Telluride Ski Area Expansion Plans: Crested Butte

The National Forest Service recently rejected plans by the Crested Butte Mountain Resort to expand their ski area boundary to include Snodgrass Mountain. Charles Richmond (supervisor of the Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests) wrote “It is my finding that it is not in the public interest to continue to consider development on Snodgrass Mountain any further”. There were apparently also concerns that lands within the vicinity — which have traditionally been utilized for ranching — would be pressured to change to ski area related developments. Environmental and geological concerns were also cited.

Mr. Richmond went on further to state “To proceed, I must be convinced that such an effort could lead to a decision which serves the public interest and for which there is a high likelihood of success. I am not convinced of this but rather am convinced otherwise. I believe that perpetuation of the debate in the NEPA process would further deepen the division that exists in the community and would likely uncover additional environmental concerns. Relationships among all interests and all parties would be taxed, if not damaged.”

This is monumental news in an industry which has typically been granted the vast majority of expansion requests. Apparently, the CBMR (as well as related ski resort associations) do not like this decision and may likely contest the ruling … since it will create a precendent with respect to other ski area expansion endeavors.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see this get played out behind the scenes at a much higher level. My bet would be that calls have been placed to any and all “friends in higher places” to leverage whatever political capital it takes to reverse this decision. Regardless of what ultimately happens, I believe Mr. Richmond deserves an enormous amount of credit for sticking to his guns.

This decision may have a good deal of relevance to the possible expansion plans of the Telluride Ski and Golf Company to exapand the Telluride Ski Resort into Bear Creek. While there hasn’t been an official expansion request to enter the NEPA process, the idea has been “floated” by Telski CEO Dave Riley and ski company was granted permission by the NFS to conduct snow and avalanche studies in Bear Creek … possibly to such an end.

What is interesting about the Crested Butte decision is that they basically got rejected before even getting started. When you do officially get started in the NEPA process the National Forest Service is essentially an advocate of the expansion & it’s traditionally been an exercise in dotting all the i’s and crossing all the t’s for a ski resort to reach the finish line. The problem, from CBMR’s perspective, is that they may have allowed the controversy to fester in the public spotlight for too long. I’m sure the industry as a whole will be more cognizant of this potential issue & probably start engaging in well coordinated & cooperative efforts to a certain extent.

If this sort of rejection does set a precedent, I believe the natural adaption of ski area operators seeking expansion would be to avoid what happened in Crested Butte by keeping it “as quiet as possible until all ducks are in a row”. From the perspective of local area residents (who may represent the larger U.S. population as a whole, in terms of not having a vested commercial interest in acquiring the use of public lands), the course of action of clearly and coherently voicing objections early in the game becomes reinforced to mitigate what might result in unbridled development sprawl of ski areas.

So, the lesson to be learned for all those Telluride area residents who oppose an expansion into Bear Creek is to talk with your neighbors, friends, local area businesses, government officials, and write letters to the National Forest Service.

(The photo above is that of Revelation Bowl at Telluride Ski Resort. The northern mouth of Bear Creek is visible.)

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