blogging. My stance is that if there is going to be public contributions of private rights through zoning or tax deductions or use of public lands there needs to be a public benefit and not just a private one.

Ok, you all have a great day.

I get it
April 27, 2010
We're all just to fall in line and support an enterprise on public land for "a low volume / high yield resort" (read only the very affluent can afford it). Don't criticize, because the patron knows best (plus he's likely to have hissy-fit if he doesn't get his way).
April 27, 2010
Bravo Bravo Dave!

Your points are clear and straight forward.

These forums are mainly used for abusing people, spreading mistruths and downright lies.

Your willingness to openly and honestly venture into these cesspools of raggidy thought and journalist wanna be's is admirable.

Frankly, I find the comments on extreme sites like Infowars, Huffington Post, Disney.com and others much more intelligent. But it gets hits to the websites which is (mistakingly) seen as a revenue generator for the papers.

Bottom line: Chapman and the two papers are cut of the same cloth. Both are just doing business the best they know how. Chapman with his minority stake in the mining claim purchase to make a profit and the papers which use these forums to sow controversy and anger - all to make a buck. It is the American way. Right? Okay maybe not, but it is the Telluride way.

Seth Cagin
April 27, 2010
There are good legal and practical reasons not to require registration of people who post here. Sorry it offends you, Dave, but trust me, Telluride was no less capable of mean spiritedness before we started hosting comments online. And if other ski town newspapers take a different approach to this, there are plenty of websites out there with our policy, too.

I, too, disagree with the philosophical basis that THCPA and FOM start from. It is called Utopian Economics, the (entirely discredited) belief that unfettered markets are rational and always yield a better outcome than policymakers. Among the reasons this is naive is "rational irrationalism," the fact that individuals behaving rationally can collectively produce irrational exuberance and other bad outcomes. (For example, in a ski town, individual property owners each rationally maximizing their return on their asset at the sacrifice of the community's long-term economic health). Basically, there's no arguing with these guys or discussing real issues because they always retreat back to their first principles: government should limit its activity to paving streets because if they try to do more they will fail or create unfairness by picking economic winners and losers, lower prices and lower taxes are all we need to ensure prosperity (a simplistic view of competition), if the free market doesn't provide something, it shouldn't exist, and so forth.

These are not facts. They are beliefs so there's no debating them.

Having said all that, I see no harm in allowing FOM and THCPA to remain anonymous. They may (or may not) be wrong, but they are entitled to their beliefs and they aren't hurting anyone.

what's really sick
April 27, 2010
is folks so blinded by ambition, they can't see Telluride's true value, like the beauty of an undeveloped Bear Creek. Like the VF, the push to develop it will deepen the rancor and open a huge rift in the community. It's going to get ugly.
Dave Riley
April 26, 2010

Because The Watch and The Planet, unlike other ski town online papers in the Rocky Mountains, doesn't require registration and agreement to "Rules of Use" on their websites, people are not accountable for their statements. This creates an environment or "license" for people to say things they otherwise wouldn't say. It's sick, in my opinion. I encourage you to do a little research on other ski towns websites. Telluride is totally unique in the dirt slinging.

These Telluride blogs are harmful and damaging to this community as a result. I use my name because I'm willing to own my statements. Why wouldn't you?

Having said that, you say you've come to understand FaceOnMars arguments and point-of-view. If FOM is you source of information and truth, I'd recommend and encourage you to do a little more research again because he represents only one side of the story, and clearly he/she has an extreme bias against TSG, and crafts all statements in that context.

I'll try and address your points quickly and in the same order, starting with the vending carts. You say I'm "using the power of TMV to restrict or outlaw the carts". We'll, I attended a public meeting and said that I don't believe they are a good thing because the restaurants (TSG's and others), have huge capital investments, pay HOA dues, insurance, property taxes, etc. and the carts come in just during high season with essentially none of the costs and make it difficult for the brick and mortor restaurants to survive on a year-round basis. I don't see any of those carts operating in the plaza during spring and fall like Track, Hop Garden, Poacher's, etc. This argument is playing itself out in many resort towns around the country. I was in Moab a few weekends ago and their town council is debating outlawing the street venders for the same reason. Just because I go to a meeting and express my opinion doesn't mean I'm abusing power. As a matter of fact, the town council basically said they didn't agree with me and licensed the carts for another season for the paltry sum of a few hundred dollars. Why critisize me for expressing my opinion in a public forum, I thought this was my right as much as the next guys?

Diverse ownership - good luck. We sit with empty commercial space because nobody wants to invest in the FF&E, inventory, labor, insurance, licenses, HOA dues, property taxes, utilities, and take a risk to open a business. So, TSG takes the risk to open businesses because we believe our visitors expect an experinece at a decent resort which includes more than empty storefronts. Why critsize TSG for helping to make the experience more satisfying and complete when nobody else will step up in MV and open stores, not to mention the extra jobs we create and the taxes we collect and remit in the process.

You say TSG needs to lower prices, then all will be better. With limitations on air access, limitations on quality hotel beds, no metro market within 6 hours, we are left with no choice but to position ourselves as a low volume / high yield resort. If we were to drop our prices by 50% we would not attract enough people to make up for that decrease in revenue. This resort is positioned to provide an exceptional experinece for a fairly small amount of people who want to get a unique and special 6 day vacation plus a few travel days. And if we were to drop prices and attract hords of people, we wouldn't have the infrastructure to handle them (parking, quality hotels, quality restaurants, etc.).

I agree that hotels are not lining up to come to Telluride because of the lack of 4 seasons, or at least 3 strong seasons. Right on. But, the last hotel that was built here took the developer 10 years to get through the process (Capella). I've talked with hotel companies and they don't see a clear path at Telluride from a planning and local support point-of-view, don't have confidence in the communities vision, and don't want to go through what Robert Levin went through with Capella. Simply put, there are better place to build hotels that have less risk. We've been on the short list for certain first class hotels for several years but they won't pull the trigger on us for this reason (stated to me verbatum). It's a circular problem without "conference capable" hotels. I believe we don't need sprawl to be successful - we just need to understand what tweaks are necessary to "optimize" our local economy and have the right number and the right kind of hot beds, shopping, dining, arts, and entertainment. Our current balance of those items is not working.

You talk about some sort of "abuse" by the ski company of public lands for private gain. First, the ski co. occupies less that 1/10th of 1% of the GMUG National Forest, we pay a huge payment to the Federal Government each year (which goes to Washington, not our community - but that's another discussion). The ski co. takes all the risk (weather, markets etc.), in a very capital intensive business with very little profit margin, and no reserves for replacement. In Europe, most ski areas are far more supported by the public sector. In fact, many ski resorts are partially owned by the municipalities and partially by private partnerships. When the ski area wants a new snowcat, snowmaking improvements, a new lift, etc. the public sector pays for it through bonds and taxation. It's normally approved easily either by popular vote or town council actions because those communities support their local ski industry because they understand the importance of it and how those improvements help the small businesses. How do you think those wildly expensive and exotic trams to the peaks in Europe are funded? -- Its public money in public / private partnerships. TSG doesn't get public funding for capital improvements like in Europe, we take all the risk, and get to pay out fees that is not even retained in the community. Why does this make us a bunch of pirates, and you and Face continue to accuse?

As for the better wages in European ski towns, they are able to pay better wages because they are more successful on a year-round basis because they support what Seth accurately referred to as a "hospitality culture" and they have a healthy mix of hot beds, retail, restaurants, and marketing. They know what and who they are and they are darn good at it - from customer service, capital investment, asset maintenace, transportation, land use policy, etc.

Mountain Biking - you need a few more facts on this one. I stopped the Full Tilt race a few years ago because the USFS came to me and said "TSG is contributing to the problem of rogue trails on USFS lands because of unmanaged biking". Plus, the ski co. had no indemnification or releases from riders taking the free gondola and accessing our private lands. It was basically all a free-for-all. Last summer the TMV, TSG, and TMVOA worked out a solution to reopen a park and address the risk issues. The biking community pledged to stop teh rogue trails and stay on the new park and developed USFS trails. The Full Tilt race will be coming back we all hope. Why is it that I'm the bad guy when the USFS asked me to address a problem they felt was out of control from an environmental point-of-view and we had risks that were unacceptable to the company and no buisness model (free lift access), unlike other ski resorts that at least are able to charge a few bucks to help properly run a bike park and offset insurance costs? You're still complaining at me when we worked for months to fix this problem and did just that.. I put a lot of time into this and it would have been really easy to just shut it down for good, but we worked out a partnership that made sense. Give a little credit for problem solving!

As for buisness competition locally, I'd love nothing more than to see more restaurants, retailers, recreational service providers, lodgers enter the area. We don't want to be a "company town". We need a critical mass of unique and exciting retailers, restaurants, and service providers in both towns in order for our visitors to enjoy a 6 day stay in this area, which are the highest spending demographic. But, don't critisize TSG or me for taking initiative to provide services that others have failed to initiate, and can't justify from an economic point-of-view. Many of the ventures we've started up are minimal economic ventures and quite frankly are more of a hassle than a money-maker, but I've been very invested in creating a better experience for our visitors so they actually return after trying this destination out. We all spend a lot of time and money to try and get people here through marketing and sales, and we want them to have a complete and satisfying experience when they are here.

I have to completely disagree that the ski co. and the community are not dependent upon one another. The ski co. is more than anything a collection of people from Telluride who are trying to make a life here. If that isn't "one bucket" I don't know what is.

April 26, 2010
Hi Dave Riley-

I must owe you an apology-

I have never smoked anything including THC. I am not a whatever.

I have never met Mr. Face on Mars although I have come to understand his arguments and point of view. I have yet to see him attack anyone personally.

I am not attacking you personally inasmuch as you are the public face of the private TSG which operates on both private and public land. I expected a more measured response than a shoot the blogger but perhaps it was a bad moment.

Lets move on.

My interest in the allocation of public land for private benefit stems from agreeing with the following quote: "the problem with capitalism is a few capitalists". There is no other system that encourages human exceptionalism like capitalism; I believe in exceptionalism and I think TSG has done a terrific job with its present terrain. Recent changes should be credited to you. But, and this is a big but, recently I have become quite wary of your continued push to use the government's power for the private benefit of TSG. As an example, the recent brouhaha of the vending carts and the use of the TMV to restrict or outlaw them is directly attributable to your leadership. Again, if you want my food dollar, dont make illegal places I enjoy, be exceptional and make a quality lunch or dinner at a market price. My comments on competing with local vendors or hoteliers is just an observation-I would be surprised if those restaurants and hotels that currently exist would welcome an expansion of TSG into either venue. You bring a tremendous amount of financial power to the table (largest employer, largest rainmaker in Telluride, largest payer of property taxes, etc)and I believe in diverse ownership of economic entities. It is more creative and prevents economic inbreeding. Prices are lower, too.

One of the interesting arguments that Mr. Face has made is that your prices should be lower than they are. What I find interesting is that hotel chains are not lining up to invest here because we dont bring in enough people totally and in the shoulder seasons. Perhaps if TSG did bring in more people through a more competitive price there would be economic incentive to invest here in the community. Money flows where it can get a return. Apparently it cant here and that is why most of the new hotels have turned to condo sales above the hotels and timeshares etc. Your solution to re-set the balance of hot and cold partially through re-zoning and this again is a public contribution dealing with density and the public enjoyment of open spaces etc. My solution is a corrected market-let the property values fall to a point that it would be foolish not to invest here in Telluride; The Peaks sale seemed to be a recent bargain but I understand that it too has been converted to some type of cold bed for rental scheme-apparently at 20mm for the whole shebang they cant make it work either as a hot bed provider. So we have some serious economic issues here.

My interest in European wealth distribution is that it seems to me that wealth is more equitably distributed there; and here you are looking for a public contribution of forest service land for a private benefit (BC maybe). Yes, you do employ many people here locally but you do bring in many many from non-local areas for the seasonal work. From my perspective, BC is a huge off piste area for locals that will be shortchanged if you are granted this right unless you disclose the facts about your employment such as...if we develop Bear Creek we expect that it will have a local employment increase of so many percent etc. Can you comment on this-how is the income distributed in these wonderful European ski towns-I have no idea but I do know that the difference in wealth between different socioeconomic classes is higher here than in EU. So, what is in it for local cooperation of this "gang" of people?

On shoulder seasons why did you close the MTB on your land-it seems that development of this venue could really help the local bike shops and restaurants etc. I understand that you participated in some type of track last year on land you own or lease and did you find this helped the local merchants or no? (As an example, Boot Doctors could benefit being slopeside,etc if mountain biking were to be developed).

I dont see the ski company and the community being in the same bucket. I dont believe that a company town approach is healthy. Your expansion into the ski club, the eco-tourism, slope side restaurants, concert venues is a formidable barrier to possible new investment in Telluride. I wouldnt compete against you; my capital can get a better return elsewhere. Yet, you complain about the lack of investment here in Telluride. We dont live in a vacuum we live in a diverse country with more sure returns outside our town. So, my comment on limiting your forays into competition with local hotels and restaurants is really to encourage local investment. Just the way I see it.

Again, sorry that we disagree on what is in the best interest of Telluride. We just do.

Perhaps if I stick to my questions you can convince me to change my observations. That is what I would expect from the CEO of the town's largest employer, etc.

Thanks for hearing me out.