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Mountain News: Should San Juans emulate Alps?



TELLURIDE, Colo. - Chunk by chunk, Telluride has assembled a very big ski area during the last decade, with much of the new terrain offering that away-from-it-all experience that has been called backcountry lite.

But an even broader vision has been espoused by a local resident named Josh Geetter. Writing in the Telluride Watch , he calls for a series of interconnected ski trails and infrastructure across the western San Juan Mountains similar to what is found in the Alps.

Peter Shelton, one of the continent's best-known ski writers and also a local resident, credits the Alps-inspired vision with being seductive, but reflects it as false vision for any number of reasons.

The seduction, explains Shelton, in a column published in the Watch , comes from memories of skiing 375 miles of interconnected trails in the Alps, almost all of it above timberline.

"And if the weather and snow conditions are good, your day might be a revelation bordering on religious experience," writes Shelton. "But it shouldn't, and in fact it can't, be replicated here."

He says the Alpine experience depends upon the proximity of many villages, not the far-flung towns of the San Juans. Too, the financing structure is different in the Alps, and there is no such thing as public land. The transportation infrastructure is much better in the Alps, liability laws much thinner, and the potential for avalanches far less.

Shelton also points out that two clusters of ski areas, the four ski areas in Aspen and an even greater number in the Park City-Brighton area of Utah, have long talked about European-type interconnections, but have never gone forward with them - because the locals were cool to the idea or the federal land managers were.

And finally, Shelton argues that the San Juans are something that the Alps are not, and which he hopes will remain: a place of truly wild places. "The Euros came late to the realization that perhaps they ought to save a few," he writes.

Meanwhile, Telluride continues to argue the merits of developing just a small part of this big region, a valley called Bear Creek, adjacent to the existing ski area. It's plenty wild and dangerous there, but with lovely ski terrain. Whether some of that avalanche danger could and should be managed by inclusion within the ski area will no doubt be debated for several years.


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