Marolt: Save an elk: Ski Burnt Mountain |

Marolt: Save an elk: Ski Burnt Mountain

Roger Marolt
Cluster Phobic

Crummy. Cruddy. Crappy. Yuck! I’m summarizing my experience on the new Burnt Mountain Glades expert ski trails at Snowmass ski area. It is some of the worst skiing I have had anywhere. Seriously! Oh yes, there was the time we climbed and skied La Plata Peak in June and ended up hiking through waist-deep slush in fir woods so dense you couldn’t see daylight tangled in the boughs, and that was horrible, but at least getting into that position was a heck of a lot of fun. As a skier and a writer, navigating the Burnt Mountain Glades leaves me with not a positive adjective or turn to give you in describing it.

OK, OK — the first five turns upon entering the glades give the unknowing skier a glimmer of hope. However, it’s completely false hope. The next half hour of your life is spent two turns at a time linking long stretches of pushing, poling, herringboning and crosscutting through a forest that is much better suited for summertime mountain biking.

The best thing I can say is that you will, I promise, eventually come to the end of the Burnt Mountain Glades should you ever wake up one fine morning completely out of your mind and think it a good idea to waste it checking them out. They mercifully conclude by connecting with the bottom of the intermediate, interminable Long Shot trail as it flattens out and drifts listlessly back to the Two Creeks lift. A long, slow chairlift ride never felt so exciting.

If you don’t end up dozing on the way back up, you might start thinking about the process that led to the Burnt Mountain Glades. For those who don’t know, some people actually put effort into making a project out of trying to create skiing in that place, where gravity has gone to get neutered. They had to fight for their right to fart around up there.

The big issues were elk and lynx. The lynx were easily taken care of by drawing red hash marks on a map designating certain parts of Burnt Mountain as lynx habitat where human trespass is not permitted unless accidental. There were no registered complaints from any lynx regarding this settlement, and so it was assumed to be agreed upon by all interested parties.

The elk were a different matter. While few people have ever even seen a lynx, everyone has seen the elk grazing in the meadows below Burnt Mountain along Owl Creek Road. It was easy to imagine them retreating back up onto the mountain for a little peace and quiet after a day of posing for tourist photos before waking up early and doing it all again the next day. Their diligent availability for us evoked sympathy, and as is self-evident, sympathy goes a long way in politics.

To make a long story short, the people speaking on behalf of the elk were ineffective. If you want to stop people from putting up fences that might hinder seasonal elk migration, that’s one thing; if you want to hinder wintertime elk migration because you think we need more places to ski, that’s something else entirely. Skiing trumps elk.

It didn’t have to be that way. Skiers can be reasonable, but asking them to forgo face shots in exchange for wildlife protection is a tried and true formula for failure. Elk awareness works to get hiking and biking trails closed in fall and springtime, to get local governments to pay exorbitant prices in acquiring open space for their habitat and to keep people from being able to build fences around their yards so that wild animals can more easily eat their cats, but the argument falls on deaf ears when it comes to skiing.

Rather than waging another losing verbal battle against development, the people who wanted to preserve Burnt Mountain should have simply organized a ski trip over the proposed terrain. Had they guided a group of politicians, Forest Service representatives and other interested people through that area on skis, I promise you things would be different today. Nobody would have been in favor of displacing elk and trees to open up that sorry terrain. Heck, if any Skico officials had actually strapped on the boards and tried to get any downhill momentum going through that area, they likely would have given up the pursuit of expansion themselves.

The argument about preserving elk habitat on Burnt Mountain, ironically, should have had nothing to do with elk. As we have found out, it should have been about the crummy, cruddy, crappy skiing. Now that we know, maybe now it could be about letting the land revert back to nature.

Roger Marolt doubts any skier has been drooling for years over the incredible potential for skiing on Burnt Mountain. Contact him at


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