Out of bounds

The weathered sign poked just above the crusty snowbank.

“No Tresp…” it read, the words disappearing beneath the fold of white.

I briefly considered the warning, looked around to make sure no one was watching and then casually pushed my skis and skins forward.

“I swear I’ll try not to ‘tresp,’” I joked aloud, floating past the partial sign and over the locked gate meant to bar my way. Midstride, my pole accidentally dinged the sign, rattling the metal and revealing the full message. But I disregarded the warning (and the property owner) and pressed on. High overhead, a series of chutes, thin air and powder-choked steeps beckoned.

I should quickly take this opportunity to mention that I consider myself to be a law-abiding citizen (mostly). I try to keep the speedometer in check; have successfully retired from the excited world of psychotropics; and merely daydream about thrilling jewel heists, stealing priceless art and antiquities, and cracking into the Pentagon mainframe.

Most importantly, I almost always avoid “tresp-ing” on anyone else’s piece of dirt. Believe it or not, I’m also a property owner (yes, the Telegraph does make some money) and am gradually beginning to understand the American Way (though I’ve proven to be a slow learner). The plain truth is, I wouldn’t want to share my personal little fall line in the Animas Valley with dirty-minded backcountry skiers. Why should I expect any less from anyone else?

But last weekend was different.

I did my best to tread lightly, avoid notice and I do promise that I left nothing but ski tracks during my quick passage. However, I also had very little remorse as I worked my way onto that forbidden ground. You see, my skin track crossed a very special piece of property (en route to a very special backcountry line), a fairly pristine section of the San Juan Mountains that’s grabbed more than a few headlines lately. That’s right folks – I knowingly crossed a small piece of the Wildcat Mine, openly trespassed and knowingly broke the rules. But before I face the ladies and gentleman of the jury, I’d like to pose a question. If the Wildcats are not going to respect the law, why should I bother to heed their “No Tresp” sign?

It all started several years ago, when the gold mining corporation from California announced that it was bringing “environmental extraction” to the La Plata Mountains. Alas, words and actions don’t always match. Since the Wildcat started prowling one of my favorite ranges, the company has shamelessly violated the rules. The Golden State miners blasted an illegal road into the side of Deadwood Mountain, lawlessly extracted gold from one of our favorite vistas and illicitly constructed a mill inside the mine far from prying eyes. Hell, someone even stole Poppy Harshman’s “famous” protest sign – “Go Mine Uranus.” Meanwhile, the company blames its actions on “confusion” and shrugs off the endless series of stop-work orders and slap-on-the-wrist fines.

In January, the Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Board finally manned up and charged the aptly named Wildcat $15 grand and change (approximately 11 ounces of Wildcat gold – a small stack of coins). After receiving the demerit, the mine’s remorse was truly touching – “We’re here to say we’re sorry.” (Ah shucks, thanks fellas). The San Diego company went back and regraded its illegal thoroughfare the following week.

This might be an appropriate time to clarify another point – I like metals and I like responsible mining. Just like everyone in the audience, I’m a user and am nowhere close to hanging up my aluminum/steel/copper/silver/titanium/gold habit. I also believe that property owners can do what they want with their property. But that’s where the problem comes in – I own the Wildcat Mine.

Actually, we all own Deadwood Mountain. Wildcat’s claims give the company nothing more than the right to responsibly mine our public lands. If they fail in that task, the miners should be sent back to the beach in San Diego, a kick-in-the-ass firmly planted in their pressed trousers.

After all, there’s more than one kind of gold on Deadwood Mountain, and as a ’Merican, I reserve the right to mine my powder stashes. And no, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I was most definitely not “confused” when I skinned my way up the peak last weekend.

I also understand that the penalty for turns can actually be pretty stiff for us mostly law-abiding backcountry skiers. But I daresay that the quality of those recent turns and the satisfaction of passing through the Wildcat’s den, were well worth the threat. I think I can weather six months in minimum security, particularly if the boys from San Diego are sharing the cell next door.

– Will Sands



In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows