Lawyers are entering San Miguel Country Courthouse for a second week to wrangle out whether or not Tom Chapman's Gold Hill Development Company has the right to use an old mining road that crosses Telluride Ski Resort property to access its mining claims in Upper Bear Creek Valley. GHDC is arguing that Gold Hill Road has been the historical means of access since the 19th century for mining claims in the upper part of the valley, and the first week in court was spent mostly poring over old maps and interviewing all kinds of witnesses to see if that was the case, and if it were reasonable to assume people would access the upper valley via Bear Creek Road in the winter, when it runs across several large avalanche paths.
Chapman, the chief figure behind GHDC, has a bizarre history as a developer. He's had a history of buying remote and inaccesible mining claims in the Rockies and marketing them as helicopter-accessed vacation homes, hunting retreats, or simply as homesteads for recluses with stellar wilderness skills. Sometimes he actually builds a home, other times he uses the ploy to provoke steam-headed conservationist groups or the feds to buy the land off of him for several times what he nabbed them for.
More recently, Chapman and a partner bought 100 or so acres of old mining claims off the back of Telluride that a popular backcountry ski route crosses, and made the Forest Service close all access to them. This prompted the printing of bumper stickers reading "Tom Chapman is a Douchebag," but more recently the reclusive developer allowed skiers and riders to pass through after signing a waiver. He's announced plans for developing a private ski area on his claims, replete with warming hut, heli or cat skiing, and avalanche control, but has also threatened to build a private home instead. Whatever his true intent, this month the saga is calmed down a tame and likely boring debate about whether a dotted line on a circa-1936 map equates to a functioning road or simply a planned trail.