A number of people own land in Bear Creek near Telluride resort. To enjoy Bear Creek backcountry skiing people backcountry ski through boundary gates at the resort, and after they do so may cross such private property. This used to not be an issue, and indeed the resort is saying they have a prescriptive (historical use) easement over the property and may fight for it. But recently the resort explored running commercial guided touring in Bear Creek, and the guided trips would probably have crossed the private property. The resort going public with their plans ostensibly alerted the property owners, who since made it clear they will not allow trespassing on their land. Newspaper reports today indicate that the land owners have won a skirmish in what I believe will be a long term battle.
Somehow the land owners convinced the USFS to close the public backcountry access gates that people use to access Bear Creek from the resort. Though other gates exist, this effectively closes a large part of Bear Creek skiing to public access. As I understand it, a person still has the right to ski into Bear Creek from the resort, and can do so legally, but the resort can pull his ski pass if he is caught. In other words, if you hike up the resort and don’t have a pass, then ski into Bear Creek, you have a perfect right to do so. Locals, please correct me if I’m wrong.
At any rate, first, since I’m a strong advocate for recreation access it literally nauseates me that the USFS closed those gates (or forced the resort to do so). Second, notorious land developer Tom Chapman is one of the land owners. Chapman is known for being involved with land where plans for development may offend people, which in turn may use the leverage of public sentiment to force profitable sales and land exchanges for him or his associates. While no one can of course see inside Chapman’s head, I’d call it pretty likely that sort of thing is going on here as well.
Whatever your opinion about public rights vs private property rights, you have to admit Chapman knows what he’s doing. Now he and his partners have a chunk of land the ski resort could use and the public wants as well. Crystal ball tells me you’ll see a sale of Chapman’s land to Telluride Resort or a land trust within a few years. By the way, don’t blame it all on Chapman. By caving to this sort of thing, the USFS and various land trusts drive the process. That’s another important issue that I won’t digress to here, but is worth mentioning to keep the Chapman flames from getting out of hand.
Perhaps the weirdest thing about this whole situation is that it didn’t happen sooner, or that Telluride resort didn’t buy those properties years ago — that lack of vision is astounding.
Map above from TellurideWatch.com shows the band of private property that many skiers have to make a nearly mandatory crossing of to backcountry ski in the area.