Ski Area Won’t Bend On Pre-Season Closure
by Samantha Wright
Nov 18, 2012 | 3106 views | 1 1 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
STILL NO GO – Some of the Telluride Ski Patrol's veteran patrollers got back to work on the ski area this week, in preparation for Donation Day on Wednesday, November 21. Citing worker safety and other concerns, Telski and the Forest Service will not allow public access on ski area slopes until the lifts open. (Courtesy photo)
STILL NO GO – Some of the Telluride Ski Patrol's veteran patrollers got back to work on the ski area this week, in preparation for Donation Day on Wednesday, November 21. Citing worker safety and other concerns, Telski and the Forest Service will not allow public access on ski area slopes until the lifts open. (Courtesy photo)
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TELLURIDE – A petition seeking to persuade the Forest Service and Telluride Ski Resort to loosen restrictions on its pre-season closure of ski area slopes will not award local powder hounds any early-season turns, as the Telluride Ski and Golf Company said this week that all pre-season closures will remain in effect.

Longtime local and heli-ski guide Mark Frankmann created the petition last April in response to the Forest Service and the Ski Resort’s announcement that it would enforce a policy of no public travel on ski area slopes for all of April following closing day, and from November 5 to the resort’s opening day.

The petition asserts that backcountry travelers should have the right to “recreate on their national lands with as few restrictions as possible,” and that Telluride ski area should manage uphill skiing and hiking with spot closures where and when necessary. It goes on to say that other major ski resorts in Colorado manage uphill travel in this way, without blanket closures of all terrain.

Frankmann had informally polled 14 different resorts around Colorado and Utah, finding that all permit uphill travel in some form.

“Everybody allows it,” Frankmann said in an interview this week. “We’re so far away from what everybody else is doing” by closing the ski area to public travel.

Yet Telski’s Vice President of Mountain Operations Jeff Proteau counters that other resorts are subject to different variables. Specifically, the type of terrain found there, and the times at which uphill travel is or is not allowed, make it difficult to compare the Telluride Ski Area to other ski areas when it comes to uphill travel policies.

“This time of year, we have so much going on, and it’s so dynamic day-to-day...even if we did try to do some sort of management, I honestly don’t know how we could effectively communicate [spot closures] to people on a daily basis,” he said.

He continued that Telski employees’ main focus in the pre-season is to get the mountain ready for opening day. To try and refocus efforts to make uphill travel safe and available to the public would take energy and resources away from this effort, he said.

“There are lots of ski areas where there is little risk” in opening parts of the mountain to public travel, “but when the risks outweigh the opportunities, as is the case here, we have to go the other direction” in mandating ski-area-wide closures, Proteau says.

Telski’s Patrol Director Pat Ahern says that while many resorts allow uphill travel at specific times, few allow uphill travel during the pre-season, when high-pressure snowmaking hoses, winch cats, snowmobiles, or avalanche control work could be encountered at any time.

Proteau adds that the Telluride Ski Resort has always had a policy of no uphill travel on any area except for runs serviced by Lift 10 (Sunshine Express), on which uphill hiking, skiing and snowshoeing are allowed during the regular season.

Restrictions on uphill travel in the pre- and post- season has historically been less clear, until the issue came to a head last spring when Telski requested that the Forest Service extend the ski area’s operating season by three weeks. This would allow the Resort’s employees to safely and efficiently shut down the mountain, then-CEO Dave Riley said, without the concern of public traveling in the area.

Anyone caught on the ski area during this closure was subject to federal fines as well as loss of skiing privileges at the Telluride Ski Resort.

Yet the 2012 spring closure raised Frankmann and other locals’ hackles, who say they have safely skied on the ski area’s slopes in the pre- and post-seasons for decades. Frankmann believes the hard closure last season was a “knee-jerk reaction” to an incident that occurred in the fall of 2011, when the Forest Service was conducting test-fires of its Howitzer in the Prospect Bowl area and a group of backcountry skiers were spotted climbing Prospect Ridge.

The years 2010 and 2011 also saw an uptick in illicit snowmobiling at the ski area after closing day, creating safety concerns for ski area employees working on the mountain in the post-season.

“It was a free-for-all, and all the snowmobile use massively exacerbated it,” Frankmann says of travel on the ski area prior to last spring’s closure.

Proteau admits that the Howitzer incident and the increase in public snowmobiling on the ski area brought the issue of pre- and post-season travel to a head, but says the topic has been a concern for the ski area for some time.

“We’ve had enough incidents over the years that [as a result] we feel very strongly about this,” Proteau said of upholding the policy of no public travel during the pre- and post-seasons.

Although the resort says it will not bend on its pre-season closure policy, the petition (which can be viewed at www.change.org) has given rise to renewed discussions about shortening the length of the spring closure. Proteau said this week that representatives of the ski area will communicate with the Forest Service about getting the ski area reopened to the public in the post-season “as soon as possible and not to exceed two weeks” following closure.

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FaceOnMars
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November 18, 2012
If it was the "2011 howitzer incident" which brought this issue to a head, then I believe what we're looking at really just boils down to the ski company seeking to snub public access to public lands in exchange for the use of a more efficient ski area management tool. If the same control work can be accomplished without the use of the howitzer pre-season, then why ought the pubic sacrifice it's entitlement to fair use NFS land just so Telski can get things together more quickly or cheaply?!?

Perhaps this ought to be the reason Telski ought NEVER be allowed to expand into Bear Creek; if it can't deal with the food on it's plate now without adversely affecting fair access to the public, why should it be allowed to hoard more - only to be more obtrusive in this sense?!?

As far as I'm concerned, we STILL haven't received a satisfactory explanation as to "why Telluride is different" from the rest of the resorts in the state. So the terrain is different here vs. Aspen area or Vail Area Resorts; however, Ajax, Highlands, Snowmass, and Buttermilk are all different mountains ... just as Vail & Beaver Creek are different mountains. What precisely is it about the terrain at Telluride which makes it significantly more problematic?

One aspect which has flown under the radar a bit is this whole business about Telski asking the NFS for an "extension of the ski season" - only to close PUBLIC ACCESS & NOT OPERATE AS A SKI AREA during the extension period. I believe the ski area ought to be compelled to stay open during their new operating window ... perhaps there are grounds to pursue this course administratively or legally. Once the extended ski season is complete, the NFS could issue the closure order to the public (pre/post season) directly to the public without involving Telski in the picture.

I don't care how strongly a representative of a private entity which is leasing public lands feels about an issue, the inescapable facts are that Telski is using public lands for it's private gain. Moreover, this closure policy is effectively a Lone Ranger in the industry. I believe it was sanctioned by a local NFS office/individual who seemed never ran contrary to Telski's requests during the Riley years. It was more of a question of "how high?" vs. "should I jump?".