Bear Creek Snow Study
Starts Feb. 1
by Martinique Davis
Jan 29, 2009 | 3370 views | 6 6 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print
‘This Decision Does not Authorize Telski to Expand the Ski Area Boundary,’ Emphasizes District Ranger Schutza

NORWOOD – The Norwood Ranger District announced this week that it would grant the Telluride Ski Co. a temporary special use permit to conduct a snow study in Upper Bear Creek this winter.

The announcement comes after the study received criticism during the public comment period by many who considered it as a step toward expanding the ski area’s boundary into Upper Bear Creek. Yet in a press release, District Ranger Judy Schutza stressed that granting the Ski Area permission for the Snow Study does not also grant it permission to expand its boundary – or, for that matter, to move forward with building a chairlift there, as many critics have contended.

“This decision does not authorize Telski to expand the ski area boundary into Upper Bear Creek. At this time, Telski has not submitted a formal expansion proposal to the Forest Service,” Schutza said.

Kathy Peckham, of the Forest Service Norwood office’s Recreation Department, explained that many of the comments the Forest Service received during the public comments period were ultimately deemed not substantive.

“Our process requires that we look at substantive issues when analyzing public comment.

By substantive, that means issues that have direct bearing on a proposal. So because the proposed action was whether or not to permit the snow study in Bear Creek – the ski area’s expansion into Bear Creek was not part of the proposed action – all comments coming in for or against a Bear Creak expansion were deemed not substantive,” she said.

The Snow Study, set to begin February 1 and end March 30, will give members of Telluride Ski Patrol the information they need to create an Avalanche Atlas, which will map and identify avalanche hazards in the avalanche-prone slopes of Upper Bear Creek. The permit area will be closed from 6-10 a.m. daily, as per a Forest Service Special Order closure, to enable ski patrol teams to gather data while no members of the public are in the area.

“The daily closure is necessary to protect the safety of both the snow study teams and backcountry skiers and snowboarders,” Schutza said.

The patrol’s work will revolve around analyzing the terrain, weather and snowpack in the area. According to the Snow Study Operating Plan, presented to the Forest Service by Telski’s Snow Safety Department this fall, these analyses would include traditional means of gathering data about the snowpack like measuring slope angles, digging snow pits and noting recent natural avalanche activity. But the plan also includes explosives testing, which would be limited to explosives placed by hand only and utilized on a minimal basis.

Telluride Snow Safety Director Craig Sterbenz said this week that while ski patrol teams will occasionally use explosives in an effort to better understand avalanche activity in the area, “a lot of what we’ll be doing is just mapping” the expansive Upper Bear Creek terrain included in the permit area. The authorized study area encompasses more than 1,500 acres of Forest Service land above Telluride, which was not reduced in size from the original proposal.

“When we do use explosives, we’ll make every effort to be done by the time the first people are getting off Lift 15” to go out the Backcountry Access Point and into Bear Creek in the morning, Sterbenz said.

And as the Forest Service press release reiterates, explosives will not be used for avalanche mitigation or control. “Backcountry skiers and snowboarders will still need to proceed with caution due to the inherent risks associated with backcountry travel. Telski will be required to notify and educate the public about the study through local media outlets, signage placed at the main entrance points into the study area, and the Telluride Ski Resort website,” the press release states.

While the immediate aim of the study is to arm Ski Patrol and Search and Rescue teams with better data about the terrain and snowpack in Upper Bear Creek, it will also inevitably provide Telski with information it would need were the Ski Area to formally propose expanding its boundary into the area.

“There are two reasons Telski is pursuing the snow study,” Telluride Ski Co. CEO Dave Riley told the Watch this week. “First, it will aid in search and rescue work by providing a much better understanding of the avalanche paths and avalanche forecasting for the upper Bear Creek terrain. Second, it will help inform the community and the ski company as to the long-range vision for the ski area.”

The Ski Resort is in the process of updating its Master Development Plan, as per the Forest Service’s request.

Riley added, however, that Telski has not turned in a proposal to expand into Bear Creek at this time. “The results of the snow study will be helpful in determining the feasibility of doing so in the future,” he said.
Comments-icon Post a Comment
Love to ski
November 12, 2009
but there are plenty of ski areas already--especially for a guaranteed warmer future. Lift expansion into the Creek would be a tragedy, and as Face says, extremely divisive.
FaceOnMars (nli)
November 12, 2009
More on ski area expansion rejection at Crested Butte. Here's a brief excerpt from an article appear at:


Despite the fact that the Forest Service has “allocated” Snodgrass as an appropriate place for downhill skiing, and it is part of the CBMR Special Use Permit boundary, “There was never any guarantee to approve a project on that mountain,” Richmond emphasized. He said the agency is more and more using the type of “pre-NEPA” process CBMR has gone through. “With these big projects in particular, we are saying it is up to the proponent to get the public support and work through the list of potential problems before going into NEPA,” he explained. “Once it’s in NEPA, it becomes a Forest Service project that we have to defend. This was a project I wasn’t willing to take on and defend.”

He said typically once a project is in NEPA, the issues compound and the public support becomes more divisive.


Maybe the Bear Creek expansion proposal can get cut off at the knees in a similar way, before it creates EXTREME divisiveness in the community ... let alone gains the support of the NFS by entering NEPA process. I wouldn't be surprised if the CB decision is appealed, but it will sure serve as a precedent for expansion proposals elsewhere. I think the rationale is sound & illustrates why ski area operators have long "gotten their way" by simply dotting all the "i's" and crossing all the "t's" via a prescribed protocol. Of course, after a few years of dotting & crossing, the ski area CRIES (WHINES, ETC.) about how much time has been invested and all the rules were followed, blah blah blah ... yet it's already beyond a much more fundamental scrutiny of the NFS.

FaceOnMars (nli)
November 10, 2009
The NFS just denied an expansion at Crested Butte. nepa decision.pdf
February 02, 2009
looselips,u dork. there already is a bear creekl odge. it's in MV. and why r those nordic skiers "lucky"? you too can go out and use the track... they arent lucky. they just choose to be there (instead of sitting on a blog and complaining, go get some "lucky" excercise)
January 30, 2009
Now we have a huge portion of Bear Creek cut off from the public to accommodate your study. And frankly it's just a costly study of the obvious; since there are hundreds of deadly slide areas--it's frickin' dangerous.

January 29, 2009
I guess this is probably the first step toward a nice, huge ski-in, ski-out lodge somewhere in the middle of Bear Creek. Mark my words folks, it will be built by 2012.

It will be just one more example of Telluridians doing as they wish with the wilderness land they so adore. At least the newly built Bear Creek Lodge will bring in needed sales tax dollars.

The Valley Floor Grooming is only pissing money and resources away for a few lucky nordic skiers. Booooo Telluride.

What is best for Telluride is NOT the best for the environment around them. It's time we face those facts. Telluride, you aren't so special.

With that, I would be happy to sit fire side in the New Bear Creek Lodge someday....sounds great.