Pete Inglis, the Telluride Mountain Club, And the Gold Hill Backcountry Access Gates
Words by Steve Johnson
Back in the 1980s, while employed as a ski patroller for the Telluride Ski & Golf Club, Pete Inglis realized the need for public education concerning avalanche hazard within and around the Telluride ski area and the San Juan Mountains as a whole. So Pete formed the Telluride Mountain Club around 1986, which had an initial focus on local avalanche education classes. Pete was appointed as the Telluride Mountain Club’s first president and began running avalanche education seminars for local skiers.
Peter’s timing was visionary. In February of 1987, two skiers were buried and killed by avalanche in the Delta Bowl area, and one skier was killed by avalanche in the Contention area. Peter was succeeded as president by Max Kendall in 1987, when the United States Forest Service regional forester appointed a committee to review backcountry access policy. Following a revision to the regional forester’s policy, a strict closure above Bear Creek was implemented, extending from Electra to the north. This was the only closure of its kind in Colorado. I later succeeded Max as the Club’s third President.
In the winter of 1988/1989, the Gold Hill backcountry access point was established in lieu of the ‘Mellow Yellow’ rope boundary that had preceded the closure. However, three skiers were buried and two killed by an avalanche in Temptation in February of 1989. The Gold Hill access point was closed shortly thereafter, and the strict closure remained in effect. Following this time period Andy Sawyer became the fourth President of the Telluride Mountain Club.
In the winter of 1992/1993, the USFS closure was expanded to include Bear Creek terrain accessible from Gold Hill hike-to and ski area terrain. The U.S. Forest Service later began to question all skiers exiting Bear Creek as to their point of entrance. This ‘dragnet’ effort resulted in the arrests of Matt Lewis and Himay Palmer, who had skied over from Ophir and were sprayed, cuffed and searched by a Forest Service law enforcement type. In response, we established the Free Bear Creek/Re-open Gold Hill Campaign. Fundraisers were held at the Lime Leaf (the old Swede Finn Hall now owned by the Elks). Separate federal charges against Pete Dahle in 1999 were dismissed for lack of compliance by the Forest Service with requirements to provide adequate posted public notice of area closures.
The momentum from this campaign resulted in broad public support to establish additional backcountry access points following the mid-1990s proposal to close the Prospect Ridge access (which then was approached from the top of Lift 10) into Bear Creek above Delta Bowl.
In 1996, Telluride Mountain Club proposed and participated in the creation of a San Miguel Backcountry Access Group, which included representatives of Telski, San Miguel County, San Miguel County Sheriff’s office, and the Telluride Mountain Club. Pete Inglis was one of the representatives from Telski along with Terry Fernald. Telluride Mountain Club was represented by Andy Sawyer and me. Pete had all the records and information of every avalanche accident involving a skier or snowboarder. This Group issued a report in 1997 recommending establishment of a new backcountry access point on the top of Gold Hill, and further evaluation of creating directed access points into the Contention and Regular Route areas below Lift 9. The group documented increasing boundary violations, no further deaths, more avalanche education, enhanced local avalanche and snowpack knowledge, reduction in liability exposure through recent case law, changes in property ownership in lower Bear Creek, and ski area expansion approval in support of the recommendations.
In 1994 the Forest Service adopted a backcountry access policy (R@ Supplement 2300-94-5). Following the U.S. Forest Service approval of the Telski ski area expansion proposal around 1998, Andy, Pete and I worked to implement the Supervisor’s decision to allow access points into Bear Creek from both Lift 9 and the expansion area. These new access points were studied under NEPA by an environmental impact statement, and were justified as “mitigation” for the proposed closure of the Prospect Ridge access up Palmyra Peak during the preliminary expansion phase.
Before the access points were opened, in November of 2000 Pete, Forest Service Snow Safety Ranger Ken Kovynia and I took a trip up Gold Hill Ridge past the top of Lift 6 to determine where the additional access points should be located. The attached photo shows Pete grinning and pointing to the back of my Telluride Mountain Club shirt (designed by Max’s wife Barb Loughman) which displayed the Telluride Mountain Club’s Free Bear Creek/Re-Open Gold Hill campaign logo. We were so psyched that legal backcountry access from the Telluride Ski area into Bear Creek was finally being restored.
Pete was an inspiration to all backcountry skiers. His expertise was extensive and unquestionable. He gently helped move Telski toward accepting backcountry skiing, and also provided the Telluride Mountain Club with valuable ‘inside’ information about how we could be most effective in our efforts to interact with Telski and the Forest Service. Pete stayed involved with backcountry access issues from the beginning, while never forgetting the avalanche safety educational efforts that were necessary to create and sustain that access.
The saga continues into the Chapman era and renewed closures in 2010. Now other Telluride Mountain Club members and directors including former President Josh Borof continue to fight for restoration of full access; please support them. And thank Pi every time you ride into Bear Creek from an access gate on the ski area! Without Pi’s work, you would be poaching and skiing under less safe skiers.
-Steve Johnson (May 27, 2015)