Telluride: Prospecting for Powder

gold hill

Telluride, CO, Feb. 15, 2001--A crisp click greets my ears as I step into my bindings. The helicopter's whir fades into the bluebird sky above Telluride, CO. Behind me, the southern edge of this narrow crest hastens toward the floor of Magic Valley. Mount Wilson rises rugged and serene further to the southwest. To my right, Prospect Ridge and Mount Quail Ridge bridge a gap into the basin at the foot of Palmyra Peak and the outflow of her notorious chutes. My ski tips rest atop a wind-hewn crest and several hundred yards of unbroken powder.

I have not died and gone to skier's heaven. I am perched on Bald Mountain, the western terminus of Telluride's Prospect Basin expansion, which will nearly double the size of the ski area, adding 733 acres of skiable terrain. The expansion may eventually make Telluride the premier destination in North America for accessible backcountry skiing, surpassing the likes of Whistler, BC, Squaw Valley, CA, and Jackson Hole, WY.

Telluride's permit boundaries were established in 1971 when ski area promoter Billy Mahoney Sr. initially envisioned the resort. Test cuts for trails at Telluride first took place in Prospect Basin, now Telluride's final frontier. For the past 25 years the ski area boundaries have remained unchanged as Telluride has concerted its efforts on internal mobility rather than external expansion.

Expansion plans were revived in 1992 and submitted to the Forest Service for approval. After seven years of scrutiny and contemplation of environmental impact, the Forest Service approved the expansion of Telluride's lift-served terrain into Prospect Basin, Gold Hill, and San Joaquin Basin. Albeit lift-served, this terrain will be preserved as it has naturally developed- a collection of tight glades, walled chutes, and open swaths of powder.

Initial expansion plans include two lifts that should be completed by the summer of 2001. The Gold Hill Lift will run straight up Gold Hill for 1,500 vertical feet, dropping skiers off at a peak formerly accessible only by a twenty-minute climb. The Prospect Bowl Lift will carry skiers 1,010 vertical feet to the previously inaccessible Prospect Ridge, opening up Bald Mountain and a series of intermediate and expert chutes along the ridge.

The second phase of expansion includes three more lifts and two restaurants. The San Joaquin Lift will follow the eastern ridge of Palmyra Peak for 700 vertical feet, giving skiers access to the Bear Creek Canyon backcountry. The second will connect the top of Lift 10 to novice terrain going to the bottom of the Prospect Bowl Lift. A final lift is planned, contingent upon the ski patrol's ability to control avalanches, to access Palmyra Peak. Restaurants are planned for the tops of Lift 10 and Gold Hill.

Next winter, intermediate skiers will not have to stare longingly at experts enjoying virgin snow while they themselves are confined to tracked-out bump runs and crowded groomers. The Prospect Basin expansion is one for all snowriders to enjoy and marvel.