“Modena Gap,” Other Private Land Bypasses in Bear Basin, Telluride?

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | December 17, 2010      

When you want to get past private property during recreation access to public land, the first thing you look for are gaps where property parcels don’t touch. Walk or ski through there, and all is good. You’re not trespassing, everyone is happy. Or at least, we hope everyone is happy; which wasn’t the case with the couple having a go in their glass house up by Aspen after we hiked by in the dark (until the security lights blasted on) going elk hunting through a “gap” we’d found on a map that got us past their property. But that’s another story…

County plat showing Modena Gap for backcountry skiing egress and access.

San Miguel County mapping showing supposed 'Modena Gap' (my term) that would provide easy movement through the Gold Hill Development parcels in Upper Bear Creek above Telluride, Colorado. Click image to enlarge.

Recently, journalists and interested citizens noticed that when the southern Colorado San Miguel County GIS department mapped the controversial Gold Hill Development (Thomas Chapman and associates) Bessie and Modena mining claims in Bear Basin, they showed a good sized gap between the two claims.

According to this Dec. 9 article in the Telluride Daily News:
“According to a map provided by the company, the mining claims form a solid wall stretching up the sides of the valley…But anyone who looks on the county’s property website can see it tells a different story… In the county’s records, the mining claims are not contiguous. There is a gap between the claims…”

The above referenced report and probably others began what could become an interesting mini-controversy within the greater issue of Gold Hill Development and other private property in Bear Creek, next to Telluride Resort in southwestern Colorado.

Thus, while not as easy as having free run of the basin, it appeared everyone could be happy about skiing upper Bear Basin and getting through the GHD land. Sadly, a high quality certified survey done by registered surveyor Robert A. Larson shows there is no gap. To the best of my knowledge, a certified survey trumps more general and error prone County mapping, which always includes a disclaimer about its accuracy and says “…the data are not a substitute…for a survey.” It’ll be interesting to see where this goes. To court? Or will San Miguel GIS re-check their cords and make a public statement? And how about the elected County Surveyor, who perhaps is the guy to speak up and clarify and hopefully accurize the situation?

Larson survey, Bear Creek backcountry skiing.

Robert Larson survey, showing union of Bessie and Modena, no gap. I know a bit about the process of surveying these parcels, and the surveyor goes to quite a bit of trouble making sure their coordinates are correct, and that they work from reliable monuments on the ground. If Larson determined that the corners of Bessie and Modena are shared, it would seem unlikely that would not be so. But mistakes do happen so we'll see what San Miguel County does to shed light on this situation. Seems like that would be a job for the County Surveyor, but as Thomas Chapman commented about on another blog post, not much has happened in that area so far. The Surveyor is elected, and perhaps he's a backcountry skier? Modena Gap, here we come!? Click image to enlarge.

Bear Creek backcountry skiing

Gold Hill Development press release text and map, with annotations by WildSnow.com. Note how the West parcels lower down to the north (Laura and Nellie claims) also block the logical route in and out of Bear Creek. It's possible that savvy backcountry skiers could traverse around the west end of the Nellie by using a lower angled terrain feature called 'Nellie Bench,' but as I'm not familiar with the area (I skied the Ophir/Telluride route many years ago, so memory fails), I'm not sure what would work. Others say it might be possible to get around the east end of the West parcels. I've got some inquires out there, and perhaps some of you commenters can chime in on that. Also, according to Telluride sources, around 75 percent of Bear Basin skiers drop in before hitting the Gold Hill property, eventually heading down what the photo below labels as E-ticket. If those skiers had a way to return to the resort or exit Bear Creek without crossing private land, that would take care of a huge chunk of this issue. Click image to enlarge.

Several photos removed in this section, by request of the photographer.

So, for all you WildSnowers curious about one of the issues that’s come up with the Gold Hill Development property adjacent to Telluride Resort, that’s the “Modena Gap” controversy in a rather large nutshell. (new content, 12/19/2010a) Below, we publish some of Chapman’s photos that show the GHD property from different perspectives.

Possible backcountry skiing hut site near Tellluride.

Chapman photo showing possible building site on Modena parcel. Click image to enlarge.

Modena parcel, view from.

Modena parcel, view from.

Looking from Modena to Telluride.

Looking from Modena to Telluride.


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44 Responses to ““Modena Gap,” Other Private Land Bypasses in Bear Basin, Telluride?”

  1. scott December 17th, 2010 11:49 am

    As a professional land surveyor licensed in Colorado I think you captured this issue best when you reprinted the disclaimer from the GIS site. These sites are notoriously inaccurate. In survey circles it is a common joke that GIS means Get It Surveyed. In reality that GIS map means nothing.

    Those mining claims would have been patented and clearly indicated on a GLO Plat. Those maps are readily accessable through the BLM. The maps are also supported by the original survey notes which will make calls to the adjoining property lines in order to avoid gaps like the one in question. Therefore based on previous experience I would guess that a straight forward reading of those notes will answer the underlying question of the “modena gap”.

    Disappointing as it may be as a backcountry skier at this point my money is on the land owners group represented by the gentleman you interviewed earlier this week. Who as I recall suggested that access may be granted if interested parties ask for permission which seems pretty reasonable. I wonder if they’ll give it?

  2. g December 17th, 2010 2:54 pm

    ok, but seems to me that to be charged and convicted of trespassing, you need to prove it. Landowner or county prosecutor’s burden as well. Who is to say you did not use one of the detours Lou discusses above. Does the landowner have a guard up there with a spotting scope and a video camera? Hate to say it, but one of the ways to resolve this type of ridiculousness is to have people willing to take one for the team, to start pushing the limit of the trespass issue, and calling them out on the issue enforcement wise. I would like to see the landowner attempting to prove someone was trespassing with the type of detailed gis maps and surveys as set forth above, and then have to tie that in to where a person’s puported tracks were. [ I say this all with the understanding that the resorts gate access decision is perhaps the real issue. I guess I am more or less talking to the masses that might be up there without having gone through the ski resorts access gate.]

    Too bad i don’t practice law in that area, because if so I would gladly defend, pro bono, anyone sued or charged with that offense. Perhaps their is an attorney in the area willing to do that. As soon as numerous people start calling the landwoners’ bluff, they will be left with actions too numerous to deal with. I think the word is civil disobedience. And, by the way, i own a lode claim up here in Wyoming, that I freely permit any and all comers access to when skiing. F___ anyone that would assert the right that is being asserted with regard to the terrain pictured above. They don’t deserve the respect that generally derives from an individuals acknowledgment of others private property rights.

    Just my thought, sure it is wrong.

  3. g December 17th, 2010 2:57 pm

    p.s. Wait a minute, i just figured it out. Lou, is there anyway you could build a gelande and air over the modena

  4. Lou December 17th, 2010 3:58 pm

    g, LOL!

    The way I understand it, there are permutations to the trespassing law. It’s more serious if you go by existing signs. Without signs your’e still trespassing, but it’s a very minor offense. Not sure if it hinges on knowledge of location or not, perhaps an attorney could chime in here with definitive answer.

    I do know there is private land all over the west that’s not signed, and is crossed by hundreds if not thousands of people accessing the backcountry. The owners of such land don’t seem to worry too much, but perhaps they’re ignorant?

  5. Pierce Oz December 17th, 2010 4:40 pm


    Thanks for bringing this issue to the forefront. Clearly there is a bit of extortion going on here by the GHDC and clearly the town and resort of Telluride dropped the ball by letting it go this far. Access to the backcountry is being squeezed in many places around CO, not just by scurrilous land developers, but also by the FS itself and the rapidly growing number of users. I agree that this makes the situtation at Vail Pass look comical in comparison, but what, as a BC skier am I getting for my $6 pass each time? Fights over limited parking? A dangerous walk through the muck to the other side of the highway? Also, the FS shutdown a popular winter trailhead parking location in Montezuma recently because of complaints from a person who built a new home on a claim next to the traditional parking spots. I won’t revisit the wilderness designation issue, either, except to say that I fully agree that we need to find a way of protecting natural areas in an inclusive instead of exclusive manner.

    That being said, what I found most poignant about the recent land-grab posts is the idea of forming a special interest group that could take on these issues for us little people. I would be more than happy to donate time and money to such a group. I’ve found that organizations such as the Sierra Club “don’t get it” and are more aligned with simply shutting people out than creating greater access. Do you, or anyone else, know of a worthy organization or have ideas on how to get one started? Imagine if we could get the Thomas Chapman’s of the country to work for us towards this goal instead of against us?

  6. Lou December 17th, 2010 4:55 pm

    Amazingly enough, Chapman is consulting on the other side in some land exchange issues. He seems to take things on a case-by-case basis with various motivations. Much more complex a character than he’s portrayed to be by our friends in the trad media. So, if a citizen’s advocacy group was involved, he might even be a resource, at least informally. Hard to believe? Yes, but the truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.

    At any rate, I share your frustration with groups such as Sierra Club. Truthfully, Colorado Mountain Club would be the structure for us here in Colorado, but they’ve been compromised by an activist preservation agenda that would be hard to change. A new organization is probably what we need. Like I’ve said, all we need are a couple of motivated folks who’ve got some spare time. Find a pro bono attorney, incorporate, make it clear in bylaws that you are a RECREATIONAL ADVOCACY, not a preservation conservation group, and go. Anther thing that would be wise would be to be all-inclusive, get some motorized and non motorized folks on the board, and have bylaws specify that issues would be considered on a case-by-case basis, not knee-jerk decided because of ideology.

    I already figured out a name “Citizens for Accessible Recreation,” CFAR, “SeeFar!”

  7. g December 17th, 2010 5:36 pm

    For what it is worth, I am an attorney [though not a colorado one] and would merely suggest that the chance of your county sheriff or prosecutor getting involved in enforcement or prosecution of a purported tresspass up in that neck [not including leaving the closed boundary of the ski resort] is zero to none. The issue would likely only be brought to a loggerhead by the owner suing someone in civil court for the trespass. In those circumstances, their better be good evidence that the area was signed or the person had otherwise been previously informed with some form or notice of trespass, or as to it being private property. Similarly, think about what a jury is going to think of that issue, whether brought civilly or criminally? Likely not much.

    By way of example, about every two years where i live a large out of state corporation that purchased an extremely large ranch of sage brush about 7 years ago [which has historically been home to some nice single track mountain biking near town of which the previous owner permitted access on for years for recreation] makes a stink about trespass. The local newspaper then writes an article about it and how the sheriff’s department will be arresting people if found there, and then the local riding quickly diminishes for 3 to 6 months. [Great for us that historically ignore the scary article since less people are out biking on it.] Fairly good tactic by the ranch manager, but in reality, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Sheriff’s department really does not care about it, much less is able to dedicate resources to go out there and wait to see if they can find someone riding, and then actually be able to confront them. Anyway, I suppose the point is that the owner of these lode claims appears to be utilizing the classic tactic of paranoia and what-ifs so that people do not challenge the issue. By challenging the issue, even one at a time, you are likely to reap the reward.

    Finally, to respond to a comment in a previous post a week or two ago, this issue is NOT about land liability. Colorado, like Wyoming, has a very good recreational land liability act. If you are recreating on someone’s property, and you injure yourself, the landowner faces zero liability, period.

  8. Lou December 17th, 2010 5:49 pm

    g, thanks so much for chiming in.

  9. spudskier December 17th, 2010 6:08 pm

    Private property rights are not the same as development rights. Mr. Chapman is certainly within his rights to exclude people (unless a prescriptive right can be established) but his claims about building a European style rock chalet and having a eco-yurt commercial operation are either incredibly naive or outright bluffing to jack up the price to someone who truly is naive. An owner of any of those steep sloped claims would have incredible engineering challenges and even with tons of money poured into consultant design, the chances of getting a building permit are almost nonexistent. First, prove legal and physical access, then show that the access road is less than 8% grade, 10% max for 200 feet with no curves. Next provide a stamped engineered drawing that the geotechnical hazards can be acceptably addressed by the building design. If the avalanche path analysis show frequent recurrence intervals, no amount of engineering will allow a habitable structure to be built there. Next, show potable water supply, engineered wastewater treatment capable of placement on super steep slopes, and fire fighting supply water.Oh , and there are mining tunnels all over the mountain and building on the the surface may be in an area subject to subsidence. If you think I’m exaggerating the complexities, then find out what happened in nearby Rico; those guys spent a ton of money trying to use steep slope patents and packed up and left with nothing. I’m guessing San Miquel County also will not permit structures on slopes greater than 40%, regardless of the geotech study.
    I find it a little disingenuous for a person who has 38 years in Colorado real estate to make claims that he will build such and such on a location such as this. He is dreaming to think he’d get approval for any housing or commercial operation on that parcel. The only value that property has is the minerals underground and the no-trespassing factor it presents to the ski area, who should not pay much for it , and call his bluff. There is a reason no one bought the property years ago; they knew that no development could be approved there.

  10. Lou December 17th, 2010 7:39 pm

    More often than not, in my experience, property owners have a vastly inflated sense of the worth of their land. If they can afford to hold onto it, sometimes that’ll result in no sale and a sort of impasse where the property just sits there… folks try different tactics to jump start out of such doldrums, but it’s difficult. Much B.S. can result. Not saying that’s what’s going on with Chapman because I know very little about that property, but to those of you who bring up that issue, it is indeed valid.

    I was recently privy to a deal in which one of the best appraisers in Colorado came up with a number, and the owner wouldn’t budge from an asking price that was around 20 times the appraisal amount, due to all sorts of fantasies about land exchanges, possibilities for development despite land use code and geological hazards, mining next to legal Wilderness, and such. Really disappointing to the proposed buyer, who was willing to offer a good amount that was over the appraisal value. Lots of this happens behind the scene, it’s a constant dance all over the West, much of it behind the scene never to be touched on by the media. Bear Creek is just, at the moment, the tip of the iceberg.

    Let me say that getting involved in this as a blogger is quite the eye opener, and I’ve come to a new appreciation of both sides, both the public and the land owners.

  11. Lou December 17th, 2010 8:04 pm

    Above being said, Chapman can get things done. See:



    Reality is that these are the exceptions rather than the rule (most backcountry property just gets passed around and not much ever happens with it, due to many factors). But nonetheless what Chapman has done is real, and should wake anyone up who discounts development possibilities for the Bear Creek property.

    In my view, what makes development of property in Bear Creek difficult will be the geological hazard survey, which will no doubt map avalanche terrain that covers most of the property, if not all of it. I don’t know about San Miguel County, but in Pitkin and Gunnison County, avalanche hazard is mapped on a 300 year worst case cycle, meaning if your land is in avalanche terrain, there is a good likelyhood you have zilch for building envelope. Land use codes to allow for structures that include hazard mitigation in some situations, but that get into some pretty sticky areas…

    In Chapman’s case, perhaps the Modena might be mapped as a non-avalanche zone where avalanche danger wouldn’t preclude building. But from the photos, I’d have to wonder if on a 300 year cycle that area isn’t just as much avy terrain as anywhere else up there.

  12. Lou December 17th, 2010 8:53 pm

    Hmmm, curiosity killed the cat… I just checked out the San Miguel Country land use code. What a vague bunch of hogwash open to interpretation. Didn’t see anything concrete in there about geological hazard… perhaps Chapman and associates are way ahead of me (grin)?


  13. Dana December 17th, 2010 8:56 pm

    About the notorious inaccuracy of GIS – are land surveyors in the state of Colorado required to tie in their surveys to known benchmarks, such USGS approved markers or DOT features such as bridge centerpoints and the like, or are the surveys accurate only to themselves, i.e. if you start at one arbitrary corner marker, follow the headings and get closure, it’s good? In Vermont, where I last worked in GIS, this was often the case, resulting in a lot slivers between parcels that had been surveyed. So just because a survey is accurate with respect to itself, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily universally accurate.

    You do bring up an excellent point in that GIS parcels are difficult to use when the margin of error is incredibly small and only survey-grade GPS units can really come close to eliminating errors such as this Modena Gap issue.

    I like the ‘Get It Surveyed’ acronym. In school we just called it “God It Sucks.’

    In any event, I think it’s too bad that this are is looking at permanent closure. Perhaps if we were all Euro-cool with our liability laws, complex characters like Chapman wouldn’t feel the need to close their property at all and we could all hold hangs, sing Kumbaya, and get along.

  14. Lou December 17th, 2010 9:18 pm

    Dana, it sounds like there might be a lot of mythology surrounding our liability laws, and land owners actually have limited exposure in some ways. On the other hand, I’ve been advised that if a land owner does ANYTHING that creates a hazard, e.g., a pile of rock for a land corner marker that someone trips on, then all bets are off. In other words, if you leave your land totally raw, perhaps liability isn’t a huge issue, but do anything man made, and it’s a different story.

    As for monuments, my understanding is that here in Colorado surveyors go to great lengths so utilize official monuments if they need to be super accurate to resolve a dispute, but I’m not sure there is any legal requirement thereof. If they can find a corner monument or two from a previous survey or the original staking of a mining claim, and the monument jibes with what the legal description says, then they can go from there as well. Any Colorado surveyors want to let us know the deal?

  15. Adam Olson December 18th, 2010 12:18 am

    Do these people actually own the snow? They seem to have mineral rights and surface rights, but do they have the water rights to the snow that sits on there claims? If I am skiing by 5 feet off the ground completely submerged in “Bear Creek” am I really trespassing by definition? If I jump over the corner of your yard on the way to the store am I trespassing? As long as I do not physically touch your land, am I trespassing?
    It would be interesting to know if the Government has a Snotel site in this drainage. These sites are used to measure the water content of the snow pack. These measurements are then used to forecast spring runoff and reservoir levels throughout the state. I could see a ruling that allows skiing in privately owned ares because of the water aspect of the sport. Much like kayaker’s and rafters do when floating across private land.

    In my eyes the whole basin IS “Bear Creek”!

    They do not own the air or the water, just the land. 😯

  16. Lou December 18th, 2010 8:21 am

    Adam, interesting point, I’ll bet that would go all the way to the Supreme Court.

    Actually, you can fly over private land — at the legal aviation ceiling height. That’s my understanding, any way. Same with legal Wilderness. I recall the ceiling for Wilderness is 3,000 feet, but I might be wrong. It’s an issue for aerial photography, and rule that’s routinely broken around here.

  17. Mark W December 18th, 2010 8:43 am

    Very intriguing point Adam. Still snow is not liquid water, it is the solid form of H2O, and if Adam’s point were correct, wouldn’t it also follow that a parcel of private land perennially covered in snow would be nearly impossible to define as terra firma without removal of all snow on that land? Rights of the kayaker/boater are not universal as the watercourse travels through private lands. Along some rivers, like sections of the Poudre, ingress adjacent to private lands is not legally allowed.

  18. Lou December 18th, 2010 9:43 am

    All, surveyor Bob Larson wrote a clarification letter to newpapers, and sent a copy this way as well. Here it is:

    Lou: The following is the response sent to the Telluride Daily Planet in regards to their article December 9, “USFS Closes Upper Bear Creek”. You may post it along with your other information if you so desire.

    It is unfortunate there is a misunderstanding and misinterpretation of private property that has existed in Upper Bear Creek since the 1890s and early 1900s. Patented mining claims were not “thrown together haphazardly” as you state. The Federal Government provided specific guidelines and requirements for U.S. Mineral Surveyors and their records can be accessed through the Bureau of Land Management. Field notes of surveys, plats of the mining claims, and patents of the specific properties, signed by U.S. Presidents, are available for review. These records define the mining claims in detail, the acreage acquired and the relationship to adjoining claims.

    In regards to the Little Bessie MS 5521, 9.30 acres are included in the patent. The Modena and Gertrude MS 13375, total 20.04 acres and the western corners of the Modena are described as identical to the eastern corners of the Little Bessie. There is definitely not a gap between them. The Modena and Gertrude are also contiguous, so there is not a gap between them, either.

    It is unfortunate that modern GIS compilations and computer-aided mapmakers have not relied on this original data for their interpretations. The county records and county maps need to be updated and revised to reflect the above, so that the public is not misguided nor misdirected. Complete and accurate information should be available for all of us to use.

    Robert A. Larson
    Professional Land Surveyor

  19. spudskier December 18th, 2010 12:08 pm

    Lou, good points on the under-the-media radar land dealings in the Colorado high country. It appeared to me that Chapman’s Black Canyon home/development was on a pretty flat site, without severe geotechnical constraints and I even saw a pickup truck in the background. Was it flown in? The fact that San Miquel County does not have an ordinance about slopes or geology makes the Commissioner’s decision more flexible and subjective- bad news to a developer. And the Town of Telluride probably has a Three Mile Plan per CO statute that could make the land subject to City zoning, not County. Telluride or the SM. County leans progressive, not free-for all property rights like over towards Gunnission. Neglect to consider the local politics is a factor in the Rico developer’s retreat. Is there really someone so in love with that location to pay the huge engineering and legal costs, deal with construction management plan headaches and risk being turned down by hippie 😉 elected officials?

  20. Lou December 18th, 2010 2:43 pm

    Spudskier, good points, but that subjective stuff is frequently bad news for regular homeowners as well…

    From what I understand, the Black Canyon development has a road to it, while the West Elk home does not. You might be confusing the two. The videos are two different projects.

  21. Thomas Chapman December 18th, 2010 7:24 pm

    As you know, a photo is worth a thousand words. I’ve e-mailed you a couple of photos of the Modena (perhaps you could post them). To correct the record, the Modena is flat as Kansas. Imagine a gigantic “ironing board” in the sky. The Modena is the front end of the ironing board – – perched 4,000 vertical feet above town and 4 miles up Bear Creek. You can actually see the Modena from the streets of town, near the park. This flat ironing board is smack in the middle of the valley, splitting Bear Creek into two creeks, one on each side. It’s geographically impossible to have a snow avalanche on this parcel. There is no more chance of having an avalanche on the top of the Modena than there is of having one in downtown Denver. The Modena “fortress” is 800 vertical feet above the two creeks on each side. The creeks receive the snow shed from the corresponding sides of the valley. The nearest slidable snow is nearly a mile away from the Modena. The Modena truly is a freak of nature — smack in the middle of the Sistine Chapel, most certainly a powder enthusiast’s dream, breathtakingly beautiful, and looking straight down into the nightlights of Telluride. It may be the most unbelievable piece of mountain real estate in Colorado, making Telski’s $18.3 mil. Temptor House look like tenement housing. Any skier who has perched on the fall line of the Modena, before dropping Stonehenge or The Wedding Chutes, will find it hard to believe that this could be private land. But here’s what you need to know. A registered engineer will easily be able to certify that the Modena (top portion) is not in avalanche terrain, on a 300 year cycle or any other cycle.

    Now, as a building site, the Modena is already zoned for a 1,000 sq.ft. house. As to potable water, two crystal clear cold streams pass through it, and on the western end of the parcel, there’s a spring which flows over 100,000 gallons of water per day. We are in the process of filing on all three water sources with the water court. On the eastern end of the parcel flows the East Fork of Bear Creek, with several hundred cfs of water plunging nearly vertical. Utilizing a micro-hydro power generation plant on private land, we will be able to make 120/240v AC power for approximately 100 homes. We are in the process of filing for a non-consumptive decree for this power source. As to sewage disposal, the lightweight Infiltrator systems would be utilized, as used elsewhere in the county — or, for a more ecological approach, the new biological waste disposal systems may be used. In regard to construction, materials would be brought to the Little Bessie staging site via the 120 year old Gold Hill Road, and then helicopter construction techniques would be used to construct the home. Access to the “Modena Chalet” would be by helicopter — year round. Burnable? No way. It wouldn’t include one stick of wood. Subsidence from mines? Doesn’t exist on this 800 feet of granite. Is all of this doable? Certainly. We have already done it, under much more severe conditions than this.
    Thomas Chapman

  22. Thomas Chapman December 18th, 2010 7:28 pm

    One more thing. In a perfect world the GHDC Bear Creek lands, the West family lands and the Alexander family lands, would all belong to Telski, and the basin would revert back to an alpine backcountry powder-only ski Mecca, on the leeward side of the ridge with reliable early-opening snow. An Upper Bear Creek that would be well-planned and environmentally friendly. Thereby putting Telluride into the class of say a Vail with their back bowls, or in the format of a lift-accessed side-country Zermatt. Doing so would lift Telluride from the semi-minor leagues — to the major leagues.

    A ski area expansion that would allow Telski to mitigate and control dangerous snow conditions and provide for public safety. A ski area expansion that would include a tradeoff. Safety and avalanche control, yes — but no grooming. Powder skiing only.

    This addition would include the Delta Bowl, Lena Basin, San Joaquin Massif, K-12 country, and the Wedding Chutes on down to the Nellie/Laura Parcel. There it would stop, thereby not interfering with lower Bear Creek and the Bear Creek Preserve. A short return lift, tucked into the side of the hill at the Nellie, would take skiers back out of Bear Creek and up to the bottom of Revelation Bowl Lift 15. From there, the skier would ride the 15, then transfer to a new lift 16 that would travel to the near apex of Palmyra Peak. From there a Lift 17 would transfer laterally to K-12, perhaps for the most part on the Ophir back-side of the ridge. These three new lifts would open up literally hundreds of acres of deep powder, would avoid new lift construction within the upper basin, thereby bringing forward a correctly designed ski expansion that would not be detrimental to the environmental values of the basin.

    And the anti-Telski, anti-ski area backcountry skier would have a new option. Taking the lift to K-12, and dropping Bridal Veil to town. All of this would build a world-class ski area, tons of new powder, and provide the engine of long-term economic growth for Telluride.

    But, unfortunately, this is not a perfect world. At present, the playing field is not level regarding Bear Creek landowner property rights. Regulatory taking of private land values is the order of the day (road access and zoning). Personally, if the property rights playing field were leveled, I would prefer to see a skiing, hiking only Bear Creek. The citizens of Telluride do indeed have something to be proud of in this remarkable backyard. But it should be hard to be proud of the way the landowners have been handled over the years.

    Lastly, there is mining, the original Bear Creek plan. With gold values at $1400.00 and rising, the minerals values of the private lands become of interest. I do not see mining and back-country skiing as necessarily mutually exclusive. GHDC principal Ron Curry wants to reopen the mines if economically feasible to do so, or develop eco-tourism facilities, such as the chalet. And as the 80% owner, it’s his call.
    Thomas Chapman

  23. Lou December 18th, 2010 8:47 pm

    All I can say is, wow.

    Anyone from Telluride want to go beyond “wow?”

  24. spudskier December 18th, 2010 9:33 pm

    Bravo, so Mr.Chapman has given some technical thought to the development. The engineering part of any mountain project is usually doable if enough money is thrown to the consultants. Indeed the Moderna looks to have some building envelopes free from obvious slide paths. The next hurdle is water rights. I’m guessing all surface water is fully appropriated on all San Miguel River and tribs. If you can’t collect and store rainwater legally in CO, then I wonder if a 2010 surface water right, So the project has a critical hinge on obtaining a favorable water court determination. “IF” number 1. Use 120 yr Gold Hill road? How do you reconcil the SM County ordinaces about hi country roads not being plowed. OR how about all those other loosey-goosey words in their Code? I see several clauses in the SM Code that would enable rejection of a Bear Creek SINGLE_FAMILY residence building permit, much less a commercially permitted operation. Has the Health department actually approved the type of sewage disposal systems you propose? If, so, there’s county precedence, if not-good luck. Mr. Chapman you brought up the frustration of regulatory takings….Whether we like property rights or alot of regulation, the facts are that the case history show that ALL value must be lost before a takings claim is valid. You still have the minerals value, so no go on winning that battle. If you need a variance for the steep road grade, you will be subject to public hearings and a large crowd will push the decision makers to not support the findings and it will not be granted. You will sue and it will drag out for years. “IF” number 2. Ok, say you get legal access, get a cutting an atypical sewer approved, Next you’ll have to convince the Fire Marshall that there will be no stove, no electrical system, no stick of wood, nothing flamable, that the ambulance can get there in winter, etc, etc. Well, actually the Fire Resolution has driveway standards, you’ll need 24-feet wode and sub 8% grades- they won’t chopper in to put out a fire or transport anyone to the hospital. Since the lot is unserviceable by Fire & EMS, the basis for denial is pretty strong. You may argue property rights and wild west creeds, but the FIre Code is a health- safety issue. Good luck fighting that one on regulatory takings grounds. The fact is some lots in CO cannot get a building permit for technical reasons, but just as likely they are denied for “subjective” reasons. Frankly I don’t care if skiing Bear Creek is closed off, or if you “win” or lose, but I’ll bet ya will not get a building permit before New Years’ Day 2015. SO Teleski, if you’re reading this, offer the guy what he paid for it and then do start the cool expansion that Mr. Chapman described. Sounds good to me.

  25. Lou December 19th, 2010 7:58 am

    Again, wow.

  26. Lou December 19th, 2010 11:41 am

    Added a Chapman photo of Modina parcel, check it out. The ultimate hut site, I have to admit. Perhaps 10th Mountain will buy it? Seriously.

  27. Adam Olson December 19th, 2010 9:13 pm

    Interesting that the water right issue rears its ugly head. I seriously doubt that any NEW rights would be secured. I would be willing to bet the senior rights to the Bear Creek drainage are older than the mining claims owned by mister Chapman too. He will have to buy they rights from someone to make his plans work.

    Mark W, I believe you are wrong about the “still” snow comment. Snow is in constant motion. It can be called creep at the slow end or avalanche on the fast end. Snow is fluid.

    My point was a bit missed, the government snotel site is doing the measuring of the water content for the drainage. This also happens to be equal to the snow depth of said drainage. All head-gates are adjusted based on the water content of said drainage along with called out demand by water right holders. These right are coveted and trump most land rights in the west. Every flake of snow that falls is accounted for. The beauty of snow is that it is mixed with air, just like a bubbling, babbling brook. It just happens to be cold too, PERFECT for skiing. Warm it up and perfect for kayaking.

    Snow is water. No matter what state it is in. This is BASIC science.

    Maybe we should start calling it “snow flying” instead of just “skiing”?


  28. Lou December 19th, 2010 9:59 pm

    I was under the impression that if one drills a well on their property, they can use the water for at least residential use? Is that not so?

  29. Thomas Chapman December 19th, 2010 10:08 pm

    Well, no one said it’s going to be easy. Leveling the property rights playing field takes time. I believe what your prior commenter is suggesting is that everyone, backcountry skiers and all, take a timeout for a number of years, while we have a discussion of Bear Creek private property rights within the court system. That’s a very good idea. We don’t see 2015 as unreasonable, or even 2020 for that matter. We’ll just move forward with our little quiet title suit on the Gold Hill Road. We’ll move forward with our FOIA document request of Telluride elected officials — you know just to make sure there’s no arbitrary (read illegal) decision making going on — say with the $18.3 mil.Temptor House hung on the Bear Creek side of the ridge a thousand feet above us — or those big towers, lift buildings, the observation deck and the big starwar thing in Bear Creek with the name REVELATION BOWL painted on its top. (Hey, quick, somebody better take a look at that last road grade going up to Lift 15! How did THAT get past the Fire Code Safety and driveway boys?) Also, that big new very very wide freeway of a road up above Lift 15 on the ridge at 12,500 feet sure looks interesting.

    Lou, another thing, you know that road you see in the picture, the one approaching the Hillary steel steps near 13,000 feet?– is half that road inside the Bear Creek HCA zoning? Just wondering.

    The gentlemen certainly makes my case. And to prove the point, he can recite regulations chapter and verse. Wrap up all his stated issues in fancy paper, and it’s still the act and process of regulatory taking of private property. One other thing. If the cradle-to-grave Telluride decision makers are so concerned about the health and safety of us helpless landowners in this “you fools, everything’s a hazard Bear Creek” — why in the next breath do they promote placing all you foolhardy (chuckle, chuckle) backcountry skiers into this same “hazard”. Don’t they care about you guys?

    P.S. And yes, we’ll be filing an augmentation plan with the water court for out of priority use for our domestic water right application on Bear Creek. We’ll build the holding pond right there in that big level area on West Bear Creek, aka the “The Graveyard”.

    Thomas Chapman

  30. Mark W December 20th, 2010 12:14 am

    Adam, I agree that snow is water–just not in liquid form as I stated. Sure snow moves, be it imperceptibly or in a raging avalanche. That makes it fluid, yet simultaneously not liquid. And I understand that water rights are historically important above most all other landowner issues. I just wonder at what point a landowner–as in Bear Creek–can simply, and legally, say, “I want my property free from skiers.” Is that even remotely possible in this context? I’m a skier, so I can see that access side of the issue, but I also recognize that people sometimes want to have their private land respected as truly private.

  31. Lou December 20th, 2010 7:52 am

    Thanks Spud and Thomas, you’ve certainly given us both sides of the coin!

    I’d offer that in defense of Spud, there do indeed need to be limits on what size and type of development is done, simply because the public good has to be weighed even when it comes to private property.

    But, this balance between private property rights and public benefit is of course an eternal debate. Communists tried to solve the dilemma by eliminating private property, as did hippy communes in the 60s, and presently, many types of monsastic and spiritual traditions . You can even find it in the Bible, when Christians spoke about freely sharing their property amongst themselves, (Acts 2:44 & 4:32, while still acknowledging the 10 commandments, which obviously acknowledge private property by stating “thou shall not steal.” )

    In defense of Thomas, I’d offer that it does get tiresome when entrepreneurs and business people come up with ideas based on their own expertise and diligent study of a business specialty, then debate of the practicality of their venture is used as a way to discredit it or even deny the venture. In fact, when debating development, including the financial feasibility or basic practicality in the debate is in my opinion frequently a strawman (though it does have some validity when for example a town is depending on tax revenue from a development to fund road improvements for the development, e.g., if said development goes belly up, the town is stuck holding the bag for the street improvements, etc.)

    So, we can dicker about water rights and fire issues till the cows come home and the strawman burns, but what’s really important here is how do we get the right to ski Bear Creek without being blocked by private property? Even if Gold Hill Development and other land owners in Bear Creek are denied the right to build on their property, the private property is still there.

    Easements (prescriptive or outright purchased) across the ends of the claims, so the easements don’t split the claims? Condemnation? Work with GHD and other property owners to help them profit from skiing, so they welcome skiers with open arms? Citizens group or open space organization buy the holdings outright? Work with GHD to build the ultimate alpine lodge and hut, like what you see in Europe but almost no one has had the balls or vision to build in the U.S.?

    Water rights, smutter bites, come on people, let’s come up with solutions, not picky crystal-balling about things that could be in court for years, and go either way according to poorly written land use codes, wind blown county politicians, and complex property and water laws.

  32. Lou December 20th, 2010 10:48 am

    Just added another photo. Really, if this isn’t the coolest potential ski hut site in North America, I’ll eat my boot liners.

  33. MVA December 20th, 2010 12:04 pm

    Just curious. Is this _really_ a case of “it’s mine and i don’t want anyone playing with my toys” case?

  34. Lou December 20th, 2010 1:25 pm

    MVA, don’t understand your question. By “toys” do you mean the land or the skiing?

  35. NT December 20th, 2010 2:34 pm

    A ski area expansion into upper bear creek is something that has been in the plans since day 1. The original developers imagined a connection all the way to Silverton, creating a Euro experience. Only problem with that is putting lifts in the upper basin which is dear to many locals just the way it is. Chapman’s proposal of running a lift along the ridgeline seems a little absurd to me- serious “ridgetop pollution”. Also, his mention that skiers can get what they have now in Bear Creek by moving on to Bridal Veil is misleading. The bottom of Bridal Veil is miles from town, whereas you can literally ski right back to the lift from Bear Creek and make another lap.
    The idea of a Euro style hut (and one that’s actually affordable, not likely?) is intriguing…

  36. Lou December 20th, 2010 3:00 pm

    NT and all you guys, you need to think outside the box, your box, Chapman’s box. 10th Mountain huts are affordable. Would you pay twice that for a night in Bear Basin? There are ways. An endowed non-profit, for example…. I’ll admit it, I’m a visionary… and an optimist…

  37. Lou December 20th, 2010 6:05 pm

    A hut up there for summer hiker use would be pretty cool as well. With full micro-brew service included, of course. And with a cable car running up from Telluride for roadless access egress.

  38. gonzoskijohnny December 20th, 2010 5:52 pm

    BC hut in paradise- fantasic thinking lou!
    i visited this modern hut last spring:
    self suppored solar/wind power, comfy and nice
    OK terrain, pretty good deal with 2 meals for <$50/ngt.
    pretty sure no roads were dozed in on the surrounding glaciers.
    maybe telluride could become 'world class"….just add 6 more months of snowcover

  39. Paul December 20th, 2010 8:53 pm

    First time I’ve seen a practical use for kite skiing.

  40. Lou December 20th, 2010 9:17 pm

    Paul, excellent point! LOL

  41. Adam Olson December 21st, 2010 8:01 am

    “and when all my brethren leave, there will be no funky culture left. You’ll go to the Last Dollar Saloon, you’ll see a bunch of rich dweebs looking around at each other goin: Where is everybody? I thought this place was cool and funky.” Rasta Stevie – Blizzard of Ahhs

  42. Adam Olson December 21st, 2010 8:23 am

    Its all over in Bear Creek now. Tom Chapman schat the bed down there. There will be no endowment, there will be no hut. Just some rich guy from somewhere else coming to Colorado and ruining it for everyone, everyone except Tom Chapman. He may build his precious hut up there in the sky. WE will never get to truly enjoy that pristine area ever again. I have been witness to this my whole life.

    This will continue to happen all over the state for decades to come. As long as there are $$$ involved no progress will be made by Joe Skier.

    And honestly, I have yet to hear a truly creative solution here. I mean come on buy it from Tom!? That is the same old thing! Optimism is nice but reality is coming up fast and will mow us all over.


  43. brandon December 21st, 2010 9:45 pm

    Interesting issue. Would you be willing to explain the relation between road access to the site and the patented claims? Is it necessary for a landowner to exercise their rights in order to retain them? I.E. in the case of water rights or an easement/right of way are they perpetual and passed from one owner to the next along with the title to the land, or must they be routinely utilized to maintain the right?

  44. MVA December 23rd, 2010 1:05 pm

    the land

    i’m trying to understand how someone wants to “protect” something that, for large part, is fallow at this point in time. there’s nothing going on there….why the need to keep people off of it? should a house be built or mineral rights exercised then i can see the need for privacy or thievery. Right now there is zilch going on there.

    Basic question, why OBJECTIVELY are they saying, no you cannot go there? “just because i own it” is not an OBJECTIVE response.

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