Why Telluride's Backcountry Expansion Is Rankling Some Locals

March 30 2010, 10:57 AM

Backcountry skiers now have the opportunity to take tours from Telluride Ski Resort guides through the nearby Bear Creek and Alta Lakes areas, but not everybody is thrilled about the idea. Costing several hundred dollars each, the resort began offering the trips March 23---but only to expert skiers and snowboarders. Telluride CEO Dave Riley tells The Denver Post the one-year pilot program, recently approved by the U.S. Forest Service, puts Telluride on the same level as Jackson Hole, Wyoming, or Chamonix, France, both fabled resorts with guided tours of world-class backcountry skiing. Telluride's top-notch guides have studied the sometimes-perilous backcountry areas of the Bear Creek drainage, which can be treacherous for people who don't know the area and are mesmerized by the powder and gorgeous setting. Avalanches are frequent in the area, and Riley says the guides will be able to help riders enjoy the terrain without putting themselves---and rescue crews---in unnecessary danger. Locals, however, aren't so sure the program is a good idea, raising concerns that the approval process wasn't as transparent as it could have been (via The Watch). They also worry that the guides will violate a conservation easement held by the San Miguel Conservation Foundation, which prohibits commercialism in the Bear Creek Preserve, an area that the guides may end up traversing during their trips. Other residents say the resort's routes are unrealistic and potentially dangerous, but the resort says it has studied the issue extensively and that the tours will be a net gain for everyone involved.