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LaChappelle remembered for grace, fluidity

By Allen Best SILVERTON, Colo. – In her own way, Dolores LaChapelle may have been one of the original ski bums.

By Allen Best

SILVERTON, Colo. – In her own way, Dolores LaChapelle may have been one of the original ski bums. LaChapelle spent her life among the snows of the West, from Banff to Aspen, and from Alta to her final decades in Silverton, where she died recently at the age of 82.

But to call her a ski bum — a term actually of admiration, not condescension — does not fully convey what she was about. She was a thinker and a writer and a stirrer of the pot. “She moved easily in a world of big ideas, just as she skied fearlessly in deep powder snow, letting the flow take her down the mountain. Leaving us to follow in her tracks,” wrote one of her friends, Art Goodtimes, in The Telluride Watch.

She was born in Louisville, Ky., but grew up in Denver, learning to ski in the very first days of mechanized skiing, when rope tows and then chairlifts were erected along the Continental Divide. After World War II and graduating Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Denver, she taught skiing at Aspen and then, as wife of avalanche and snow science pioneer Ed LaChapelle, skied at Alta.

LaChapelle was credited with the first ski ascents of chisel-shaped, glacier-covered Mt. Columbia, the second highest peak in the Canadian Rockies, and Snow Dome, the hydrographic apex of the continent. Both are located in Jasper National Park, on the Alberta-British Columbia border.

“I wish you could have been with her on the morning after a new powder snowfall as she was hurrying out the door of our home in Alta to embrace the day,” remembered her son, David, writing in the Silverton Standard. “She had little use for niceties as a most important appointment was to be kept: the exhilaration and free fall of dancing with millions of ice crystals under the sun in the mountains.”

He added: “This embrace of motion, mountain and life swept my mother into a deep affirmation of the world of the spirit, obvious in her delight and excitement at being able to once again turn her skis down the mountain and let go.”

Moving to Silverton, by herself, she made a living writing books, publishing seven altogether from 1969 to 1996. She wrote often of the connection between the external and internal landscapes linked in powder skiing.

“Beyond the scholar, writer, and intellectual was a woman who was passionate about wanting others to experience the connection she felt,” said her son. “This was her service, which she performed every day of her life. She was not always gentle in this service, but she was always fierce with her love, for she had little time for the ways in which we humans conspire to ignore the pulse of life as it flows through the earth, the trees, the sky and the beating of our hearts.”

Backcountry skier Missy Votel in 2002 made a pilgrimage to visit LaChapelle. Writing in the Durango Telegraph, she explained why: “In certain circles, ‘Deep Powder Snow,’ by Dolores LaChapelle, had become a cult classic. If I truly strived to understand snow, in all its forms and functions, I was told, I had to read it. Soon the small paperback became tattered and worn from my repeated visits. Not only was LaChapelle a pioneering female backcountry skier, but she did it with grace and fluidity that only comes from surrendering oneself completely to the mountain. All on skies not much more technical than your average barrel slat.”

Added Votel: “Her words stuck with me over the years, bringing comfort and courage in conditions thick and thin, steep and deep.”

In her later years, LaChapelle became an advocate of deep ecology, a philosophical movement, and founded the Way of the Mountain Learning Center. She also taught tai chi. As she aged, her hip gave out, and then the replacement was also giving out. She also suffered heart problems, but chose not to move to a lower altitude, where her life might have been prolonged.

“She stayed because she chose to live out her life force in a hymn to the mountains which had so inspired her throughout her life,” explained David.

An ex-Silverton resident, Don Bachman, now of Bozeman, Mont., remembers her this way: “The San Juans were her habitat; where she chose to live and learn from and give to. She taught us to look at the whole from within; not as spectators. Her life was well lived and there is a hole in the heart of the mountain; it will heal but not before we feel the emptiness.”


California ski resorts sold to CNL

TRUCKEE, Calif. – Booth Creek Ski Holdings, formerly of Vail and now based in Truckee, has sold two of its ski resorts, Northstar-at-Tahoe and Sierra-at-Tahoe, but will continue to operate them. Buying the properties was Florida-based CNL Income Properties. Also included in the $170 million purchase were Loon Mountain in New Hampshire and The Summit-at-Snowqualmie in Washington State.

In 2004 CNL acquired 80 per cent ownership of commercial properties at nine Intrawest resort villages, including Creekside at Whistler and the Village at Squaw Valley. That deal did not include resort lodging. Intrawest maintained 20 per cent ownership and its property management role.

Booth Creek continues to own two other New Hampshire resorts, Cranmore Mountain and Waterville Valley.

Julie Maurer, from Booth Creek, told the Sierra Sun the main repercussion of the sale will be increased capital for operations and development. Booth Creek has been engaged in extensive real estate development at the Truckee-area resorts, some of it in conjunction with East West Partners.

Booth Creek was formed by George Gillett, former owner of Vail Associates, in the mid-1990s after he emerged from bankruptcy and re-entered the meat-packing business. He and a long-time business partner, Jeff Joyce, along with two of Gillett’s former employees at Vail, Chris Ryman and Elizabeth Cole, now own Booth Creek. Gillett is chairman of the company, Ryman the president, and Cole the chief financial officer.


Sun Valley joins pact

SUN VALLEY, Idaho – Sun Valley has become the latest ski town to join the Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. Signing the agreement obligates the town to meet the provisions of the Kyoto Protocol.

As of mid-January, 369 municipalities, representing more than one-sixth of the U.S. population, had joined the pact. Included are a good many ski towns: Colorado’s Aspen, Basalt, Durango, Frisco, Gunnison, Steamboat Springs, and Telluride; Utah’s Park City; Wyoming’s Jackson; and New Mexico’s Ruidoso.

“We need to do our part,” said Sun Valley Mayor Jon Thorson. “We need to stand up and be counted, and this is a good starting point.”

If Sun Valley keeps its commitment, it is supposed to do a baseline of the community’s emissions for greenhouse gases for 1990, then aim to reduce those emissions by 7 per cent by the year 2012.

What can communities do to reduce greenhouse gases? A town government can put its own house in order, by increasing the average fuel efficiency of the municipal fleet of vehicles. The mayors’ plan also recommends greater urban density and walkable communities.

Heating and electrical use in buildings is responsible for even more greenhouse gases than transportation. As such, energy efficiency is a major component of all strategies to slow global warming.

“Looking at the goals, they’re big,” said Councilwoman Ann Agnew. “What they (the agreement) ask us to do is going to be inconvenient and on some levels expensive.”

Councilman Nils Ribi stressed the urgency of action. He cited a study done on behalf of Park City Mountain Resort that predicts a significantly shortened ski season within just 30 years. “However, in 100 years, if we don’t have a ski resort, that’s the least of our problems,” he said.

Sun Valley last year tried to cap the size of homes at 10,000 feet, but withdrew the plan after very vocal opposition.


Easier said than done

GUNNISON, Colo. – Last year the town of Gunnison signed the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. How well is it doing to live up to this new commitment to reduce greenhouse emissions to less than those in 1990?

“Don’t ask,” responds George Sibley, a member of the committee that is rewriting Gunnison’s master plan. “I feel truly confounded by how difficult it is to generate specific objectives and action steps that say, in effect, ‘over the next 20 years we are going to change the way we live in Gunnison.’”

Sibley, writing in Colorado Central Magazine, pointed out that Gunnison and Crested Butte get great amounts of sunshine, but have few solar collectors. “Virtually everything we need in the coldest place in the United States comes into the valley in big trucks or pipes,” he points out. Too, he notes, the economy depends a great deal on “SUV tourism, electric ski lifts, and methane-farting cows.”

To meet even the Kyoto reductions by 2025, never mind the 50 per cent reduction the scientists say we need, according to Sibley, there is only one solution: entirely phase out the local use of the automobile.


Ban on exterior heat mulled

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – The difficulty of containing the expansion of carbon is evident in a Crested Butte discussion currently underway. Following Aspen’s lead, Crested Butte has taken aim at global warming, vowing informally to reduce or at least slow its demand for electricity. Burning of coal to make electricity is one of the primary causes of greenhouse gas emissions.

Aspen has allowed home-owners an energy budget, and if they exceed that budget, they can pay in-lieu of fees for such things as heated driveways, heated outdoor swimming pools. The money is then diverted to energy efficiency and alternative energy projects elsewhere in the broader Aspen community.

But Crested Butte rejected in-lieu fees, and instead is drawing the line on what is considered extravagant energy use. One provision would require that any building of more than 20,000 square feet meet LEED (Leadership in Energy and Design) certification, which requires water and energy conservation. Another would increase mandatory insulation for new roofs.

Other provisions, reports the Crested Butte News, are more controversial: a ban on snowmelt systems for residential driveways, sidewalks and roofs, although they would be allowed on public thoroughfares if powered by alternative energy sources.

Alan Bernholtz, the mayor, said private outdoor heating tends to be convenience, rather than an issue of public safety. But local resident Josephine Nelson said climbing on roofs to shovel snow is not safe. And instead of a snowmelt system, people might use chemicals. And what about the costs to elderly or disabled residents who cannot physically remove snow from roofs themselves nor afford to hire others to do so?

Bernholtz believes that the old-fashioned snow removal method has worked for more than a century. “I don’t feel like we’re backing people into a corner by not allowing them to heat their roofs,” he said.


Marines learn to ski

TRUCKEE, Calif. – The famed 10 th Mountain Division trained during World War II at Camp Hale, near what is now Vail. But even before the fighting ended in Europe, the Army was dismantling the camp.

But soldiers have continued to be trained in the ways of mountains, and warfare. Truckee’s Moonshine Ink reports that the U.S. Marine Corps has been training since 1951 north of Yosemite National Park near Sonora Pass, in one of the coldest pockets of the Sierra Nevada. There, Marines are taught everything from swift water rescue and avalanche awareness to rock climbing and skiing. More than 90 per cent of manoeuvres are done at night.

Trainees, reports the newspaper, learn to ski on the famed “white Rockets,” 1950-vintage Asna skis, complete with cable bindings and leather boots. Skiing is taught in four weeks.

One of the Marine instructors, Capt. Clint Culp, recently returned from a seven-month tour in Afghanistan. “I was deployed near a spur of the Hindu Kush in Afghanistan,” he said. “You’d be amazed how much it resembles parts of the Eastern Sierra.”


Train deals with coal smoke

DURANGO, Colo. – Increasingly over the years, people in Durango have become cranky about the anything-but-romantic smoke coming from the coal-powered steam locomotives that take excursionists to Silverton on summer days. Last year, a study was commissioned to plot solutions. Now, the owner of the Denver and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad has promised $1 million during the next five years to implement some of the solutions. The Durango Telegraph reports that the study, by Wasatch Railroad Contractors, outlines 26 options. Among the ideas is keeping the engines of the locomotives burning at night by feeding them sawdust briquettes.


Pellets promoted

KREMMLING, Colo. – Sawmills have come and gone during the last 60 years in Kremmling, a town of 1,200 people that sits in the triangle between Steamboat Springs, Vail, and Winter Park. Now, a new $10 million plant is being constructed that aims to convert the beetle-killed trees in surrounding forests into sawdust and then pellets.

The entrepreneur, Mike Mathis, is now drumming up interest in installing boilers to burn the pellets from his factory. He estimates it will cost $10,000 to install such a wood-pellet heating system in a home.

Mathis argues that wood pellets, purchased in bulk, produce heat far more economically than other forms of energy. He figures $9.09 per million British thermal units for bulk pellets, $10.30 for bagged pellets, $14 for natural gas, and $21.47 for propane.

While many ski communities converted to natural gas burners to avoid the pollution of wood-burning stoves, Mathis has a new argument in favor of wood. First, the newer generation of stoves burns wood cleanly, resulting in fewer emissions. But with the growing concern about global warming, Mathis argues that this is a carbon-neutral technology. He says that burning the pellets does not put any carbon dioxide into the environment that wouldn’t naturally be emitted when trees decompose.

The Vail Daily reports that Mathis, whose company is called Confluence Energy, was in Vail to demonstrate the operations of a boiler to local governments and builders. His sawmill sits about halfway between Vail and Grand Lake, an area where up to 90 per cent of lodgepole pine may be killed by pine beetles.


Not too cold for bark beetles

TELLURIDE, Colo. – If this is the worst that winter can deliver, it’s far from enough to brunt the epidemics of bark beetles in forests of the West. While temperatures have reached 20 to 30 below in areas, even 35 below in a few locations, the cold has been too short-lived to have any telling effects on the beetles, which remain burrowed inside trees.

Roy Mask, one of the most knowledgeable entomologists for the Forest Service in the West, told The Telluride Watch that the temperatures of 20 to 30 below must last a week to kill the beetles.

For example, one beetle epidemic that began in 1939 in the Flat Tops area of Colorado peaked in 1950. That story was recounted in the spring 2004 issue of Forest Magazine. While the U.S. Forest Service has declared war on the beetles, hiring large crews to douse trees with poison and opening up large areas to timber harvesting, none of the efforts have blunted the advance of the beetles. What caused the beetles to vanish almost overnight was horribly cold weather, 49 below zero in the town of Kremmling and 56 below in Eagle.


Snocat driver dies

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – A snow groomer at Crested Butte Mountain Resort died when he either got out or fell out of his Snocat and got pulled under the track. The victim, Chris Mikesell, had grown up in Kansas, then studied at Western State College in Gunnison. He was a whitewater raft guide by summer, and also dabbled in construction, but managed to ski 90 to 100 days each winter. This was his first winter as a snow groomer, reports the Crested Butte News.


Park City skier never slowed down

PARK CITY, Utah – Among this season’s ski fatalities was a master ski racer, Brett Pendleton, who was 49 and died when he crashed in terrain near one of the Park City Mountain Resort trails.

A lineman for an electrical utility, he was remembered as a life-long skier and lover of adventure sports. He had, for example notched 7,500 jumps in his life as a skydiver, paraglider, and hang glider.

But he was especially passionate about skiing, his widow said. “He was the most beautiful skier on the mountain,” Shawna Pendleton told The Park Record. “You had to ski 9 to 4 with no lunch, no drinks. My poor kids had to do that their whole lives.”


Ginn sees worker housing

RED CLIFF, Colo. – A $1 billion high-end real estate project with up to 1,700 housing units is being proposed for old mining properties found in the triangle between Vail, Minturn, and Red Cliff.

The developer, Ginn Co., is seeking to annex the property to Minturn, but the unfolding plan is sure to have huge impacts on Red Cliff, an even smaller community. Plans submitted by the company to Minturn propose 80 to 100 employee homes on the outskirts of Red Cliff, in a drainage called Willow Creek.

Visiting Red Cliff, the Vail daily found a mixed reaction. “It’s not fair to Red Cliff to make Minturn make those decisions on our borders,” said Jim Bradford, a former town trustee. But Tim Parks, who owns most of the town’s businesses, likes the idea of more people with paychecks living on the edge of Red Cliff. “We need more people with good year-round paying jobs,” he said.


Global warming exaggerated

DURANGO, Colo. – The opinion about climate change is somewhat short of unanimous among scientists. Among those scientists tilting against the global warming windmill is Roger Cohen, a physicist with training at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a doctorate from Rutgers.

Cohen, who lives in Durango, charges that global warming data is distorted by experts. For example it was reported on Dec. 15 that the warming trend continued in 2006. In fact, last year was “preliminarily the coolest in the past five years,” he told the Durango Herald. “Statistically, global temperatures have remained static from 1998 on.”

He concedes that the glacier on Mt. Kilimanjaro has been receding for 200 years, but says the rate of melting has slowed in the last 50 years. He also argues that the computer models used to predict global warming during the 21 st century are not useful.

Cohen also disputes the concept of peak oil. The idea is that the world has or soon will reach peak production of oil, even as demand for oil ramps up. While a geophysicist named Marion King Hubbert did correctly predict peak U.S. oil production in 1970, the diminished level of production is far higher than what Hubbert had predicted.

“If I’m right, (carbon dioxide) emissions will peak by mid-century, and by the year 2100 the world will have a nearly emission-less energy system.”