Snow study sets off slide of expansion concern in Telluride

The politics of powder could polarize the remote mountain town of Telluride if — as opponents suggest — the ski resort uses a proposed snow study to move forward with expansion plans in the slide-prone and deadly Upper Bear Creek drainage off the ski area’s back side.

At a Monday meeting so big they had to use the firehouse, according to the Telluride Daily Planet, U.S. Forest Service officials agreed to delay a final decision on the snow study in order to take more comments on the topic and to give San Miguel county commissioners more time to mull it over.

County commissioner Art Goodtimes said he wanted more time to study the study, which would close the popular backcountry area to out-of-bounds skiers until 10 a.m. each day so ski patrollers could dig snow pits and throw bombs to trigger avalanches.

The Upper Bear Creek area has claimed several lives in deadly slides over the years, including as recently as 2002. Studying the avalanche patterns on the steep Forest Service land makes sense, some opponents said, but not if it’s the first step to putting a chairlift up the precipitous terrain.

“I’m having a difficult time understanding why you’re having such a quick comment period on this,” Goodtimes told Forest Service officials. “I think another couple of weeks wouldn’t hurt to think it over.”

is an award-winning reporter who has covered energy, environmental and political issues for years. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and Denver Post. He's founder of Real Vail and Real Aspen.