Debunking a Pie-in-the-Sky Eurovision
by Peter Shelton
Aug 05, 2010 | 2879 views | 68 68 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Josh Geetter’s Alps-inspired vision for the future of skiing in the western San Juans (Watch Commentary July 29) was a seductive read. Seductive because anyone who has skied the big, interconnected resorts there can’t help but have fond memories.

Just one example from my experience: Start in Courchevel in the Tarentaise Valley of France, and ski across to Meribel, the second of Les Trois Vallées (which is really four valleys), then on to Les Menuires, up to the high point at Val Thorens, over one more ridge into the Maurienne. Have lunch there, and spend the rest of the day working your way back.

It’s huge, unlike anything in the Americas: 70,000 plus acres, 6,000 vertical feet, 375 miles of trail, 183 lifts (three cable cars, 37 gondolas, 69 chair lifts, 74 surface lifts). Almost all of it is above treeline, and if the weather and snow conditions are good, your day might be a revelation bordering religious experience.

But it shouldn’t, and in fact, it can’t be replicated here. Here’s why.

Number one: public land. In France and Switzerland, where I’ve done most of my Euro skiing, the high alpine is largely owned by villages or farming co-ops, not the public, as is the case here. The whole concept of publicly owned and publicly debated land use is foreign to them. If a village off the backside wants to link into an existing lift network, they can more or less just do it.

Two: those charming villages. They were already there. They’ve been there in some cases for 700 years. Not occupied and abandoned like the mine camps in these mountains, but occupied and farmed continuously. They weren’t built to provide amenities for a ski resort; they were incorporated organically into the modern winter economy. (Many ski runs go back to pasture in the summer.)

Because of the human density in the Alps, there are a lot more of them (charming villages) in a given sub-range. It would be as if you had existing small towns, with hotels and road access, not just in Telluride and Ouray and Silverton, but also in Alta and Upper Bear Creek and Bridal Veil Basin and Ptarmigan Lake and Waterfall Canyon and Swamp Canyon, etc., etc. The ski circuses in Europe have not had to try to link towns as far-flung as Telluride and Silverton. To do so without the intermediate stations would be folly.

Three: money. Who is going to pay for the astonishing infrastructure Geetter proposes? In France and Switzerland (and I assume in Italy and Austria as well), these projects come about through public/private partnerships. With the heavy emphasis on public. These people are socialists, remember.

The village that wants a gondola, where a gondola makes sense, gets major help from the feds. It’s not a resort corporation getting the underwriting, it’s the village, the domain, the tourist region. The village collects a portion of the lift ticket revenue commensurate with its ridership. While the American people do subsidize Telski through its exclusive lease arrangement, we have nothing like the government capability, or the political will, to invest similarly in a monolithic San Juans pipe dream.

Four: customers. There are 50 million skiers within a few hours’ train ride of the big Alps resorts. ‘Nuf said.

(Interconnects in the Wasatch and between Aspen’s four ski areas, either of which makes way more practical sense than one in the San Juans, have failed over and over to gain critical traction, either locally or with federal land managers.)

Five: the railroads. Yes, they were relatively ubiquitous back in the day, but they’re gone now. Aren’t the right-of-ways gone, too, legally and physically? Buried under the highways and crumbled into the canyons? Yes, it would be cool, and green, to reconstitute the tracks and trains, but even Aspen couldn’t manage to reconstitute the line up the Roaring Fork from Glenwood Springs. And I believe that right-of-way was at least physically intact.

Six: tort law. Get buried by an avalanche inbounds in the Alps, and, well, too bad for you. You pays your money, and you takes your chances. The terrain is too big to try to control all the risks, and they wisely don’t try. We have a completely different ethos of expectation and liability in this country. This is America; a ski area can be sued for providing an attractive nuisance.

(The corollary is Ralph Nader would never have got the Corvair off the road in Europe. They don’t have our consumer-protection laws. Which would you rather?)

The ski terrain in the region Geetter would like to see developed is more avalanche-prone than anything in the Alps. Ours is a seriously higher, thinner, weaker snowpack. One of the most hair-trigger, in fact, in the world. You couldn’t throw enough bombs at Geetter’s world to guarantee its safety. And you couldn’t defend yourself from the lawsuits that would ensue.

Finally, I like very much what Jerry Roberts wrote in an online comment last week. He said, if you want the Euro experience, go to the Alps. If you want an Andes experience, go to South America. If you want a backcountry wilderness experience, come to the San Juans.

We have something rare. In France, along with your amazing lift complexes you also get massive powerlines and hydro dams, and roads and air and noise pollution, and extreme civilization – which is great when you want a fine wine at lunch and the virtual inability to get lost, to ski yourself, accidentally or otherwise, into an uninhabited side valley.

The truly wild places there are small and precious. The Euros came late to the realization that perhaps they ought to save a few. In fact, in the region of the Tarentaise, they realized that a plan to link up their already large ski domains – from les Trois Vallées to Val d’Isere – would mean they’d have no undeveloped high country at all. So, in 1963 they said enough is enough and created the Vanoise National Park, the first national park in France. They’re extremely proud of it. I’ve toured in there. It reminds me of Ice Lake Basin.

Peter Shelton's blog is
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american psycho
August 26, 2010
you say - "It’s not a resort corporation getting the underwriting, it’s the village, the domain, the tourist region."

WRONG. Lifts are privately owned in Switzerland, primarily by corporations who sell shares (Aktiengesellschäfte).

Much of the rest of the anaysis is good, however, the idea of linking everything by rail service is something to be considered.
FaceOnMars (nli)
August 21, 2010
Lucky Chucky has eloquently put into words an excellent analysis; which can be very difficult to do in a "single breath" vs. how some proponents of expansion can very easily shout out rhetorical cheers to stir up what is often blind support without much in the way of a substantial argument.

Joshua Geetter
August 21, 2010
I agree with Lucky Chucky's views on the "downside of ski area expansion" whole heartedly. I also appreciate his analysis of ski industry economics. I encourage Lucky Chucky to edit this piece and submit it for hard copy publication in the Watch. I also encourage Seth and Marta to consider publishing my 2008 letter, or an updated edit thereof. Then, we could establish a current forum for discussion of Bear Creek.

The "Interconnect" is a much broader idea than ski area expansion or Bear Creek.
Lucky Chucky for
August 20, 2010
President of TSG.

The Real Chuck could be so lucky to have such a fact based thoughtful analysis on an as needed basis.

This beats lower costs by firing local lifties any time.
August 20, 2010

Seth, your point #2 back on 8/13/10 was "Why are we up while others are flat or down? Could it be the expansion that Dave Riley has already undertaken?"

The answer is that nobody knows if the increased visits are the result of the terrain expansion or not. Nobody – not you, not me, not the Forest Service and not TSG - can answer those questions with assurance.

Thank you for so clearly highlighting one of my previous arguments - that even tho' ski companies often garner local support by claiming that expansions will increase visits and improve local economies, there are no established growth targets, no methods to measure success and no recourse if the goals are not met. Nobody insures that the public receives compensatory benefit in return for essentially yielding permanent control (40 year leases) of invaluable National Forest lands to private ski companies.

In return for their usage of public lands, ski companies pay a fee to the Forest Service based on a sliding scale applied to the ski company's Adjusted Gross Income. The scale rises from 1.5% to 4.0% as AGI increases. If the ski companies' AGI fails to grow after the expansion – which can, and does, happen for any number of reasons – then the public receives no additional payment at all for the use of the additional National Forest lands. Many of CO's ski companies pay average fees of only 2.25% or less of AGR – a pretty sweet rental deal. Imagine TSG – or any private entity - negotiating a contract like that on one of their prime real estate properties – "OK, we'll give you a 40 year lease, but if your overall income doesn't go up, you don't have to pay us anything for it!" I don't think so!!

Regarding the terrain expansion/skier visits relationship, it is tempting to commit the classic post hoc fallacy of assuming "This" happened (expansion), then "That" happened (more skiers), therefore "This" caused "That" (expansions create more visits). The conclusion could be correct but it's not possible to logically reach that conclusion based on the single two factors analyzed. In fact, based on CSCUSA data, one could just as (in)accurately conclude, "First Winter Park, Keystone and Vail had huge expansions ( /- 1500 acres on average), then all 3 lost skier visits, therefore terrain expansions decrease visits." That's obviously fallacious, but so's the first assumption. Each statement is equally invalid because they're based on factoids that were selectively extracted from the whole body of applicable data. There are simply too many other factors that affect the outcome that must be evaluated in context before reaching any conclusion. BTW, Colorado Wild has done analyses that show a pretty strong correlation between skier visits and annual snowfall.

Overall, CSCUSA data shows no apparent correlation between terrain expansions and visits growth. Statewide, every ski area expanded, adding huge total amounts of terrain, yet visits growth was very slow and was limited to just a few ski companies. The areas that added the most terrain lost skier visits. The areas that enjoyed the most visits growth had comparatively much smaller expansions. There's just no pattern that supports the terrain = visits claim.

For arguments sake, let's say the Prospect Bowl expansion was the exception and was responsible for TSG's increased visits. There are some anomalies to be considered, of course. Prospect went online in 01/02, but skier visits chugged along in the mid-300 thousands (where they had been since 97/98) for two more seasons, in spite of all the national publicity about the new terrain. Not until 04/05 did visits jump into the 400k's. Did it take three seasons for the skiing public to get the message? Or did the '04 arrival of new, hands-on, motivated owners and management make the difference? Or did other factors occur that led to the visits growth and the terrain expansions played little, if any, part?

In any event, TSG's total skier visits did grow 2.8%/year between 03/04 and 08/09 (09/10 is unavailable since CSCUSA decided to stop publishing visits data. Apparently they don't want the public knowing what's happening on public lands. Maybe it leads to inconvenient questions about the industry's unfounded claims?). TSG's performance was actually pretty good, relative to CO's other ski areas. However, increased total visits are only beneficial if they lead to an improved economy. Dave Riley tells us that, while total visits grew, there was a decline in visits from tourists – fewer of the Destination visitors who buy stuff so we can pay our bills. A quick look at local sales tax revenues emphasizes that.

Consider that the combined Telluride/TMV sales tax revenues for the months of December thru March grew at an annual Average Compounded Growth Rate of just over 1.55% per year between 2004/05 and 2009/10. The average US inflation rate for the same period was 3.1%/year. In spite of the Prospect Bowl expansion (and Mtn Quail and BI Bowl, and Palmyra and GH Chutes) the area's growth in sales tax revenues was exactly ½ the rate of inflation – in other words, there was a net loss in inflation-adjusted income. I don't pretend that's a thorough analysis by any means. But the math is accurate and the results are what they are. And they're attention-getting, especially in context of the broader ski industry performance – i.e., more terrain but fewer participants, flat total visits and decreased Destination visits.

So, the potential upsides to the public of terrain expansions on public lands are: a slim possibility of increased total skier visits, a likelihood of a decrease in paid visits, and a nonguaranteed possibility of growth in usage fees and local sales tax revenues – or a loss of both, depending on the year and the resort. Not a deal I'd sign onto.

Oh yeah, some would argue that there would be more lift-served terrain available for locals, but that terrain-for-terrain's-sake argument, to me, is hardly defensible when weighed against the downsides of expansions as discussed below. Plus it's rarely crowded on the mountain. I can't locate Telski's Comfortable Carrying Capacity right now, but, if memory serves, they're operating at only about 25-30% of their industry-rated CCC.

What are the downsides of terrain expansion? In my view, bear Creek is an amazing, invaluable, irreplaceable asset. To be able to go from town directly into a valley like that is an unmatchable asset to the tourism economy. That's my view, others feel differently, c'est la vie.

To me, BC is economically, environmentally and aesthetically beneficial and doesn't need to "improved" or "developed." It serves as an ideal complement to the ski area. Those who want the "resort" feel can hop on the gondola and ski, hike or ride to their heart's content. Those who want more of a "wilderness" feel can walk across town and head up BC. I can't think of an equivalent amenity in another ski town that's so stunning and so accessible. And it's those easily-accessed, quasi-wilderness amenities that are the most threatened by "development" and encroachment. The expansion of lift-served skiing (and the related year-round activity, noise and maintenance) into Bear Creek would have a fundamental, unavoidable negative impact on the aesthetics of the experience. While it's not possible to measure the potential loss to the economy (tourists who wouldn't come back, for example) if lifts go into BC, remember there would be little likelihood of economic gain if lifts were installed, either.

The environmental damage caused by terrain expansions is quantifiable and undeniably significant. The best ski companies can do is to try their very best to do as little damage as possible – but the damage is unavoidable. The US EPA has this to say about ski area terrain expansions, "No other land management prescription on the Forest directly results in more stream-water depletion, wetland impacts, air pollution, permanent vegetation change, or permanent habitat loss [than terrain expansions]… more wetland impacts and stream depletions resulted from ski area expansion… than from all other Forest management activities combined, including many direct and indirect impacts that are permanent (irreversible and irretrievable). " Read that again – it's an extremely powerful statement.

Furthermore, “[expansions] that convert habitat types within ski area boundaries often affect the mix of habitats in much larger landscapes well beyond special-use permit boundaries. For this reason, expansion of existing ski areas must be evaluated in light of their much broader influence outside permit boundaries.”

That's an exceptionally strong stance by an agency known for taking nuanced, make-everyone-happy positions.

The downsides of terrain expansion are guaranteed, unavoidable and permanent. The upside of expansions is tenuous and unlikely. So what's the point? Thanks, LC

PS – What did you mean when you said, "Ultimately, the direct costs of an expansion fall to a private company, and so [do] the direct profits. That company will ultimately analyze whether it's worthwhile to pursue an expansion." I think I must be misinterpreting it.

PPS – I'll offer some thoughts on your point #6 in a couple of days.

Joshy boy
August 19, 2010
You are so in love with yourself..really, get over it.

Joshua Geetter
August 19, 2010
To Enough: How blind and ignor-ant can you possibly be, sir/madame? I have been contributing as a citizen, as an open space commissioner, in public forums and newspaper, to friends and TSG for many years, and signing my name. And Paving? Where do you ...

take another look. Drop your childish name calling, get on board with y/our survival and sign your name.
enough from
August 17, 2010
joshy boy..your 15 minutes of fame is enough..and your idea to pave from here to eternity was only supported by DR, Say What (works for DR) and Goodtimes...

that should tell you something about what crowd you are hanging in..
Joshua Geetter
August 17, 2010
MY ORIGINAL 10/15/2008 Watch Editorial

Hi all. To put the Interconnect proposal in a timeline context I am submitting my original 10/15/2008 letter to y'all now. This was submitted to the Watch and Dave Riley OPPOSING BEAR CREEK EXPANSION. I originally wrote this while strongly opposing expansion in the public meetings which Dave Held that year. I pulled the editorial from publication at that time so as to promote a healthy discussion in those meetings. Now, it seems pertinent that I submit these ideas on the Creek for context of "Bear Creek Hands off" and San Juan Range Interconnect as greater vision for long term planning. Enjoy!

Open Letter to Dave Riley and Telluride Watch readership

Joshua Geetter L.Ac. 10/15/8

As a Telluride skier since 1982 with regular Bear Creek experience since 1985, and as Telluride Open Space Commissioner for two terms I wish to contribute my opinion on the subject of expanding the ski area permit to include the entirety of Upper Bear Creek and the ski area boundary into the Nellie mine sector of the Creek.

I first wish to thank Dave Riley for requesting opinions from the local population. Never in the history of the resort has a CEO so proactively solicited feedback on expansion issues from the community. He has my respect, gratitude and full cooperation in this regard. With that background I submit that our current access and use of Bear Creek is optimal from liability, management, economic and “highest and best use” perspectives on the terrain. Further expansion into the creek is in my opinion unwise from the same perspectives.

The Current Situation:

The current situation is analogous to owning private property bordering National Forest Lands. Telluride Ski and Golf Corporation and the skiing public today enjoy the access and use benefits of these lands without the attendant liability, management and investment burdens incurred by permit expansion and infrastructure development. Despite the fact that lawsuits do happen, The Skier Safety Act of 1978 puts Forest Service terrain such as Bear Creek largely in the liability hands of the USFS. In my opinion, this situation, which has evolved over three decades is an ideal symbiosis between the ski area, the Forest Service and the skiing public.

Particularly with the new Revelation lift dropping the general public within a few meters of the Upper Bear Creek access gate I submit that allowing the Forest Service to manage increased traffic and risk is the prudent course of (non) action. Telluride Ski and Golf Corp has de-facto use of Bear Creek in its entirety. Incurring ANY costs and liabilities to expand into just a high risk fraction of the Creek (a benefit they already have) is therefore a poor business decision in my opinion.

I encourage Dave Riley to capitalize on the recent expansions (the Revelation lift, Gold Hill #1 through 10, Prospect Ridge and Palmyra Peak) for industry and public notoriety, marketing and reputation, and to see it through; translating current expansion into sales of lift tickets, real estate and golf club memberships. The marketing of these brilliant advances has not yet been fully exploited. Telluride is now in an absolute and uncontestable league of its own without expanding the permit area into upper Bear Creek. I encourage Telluride Ski and Golf Corp to allocate their resources towards effective marketing of the current expansion which due to the gate ALREADY INCLUDES Bear Creek.

Expansion Technical Analysis:

The alternative of the proposed expansion presents challenges and risks which are ill advised. Nellie Mine and the upper Creek are true ski mountaineering. The terrain is complicated and varied. Conditions are dynamic and changeable by season, by month, by day, by hour, by aspect, by elevation, by skier technique and chosen line of descent. The concept of “safe routes” through this terrain is relative. The danger is absolute. Nellie mine in particular traditionally was feared, respected and treated with extreme caution by the Backcountry community. This 2000 foot slide path runs through a terrain trap choke which yearly deposits debris several stories deep in the run out zone. Only in recent years has it become a skiing and boarding “trade route” due in part to Nellie being the shortest hike and easiest Snowboard egress. Even a veteran Bear Creek skier and ski guide such as Brian O’Neill has been caught and nearly killed in a major avalanche on this very run.

Avalanche control work of Nellie Mine poses another whole set of ramifications for which all contingencies cannot be humanly planned and executed. The confines of Nellie proper can be controlled in and of itself. This will take immense amounts of time, manpower and expense to complete, and it must be repeated after each and every storm. Mr Riley and Ski Patrol have proposed an avalanche control study to assess the amount of control work required.

In the end even such heavy control work will not secure the run. Nellie proper is at risk for run out debris and air blasts from other slopes including the West Face of Wasatch Peak, The Graveyard and The Hanging Bowl. Snow slides and air blasts have historically impacted the base of Nellie from these and other aspects. To truly secure Nellie it is necessary to control the majority of the valley around it. This is an onerous task which must be repeated after each storm. It is hubris, arrogance and ignorance to assume that nature of this scale can be safely controlled by man.

Beyond the securing the run, the theorized traversing lift from Nellie base to Revelation lift base may cross under the Hanging Bowl and the Revelation Bowl. This lift would be in direct danger from major slide zones. Bombing and controlling all aspects of the entire valley and erecting this “sideways lift” is exactly the plan Dave Riley has proposed.

Another major issue: that of mutual endangerment between ticketed skiers in the proposed expanded permit area and non-resort based touring parties in the Bear Creek backcountry also must be addressed. Backcountry skiers in Upper Bear Creek will be at serious risk from sympathetic avalanche release should they be anywhere in the valley during bombing missions on Nellie and surrounding slopes in the valley. They may even be directly in the line of fire when slopes outside the permit area are controlled to secure the permit area. As these skiers often come from Ophir, there is no way to insure the valley is empty and clear for bombing despite talk of setting up a website and phone hotline for this purpose. Even if the valley could be closed to regional backcountry skiers, the ski area has no right to do so. Telski has purchased two Howitzers with 12 mile range (capable of hitting Silverton) for the intended purpose of controlling the entire Bear Creek Valley. I posit that this is a terribly flawed plan which will result in tragedy.

Concerning ticketed skiers who enter upper Bear Creek from the gate, closing gate access to the upper creek during control work will increase danger above Nellie. Those runs are traditionally ski-cut and controlled to any humanly possible degree by those of us who regularly ski there. Should we be barred from that access during possibly lengthy control efforts on Nellie, we would be prevented from our regular and timely assessment and what skier control of the terrain is humanly possible. Safety in the rest of the upper Creek would be affected.

Point of Information:

At this time control efforts are planned for two agenda: securing the Nellie Mine sector and conducting a “snow study” to asses just what will be required to control the entirety of Upper Bear Creek. What is currently proposed means artillery and hand charges throughout all of Upper Bear Creek versus just Nellie sector. This affects the entire upper valley.

Telluride, The European Model:

If Telluride is approaching the European model of access, that model must be understood in its entirety. The common US perception is that European ski stations put lifts anywhere possible to utilize the entirety of the Alps. This is not in fact the case. European ski areas do maximize lift access within their reasonable and safe terrain. Extreme backcountry or “Off Piste” terrain is accessible via the lifts, but ski area management in no way patrols, controls or invests in this terrain. They simply profit from it (and profit they do!) while leaving responsibility to individual ski mountaineers and the government rescue services.

The skiing public in Europe and the USA generally does NOT venture Off Piste or out of bounds. They are drawn to the mystique of backcountry and wilderness like they are to polar bears in the zoo. They are happy to watch from the safe side of the fence. Telluride visitors derive vicarious excitement from skiing, buying vacation homes near the “Off Piste” terrain. Most will never go “Off Piste,” but they choose Telluride to be close to it. Bear Creek is comparable in this way to the Vallee Blanche wilderness adjacent to the ski areas of Chamonix, France. No ski area in the Chamonix valley dares include the Vallee Blanche within its permit area. All ski areas there profit from proximity to it. Telluride Ski area is currently in precisely this position without any further expansion.

In ski mountaineering circles lift accessed backcountry is known as “Sidecountry.” Sidecountry has all of the risks and requires the skill set of a ski mountaineer, but is accessible directly from lift service. In Telluride there exists only a minute market for sidecountry lift ticket sales. There is a much larger market for ticket sales to the general public who only want to look into Bear Creek sidecountry from upper See Forever.

The Europeans acknowledge areas such as the Vallee Blanche to be far too wild and powerful for human control. To attempt control of The Vallee Blanche would be considered idiotic. For such Hubris (false pride) and arrogance mother nature reserves great doses of Ate and Nemesis (recognition and punishment). Upper Bear Creek is of this scale. It is arrogant and foolish to think nature of this scale can be reasonably controlled.

Ski areas and towns such as Chamonix profit greatly from proximity to the sidecountry. The mass skiing public will pay just to watch ski mountaineers from within the boundary. Telluride has all it needs to realize this kind of market without spending another dime or expanding another inch. That is the European model. Telluride Ski and Golf need not hold a permit for Bear Creek to profit greatly from it.

The Bear Creek Preserve:

The Telluride Open Space Commission has advised the Telluride Town Council for over a decade on establishing the preserve, consolidating the lands and crafting of the management plan. As an Open Space Commissioner from 2003-2007 I participated in all aspects of Bear Creek Preserve issues. The preserve was established to forever protect Bear Creek as a wilderness resource. For specifics I refer readers to the Telluride Open Lands Plan, and the Bear Creek Charter. Both are available through the Town of Telluride Offices.

The Bear Creek Preserve encompasses Lower Bear Creek and is technically below the proposed permit expansion and new chairlift(s). Upper Bear Creek is largely Forest Service land. The two are intimately connected in terms of environment, ecology and current human use. Artillery barrages, Chairlifts and increased skier (and possibly summer recreation) traffic in the upper creek will categorically affect the lower creek and the preserve.

Installing a Nellie Mine lift WILL bring more people into both upper and lower creek. This lift will create a net increase in all traffic in Bear Creek. Because skiers will have a choice of ascending the lift or descending the powder fields leading to the creek, many will choose to descend. The lift will not protect the preserve. It will have the opposite effect. Traffic on the Bear Creek road will increase. Risks including avalanche to injuries and accidents in the preserve and collisions on the road will all increase.

Consistent bombing via Howitzer and hand charges throughout the upper basins will increase avalanche potential throughout the creek, including Bear Creek road. Ski Patrol has theorized that direct bombing of lower creek (preserve) terrain would also be necessary to protect crews on their way out from upper creek terrain (Forest Service) after their control missions. This means the preserve will be bombed. This also means the Bear Creek road will be at risk of sympathetic avalanche release. The entirety Bear Creek valley will be unsafe during control work, and control work will be constant throughout the winter.

Wildlife and ecology will be radically disrupted by constant bombing and chairlift installation. Ermine, Lynx and other active winter species will be affected in the upper and lower basins. Marmot, Pika, Bear and other hibernating species will also be traumatized.

The above statements concerning impact on the Bear Creek Preserve are my opinions. The Forest Service permit application process should include the proper studies and assessments. We as citizens and public must monitor this process and involve ourselves in it.

The Fact is that the Bear Creek Preserve was established to forever protect the creek as a wilderness resource. The preserve is a man made designation below the upper basins. In nature it is inseparable from the valley as a whole. One cannot alter the upper without affecting the whole. The upper creek is the crown jewel of Bear Creek as anyone who has sought the wilderness experience of a summer Wasatch Trail hike can testify. Bombing and lifts in this terrain is arguably a greater issue than protection of the Telluride Valley Floor.

Bear Creek represents the un-tameable in creation. This feeds the human spirit. Wilderness is essential for its own sake and for ours. Howitzer and hand charge assaults, chairlifts and mogul runs would forever change Upper and Lower Bear Creek. This resource is irreplaceable. If it is harmed or lost, so are we harmed and lost!


Telluride Ski and Golf Corporation and the skiing public currently enjoy an optimal access relationship to Bear Creek. The corporation and public enjoy all of the benefits with none of the risk and expense. The current permit area and recent expansions are more than sufficient for claiming Telluride as one of the greatest ski destinations in the world. In a cost benefit analysis, marketing what Telluride is today will accomplish far greater economic gains than further expansion.

The terrain of Upper Bear Creek has absolute subjective and objective dangers. Technical risks of developing the Nellie Mine sector of Bear Creek are serious, numerous and in the end nearly unmanageable. It is impossible to account for all contingencies both natural and human. Further expansion invites inevitable accidents, rescues and likely deaths and lawsuits. The liability for any such occurrence currently lays with the USFS as per the Skier Safety Act of 1978. There is no reason for Telluride Ski and Golf to assume such risk.

Telluride Ski Area is positioned with Bear Creek as “sidecountry.” We have the essence of the European model for maximum in area lifts and monopolized access to some of the premier wilderness skiing on the planet. This model has worked to boost skiing economy while minimizing risk exposure and economic expense in Europe. Further expansion into the Creek will tip the balance unnaturally towards risk and hardship for Telluride Ski and Golf Corporation.

The Bear Creek Preserve as defined by The Bear Creek Charter and the Telluride Open Lands Plan is a legal and political entity which poses significant obstacles to any development in Lower Bear Creek. Upper Bear Creek is connected to lower in every respect. Lifts and bombing above will directly affect ecology and safety within the Preserve. Further expansion into the Creek will create unnatural ecologic damage, risk to humans and ramifications of general hardship for all concerned.

Please consider the above tenets. They are the summation of over 25 years experience skiing and mountaineering worldwide with an emphasis on Telluride and Bear Creek. My advice is so much as humanly possible given without personal bias, but with perspective to the highest and best use for all concerned. I feel deeply compelled to join in the discussion. Bear Creek, the Telluride community and Telluride Ski and Golf Corp can count on me for positive and constructive input. I am at our service for any further conversations or ski tours into the terrain at issue. I solicit feedback on my opinions in faith that in a Democracy when all opinions are aired, the highest and best good will foment.

Finally, this letter addresses only the narrow confines of that which is currently on the table: permit area expansion and installation of one lift in the Nellie Mine Sector of Bear Creek. In recent meetings with community members, Dave Riley has expressed interest in eventually expanding the permit. The next phase would reach higher into the basin encompassing what is known as Delta Bowl and the Wedding Chutes. The third phase would reach the ridge between Telluride and Ophir with installation of two additional lifts: one to the summit of Palmyra Peak and one to said ridge. All of this terrain is currently open and accessible via our gate system without any additional permit expansion or lifts. The risks incurred, wilderness lost and irrevocable damage done to the treasure we call Bear Creek by a formal expansion would be exponential. This is beyond the scope of this letter, yet the public should know that the current tabled items are part of a larger plan.

Joshua Geetter L.Ac.

Telluride Citizen

Joshua Geetter
August 17, 2010
TO ALL CONCERNED: MY IDEAS ARE NOT ABOUT TSG, Dave Riley or SKIING. The ideas I'm putting forward are far bigger than TSG or Dave Riley. In my original article I posit that Dave & TSG can ride the wavew as a progenitor of an interconnect in that:

1) TSG has a master plan due to the USFS ASAP.

2) TSG has money and regional influence to break inertia and start the ball rolling.

I strongly posit however, that if this ball gets rolling, that it's going to involve Government at many local municipalities, several counties, the state and fed levels. It will also involve many private sector interests, some of whom might be much larger than TSG. I again urge people to not reduce the issue to TSG. They're actually small in the greater scheme. I also ask all of us to look at elements of the plan which have nothing to do with TSG, such as the main element: A MASS TRANSIT SYSTEM AROUND THE MOUNTAIN RANGE. So, I appeal for a larger perspective by everyone.

I just drove in from Santa Fe last night in my 1986 VW which gets 34 mpg and I intensely dislike consuming even the 20 gal of gas it took to do the round trip.

On a related point of information: Mr. Shelton razzed me about the "No lifts in Ophir" as me being NIMBY about "My Ophir." I'd LOVE to live there. However, I've NEVER lived there. I've always lived in Telluride because I am so acutely aware of my fossil fuel consumption that i am extremely commute averse. I proposed no Ophir lifts just knowing the political tenor of "Ophrica", aka "Valley X." Remember John Wayne getting run outa there in the 70's? Remember Subaru Primal Quest in 2002? The Ophir-ites drove that event away. Fine, no judgement here. I'm just aware that Ophir historically doesn't want development in the valley.
August 17, 2010
Had we taken Cagin and Paleohippy's (aka Commissioner Art Goodtimes) advice, the Valley Floor would be home to an exclusive neighborhood of 20 McMansions and their attendant 20 fake lakes as well as a strip mall at Lawson Hill. Moreover, the town would have been on the hook for $15 million cash for "river improvements" (read landscaping for Neal Blue).

Just a point to remember before we put too much stock in Cagin's current advice to industrialize Bear Creek for a wealthy few.
August 16, 2010
me guess. Lucky Chucky is a lift riding hypocrate?

So wholly and unwashed is he, as to condemn the nations public who enjoy the national forest on a chairlift, when riding them himself on a season pass?

A tiny sliver of public land, with no capital cost to the public, which gives great happiness to the people, can be so wrong, until it's built and the bullwheel is turning, for "Lucky Chucky".

Seth Cagin
August 16, 2010
Lucky Chucky, though anonymous, is clearly well-informed and thoughtful and has contributed a lot to the discussion. I think he asks the right question. Since the ski industry is stagnant, is there an argument for expansion of ski areas onto public land?

Mr. Chucky also shows an interest in economic viability, which I respect. I certainly agree wholeheartedly that public lands should be protected and managed in the public interest. I won't try to suggest that the USFS has a good record.

I am properly cautioned against overstating the possible benefits of expansion. I think that those opposed to possible expansion should likewise resist overstating the adverse impacts.

A cost-benefit analysis may the best way to approach the question. But costs and benefits do not hit everyone equally. Ultimately, the direct costs of an expansion fall to a private company, and so the the direct profits. That company will ultimately analyze whether it's worthwhile to pursue an expansion. For the rest of us, the costs and benefits are far more difficult to assess.

It may be of some interest that this long thread has been focused on an expansion that has only been hinted at, but not actually proposed. For me, the overarching question is sustainability, both of the environment and the community. My guess is that a hypothetical ski area expansion is actually a small piece of this puzzle, with neither the magnitude of adverse impacts nor the benefits we might imagine in our more fevered speculations.

How can a community support itself in this place? I believe it is only by hosting visitors. The rub is, How many visitors? Doing what? And during what times of the year? Supporting how many residents? Doing what? At what standard of living?

We may have many different answers to these questions, depending on our perspective and means. What I think is as inarguable as the stagnation of the ski industry that Lucky Chucky cites in arguing against expansion is that Telluride has for at least three decades subsisted on outside, speculative capital. And that is absolutely NOT sustainable, by any definition.
lucky chucky
August 16, 2010
for president.

Of TSG...

More thoughtful analysis in the least amount of words then have ever been written on this blog.

Go, Chuck go.
August 16, 2010
Seth, thanks for responding, even tho' I used a pseudonym and will continue to do so for personal reasons. Seems to me that names are not essential to the conduct of mutually respectful, meaningful debate between well-intentioned individuals.

You wondered about whose axe is being ground by anonymous commenters. My personal stake in the BC debate is similar to that stated by FOM earlier. I view our National Forests as irreplaceable treasures – one of the better things our country has accomplished. They are not to be given up lightly.

National Forest lands are under constant pressure from commercial interests (mining, oil and gas, ski companies, etc.) seeking profit by altering the existing usage of said Forest lands. There is no implication here that commercial interests profiting from the use of National Forests is intrinsically a bad thing (and, BTW, I am not anti-profit, by any means). However, focused, well-funded commercial interests can throw so much time, money and political power into accomplishing their goals that they can steamroll the fragmented, under-funded proponents of the status quo. The history of National Forest usage change is rife with examples where the public ended holding the short end of the deal.

When considering proposed National Forest use changes, it is essential that the interests of the public owners of the National Forests be protected. There must be a guarantee that the public will gain substantial, specifically identified, quantifiable benefits; there must be a performance measurement system established; and the public must have defined recourse if the promised benefits are not delivered. If the guaranteed benefits, measurement system and non-performance recourse are not present, then the proposal represents a gamble and I assert that it is inappropriate for private companies to be allowed to gamble with publicly-owned property. Others may feel differently.

USFS evaluative procedures do not fully examine all aspects of commercially-generated land use change proposals. One major impediment to arms-length analysis is that the Forest Service, by specific Federal action, is in the impossible position of being simultaneously the regulator and the business partner of the ski industry (that's not unique to the USFS, as seen by the recent debacle in the Gulf of Mexico brought to us, in part, by the unholy marriage of the MMS and the oil industry – but that's off-topic). Objective regulation is unavoidably hampered when conflicting goals are inherent in the regulatory process.

Ski company expansion proposals are evaluated under the NEPA, which generally does an OK job of assessing environmental impacts (trees cut, earth moved, wildlife displaced, water used, etc.). However, the USFS and, for that matter, the NEPA process, is less effective at analyzing economic aspects of proponents' stated Purpose and Need in the context of broader economic and industry forces. For the most part, the USFS accepts Purpose and Need assertions with little, if any, consideration of the validity of proponents' claims.

Specifically, while ski companies typically claim that proposed expansions will increase skier visits and improve the local economy, those claims are rarely, if ever, analyzed by the USFS. Furthermore, as far as I am aware, the USFS has never attempted to evaluate whether the promised benefits actually accrued to the public once the expansion was implemented, nor have they ever attempted to seek recourse if/when the promised benefits failed to accrue. Ski companies end up on the sweet side of one-sided contracts. They can make any claims they want in order to garner local support for their proposed expansions knowing that a hand-tied agency will not question, measure or monitor those claims. It's a huge get-out-of-jail-free card.

My personal stake lies in trying to expand the breadth and depth of the debate/analysis in order to protect the public's interest in public lands use changes (e,g, -lifts in Bear Creek) and to try to insure that the public doesn't get snookered.

FYI, I've been an avid alpine skier for decades, I've worked in and am a big supporter of the ski industry. My position is not anti-skiing, although I am torqued by what's been done to the sport I love. Powder Magazine's 12/09 article, "The Death of McSkiing" pretty well defines my views in that area.

Seth, I tried to edit down that lengthy explanation, but it all seems central to the "personal stake" that you wondered about.

That said, I'll respond to some of the points in your 8/13 post.

Re: your comment #1. I don't mean to be harsh, but your claim that "the other resorts that have expanded are all holding their own" is not accurate. CO ski industry data shows that 7 of the 10 ski areas that added the most terrain between 95/96 and 08/09 (including the 3 that grew the most – Winter Park, Keystone and Vail) had fewer skier visits in 08/09 than they did in 95/96. Those 10 ski companies accounted for 9,200 of Colorado's 13,000 total acreage growth, or about 4.5 TSG-equivalents.

While crowding is a factor on some days at some resorts, most CO ski areas are well under industry-established skier/acre standards. Anyway, this discussion is about TSG where crowding is hardly a problem.

I'm not sure what you mean by "sustainable." I suggest the term implies either "size limited so that those living here now can make a living" or "endless growth so that anyone who wants to move here can make a living."

Under any circumstances, a quick review of Aspen, Crested Butte, Steamboat, Vail and Winter Park shows worse performance in both skier visitor numbers and in sales tax revenues versus TSG/Telluride. Comprehensive economic analysis is obviously much more complicated, but that cursory glance indicates most ski towns are in the same bucket, fueled by boom-and-bust tourism/construction economies that are at the mercy of the vagaries of national and global economic forces.

OK, I'm tired of typing and I'm sure you're tired of reading, so I'm shutting it down now. I do have comments on some of your other points so I'll be back later. Thanks for reading, if you got this far.

August 16, 2010
Well, thank you Josh for jumping in again. Since there is some debate about non-de-plumes, I'm happy to say that this is Art Goodtimes (who kept calling me Dave Riley???).

I thought you did a great job of responding to Peter's arguments, one by one.

I may not be as moved by Seth's call for reaching our full potential by industrializing the high country between here and Silverton, but Josh makes great points about his focus on transit and on how this area was once much more closely knit together.

As one who supports the recently leaked DOI memo on treasured landscapes, thinking that we need to connect wildlife corridors and weave private lands and private activities into the wild, if we're serious about preserving functioning landscape-scale ecosystems, then this discussion is point on.

I think Josh is aware of many of the obstacles, and I welcome Peter's cautious wariness of further industrialization. but this is a discussion Telluride needs to have.

Thank you all for participating...

artg aka paleohippie (twice the age of anyone you should trust...)
FaceOnMars (nli)
August 14, 2010
Josh: that comment wasn't from me, it was someone who titled their names as "FOM-exactly" ... as if addressing my prior comment.

You are correct, I don't speak for anyone but myself. In fact, my primary point in all of this is that I would like to see EVERYONE's voice included as well as EMPOWERED via a direct democratic process to determine the highest and best use of public lands PRE-EMPTIVELY vs. our current status quo of what Has historically amounted to private entities essentially utilizing rubber stamp official application channels -- with after the fact public commenting. Hopefully, the Crested Butte Snodgrasss rejection might serve as a precedent in so far as a change in direction of NFS policy regarding public land management.

But no, I won't ever claim to speak for you or anyone else (unless given explicit consent to do so).

Seth: I believe you've operated reasonably well in the "hot seat" in terms of moderating this forum in the best way as you see fit while trying to be fair to all & stimulate meaningful discussion. I still say an idea can stand on it's own two feet -- separate and apart from the individual end their position/perspective. Did not George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both "own" slaves?

Seth Cagin
August 14, 2010
About anonymity: I've been thinking about pseudonyms and am sorry I was perhaps overly critical of those who post anonymously. Sometimes it is a real problem -- when an anonymous blogger engages in personal attacks or traffics in lies -- but often the anonymous blogger offers interesting commentary.

I was asking myself why so many frequent bloggers post anonymously and am thinking that there is a more subtle problem with it. And that is that the cloak of anonymity may be used to create a aura of disinterest, which may be less than fully honest. In other words, the anonymous blogger may feel that his or her stake in an issue, if it were known, might discredit his or her opinion, to some degree. By contrast, the selfish interest a blogger may have in an issue is implicitly disclosed when a real name is attached to a comment.

For example, some folks assume I am interested in gaining more advertisers when I post a comment discussing economic vitality. I don't believe this is the basis of my opinions, but the reader is free to draw his or her own inclusions, since my identity as a newspaper publisher is no secret.

To have a really good discussion, it's helpful to know who is opining, since their personal stake in an issue is not irrelevant. And so I would encourage some of you who prefer to post anonymously to reconsider. I think your views will only carry more weight if we know who you are, even if it turns out that there may be some degree self interest influencing what you say.

A related issue. Is it just me, or is there sometimes a whiff of moral superiority in the posts of the anonymous, and sometimes scorn for those with whom they disagree? Signed commentaries from these same bloggers might just be more respectful and thoughtful.
luckyfomnoname, eh
August 13, 2010
Josh, you may write that you oppose bc lift but by this pie in the sky expansion, tsg looks reasonable as they rape BC....

and, i work for the man so i have to hide..

so, wear it have carried the water for DR and is all on you..
Seth Cagin
August 13, 2010
I was going to refrain from responding to luckychucky in part because I, too, would rather deal with real names than anonymous posters. The level of debate is raised when those with strong opinions identify themselves by actual name, as Josh has definitively proven.

But Josh has inspired me to keep going.

1. Creating the best ski area we can is not only to bring more people. It's to hold our own. The other resorts that have expanded are all holding their own, plus they've reduced crowding. All of those others, by the way, have a sustainable tourist economy. This doesn't mean they are trouble-free, and all deal with economic challenges, but an absolute shortfall in visitor numbers or resulting commerce -- threatening the very existence of their resident community -- is not a problem they are struggling to address, as we are. (There are other threats to their resident community, of course, like the cost of housing....)

2. Why are we up while others are flat or down? Could it be the expansion that Dave Riley has already undertaken? Hmmm. In my opinion, Riley has put the "sexy" back into Telluride with all the new terrain and this has in fact helped us all. Not only economically, but in terms of our own enjoyment of the mountain.

3. The other factor in our slightly improving fortunes, I believe, is the opening of The Capella plus the revival of The Peaks. Those with a long memory may recall that when The Peaks was under the management of Carefree Resorts in the early 90s, we actually did a lot better around here. They booked groups during shoulder seasons and enjoyed a good occupancy during high seasons and the local economy was not so bad. Hopefully we will get back to at least that level of economic vitality soon, with The new and improved Peaks.

4. My point in referencing the recent expansions at other resorts was offer evidence that Josh is correct, in my view, that there is a new and evolving model for managing lift-served terrain and we have already employed it here in the Gold Hill chutes area and on Palymra Peak. I believe that due to the lucky accident of available proximate terrain we can offer the very best "lift-served backcountry experience" in the world. Why shouldn't we strive to reach our full potential?

5. While Josh focuses on the long-range and the big picture, my instinct is to look at the next step. I don't disagree with him about his interconnect, but I think that much of what he envisions is well into the future. Lifts in Bear Creek moving in the direction of Silverton is the next step we could reasonably take. I would personally love to see it.

6. Why is destination skiing down? And what can the ski industry do about it? These are extremely important questions, but I don't believe the response for Telluride should be to stop being a destination ski resort or even to retreat. I believe, instead, that we should broaden our offerings in all four seasons, but that skiing will always be a cornerstone of what we are about. Sensible expansion is one piece of the puzzle, one way to broaden our winter offerings.