Telluride Helitrax was founded in 1982 by four Telluride friends: Mike Friedman, Mark Frankmann, David Bush, and Brian “Speed” Miller. The operation, originally named the Telluride School of Ski Mountaineering, sought to provide backcountry guiding services around Telluride.
Friedman, Frankmann, Bush and Speed quickly realized they were a bit before their time with a backcountry ski operation, so they shifted their mindset from human powered skiing to helicopter powered skiing. These guys were adamant backcountry skiers and knew they all had the skills and snow safety education necessary to start and run a heli-skiing business. They got in touch with the US Forest Service and submitted an operating plan to utilize the terrain surrounding Telluride. A few months later they were granted a Special Use Permit and began operations.
Photo: Mike Friedman/Telluride Helitrax Collection
Telluride Helitrax launched its first trip over Mountainfilm weekend in 1983 and has been in continuous operation ever since. Helitrax utilized a Bell 47 Soloy in the early years which fit a pilot plus two people. Typical groups were characterized by one guide and three clients skiing powder conditions in the winter and corn snow in the spring.
It’s rumored that the Telluride Ski Patrol pulled four skiers’ passes for skiing out of bounds which led to the formation of the Telluride School of Mountaineering. Thanks Telluride Ski Patrol class of 1982!
Photo: Mike Friedman/Telluride Helitrax Collection
Check out these cool pictures from Cathy Hartt in Montrose. She was walking her dog around 7:30 this morning when she observed this “snowslide” at Buckley Park.
Gerald & Allyn “solemnize” their marriage by the mayor of Alta.
I’m riding in the backseat of a vintage 1948 Buick RoadMaster running late for a flight at the Santiago airport. My head rings with a Pisco buzz, the result of a four hour lunch at the Tongoy with an old friend. We reviewed lies and good times that we’ve shared while skiing the Rockies and Andes and in other adventures. In my mind I compare the old ride, belching out fumes and rattling down the highway to my old friend, Señor Tim Lane. Both genuine, classic originals…..
There was tension in the voices heard over the crackle of the radio – between forecasters and the highway’s regional CDOT teams. Then, Jerry’s succinct words: “We’re in full conditions here, boys and girls,” the first hint that we might be witnessing a once-in-a-lifetime storm. But of course, at the time, none of us really knew. It was 11:00 pm, January 8, 2005, and it would be an understatement to say it was a stormy night. Forecaster Mark Rikkers was in one truck racing south towards Molas Pass, while lead forecaster Jerry Roberts and his visiting side-kick Tim Lane were headed the opposite direction up Red Mountain, checking on the rapidly deteriorating road conditions and increasing avalanche hazard threatening Highway 550, from the Uncompaghre Gorge above Ouray all the way to Coal Bank Pass – the north/south life-line of southwestern Colorado. That night, after an already long day of shooting, I was allowed to stay behind and supposedly catch up on much-needed sleep. A night that was sleepless nonetheless, especially since around here we make a habit of snuggling with our Motorolas; no avalanche forecaster worth their Pisco Sours would be sleeping when it’s dumping nearly 3″ per hour on a severely burdened continental snowpack. So there I lay, wide awake, eavesdropping. Using radio call names, Jerry Roberts is anxiously trying to reach Mark Rikkers: “3 Mary 5-1, this is 3 Mary 5-0; what’s your 20? Mark Rikkers: “Hey Jer, it’s 3 Mary 5-1, I finally made it to Molas Pass – really bad visibility; what’s happening your direction?“ Jerry: “Mark, I’m with a crazy woman stuck in a snowbank near the Muleshoe turn (below a particularly nasty avalanche path) – will need help getting her out so we can shut this highway down. Can’t reach the Red Mountain plow driver – can you try radioing from your location and send him our way?” Mark: “10-4, I’ll give it a try.”
So, trolling for something to do, I ventured an earnest call to Jerry (knowing it was probably a mistake). “Uhh, 3 Mary 5-0, this is 3 Mary 5-2; is there anything I can do from here?” Pause. Jerry, with the whole world listening and a storm puking 3″ an hour, replied, “Thanks 5-2, uhh yea…when we get this lady out we’ll be escorting her back to Silverton for the night, but she might not be able to find a place to stay…doesn’t speak very good English, think she’s Romanian…you think she could camp on your sofa for the night?” I pause, suspicious. “Uhh, yea, sure, I guess so.” Jerry: “Great! And one other thing…I think she’s from the circus…and I think she has a monkey with her.”
Long pause. “Did you say MONKEY?” Jerry: “Ya, I think it’s a MONKEY. Will your dog be okay with that?”
~Revisiting Cliff’s place on the Mesa after 11 years and changed hands; for some reason I dug into a pile of stones we stacked up to support his prayer flag pole raised so many years ago… and there was his Tibetan Mani stone…..~
L to R~~~Andy Gleason, Jerry Roberts, Pat Ahern, Denny Hogan, Mike Friedman, Speed Miller
This morning I said to my wife, Dana, I need to check Jerry’s blog to see if he has his monsoon forecast out. It seemed past time. I logged in (early), half way down my cup of joe, but nothing new about impending summer drenchings. Of course, I then perused the latest posts to catch up on Jerry World. Then, after a couple of years of enjoying the Report, I somewhat impulsively submitted my application for a subscription. Why now? As Tom Robbins might have speculated: it must have been the twitch of an ancient frog leg in Timbuktu that made me click through my new level of devotion. And, then, within minutes, my just reward. Ding! went my computer and up popped your monsoon forecast. Serendipity? A cosmic tongue wag sent via the wispy morning breezes from our county road to yours? One can never know how these things happen, and should probably leave it all alone lest a bruja was involved.
But, thank you for your prompt reply to my telepathic request.
William Steding, PhD
Center for Presidential History
Southern Methodist University
‘Seldom Seen’ Denny Hogan has finally been freed (end of May) and is happily retired from his snow ranger position with the feds… Below are photos from his younger days working in the San Juans. Thank you George Corn for the photos from the San Juans 40 years ago….
Capital City, Co. near Lake City
Denny with Mike Friedman and George Gardner later in life in the San Juans………
City of Rocks
Each encounter I have with Jerry O, usually to wander around the mountains, I come away with something new, a different way of looking at the world. Dialogue shared on books, film, art, music or old bars like the Family Dog in Berkeley (where we both spent time watching New Riders of the Purple Sage or some other Bay area band)… I depart wondering how someone becomes so creative? I had a conversation with mountain roshi, Peter Shelton, and he offered; “It’s amazing to me how Jerry, a wonderfully gifted sculptor that works in 3D, can produce such beautiful paintings in 2D after a single painting class.” Local painter extraordinaire, Susie Billings called Jerry O’s paintings “Inspired!”
Each painting was produced in an afternoon studio session at The Ah Haa School of Art. – J.R
In the ceramics studio at Berkeley, the spirit of misrule reigned. Under the cigar chomping,
whiskey-swilling tutelage of Peter Voulkos, we were continually challenged to push out
beyond conventional notions of what is beautiful. “Death & Dump Ware” was the result of
having to make a teapot in under two minutes. Art & aesthetics discussion was ignored;
making stuff was the only thing that mattered. “You might try a little something here”, was
With Robert Weatherford at Ah Haa we have been similarly urged to push against our notions
of beauty, discard our need for control, challenge our academic preconceptions, upset the
apple cart of Art and maybe find our authentic voice.
I’m often reminded of Henry Miller’s suggestion to “Paint as you like & die happy”.
As for subject matter, the sign in English on a Japanese music store in Nihonmatsu,
“Music is Vitamin of the Heart”, pretty much sums it up.
- Jerry Oyama 2013
l to R, Davie Agnew, Paul Crooks, Denny Hogan and Matt Wells. The early 70’s (nineteen) with stolen OB van~~ winters end in the Colorado San Juan mountains
Mr. Lane was assisted in his weekly recycling efforts by Fred, Silverton’s ‘Dump Monk’
The photo was taken in about ’78 up along I-80 west of Laramie in a snow fence wind drift, probably in April. The Bureau of Standards was testing their FMCW radar which can remotely determine snow water content. I first did a ram profile then pulled the tube so that a backhoe could back in and do the pit wall’ about 15’. I then inserted the density tubes to verify SWE. The densities were so high that it was more comfortable to use an electric chainsaw that hacking away at the pit wall with a shovel. Don Bachman
Profesor Tim Lane, Poet in Residence-Bar National – Santiago Chile, Avalanche forecaster/consultant for the Chilean mining industry, CDOT/CAIC intern forecaster (at 62) & legendary San Juan ski pioneer….
Ski cultures are territorial, especially the old ones. The locals band up like gorillas claiming large swaths of alpine territory. The troops get protective when others invade. Guarding the stash can become a way of life. The local chiefs are elusive and operate in the shadows. These full-timers are the real silverbacks. The local tribe knows more than god about the terrain and roams in the less obvious. Their timing always seems perfect as you gaze upon their tracks from a distant ridge and wonder. They lurk in the areas that we all want. They arrive there while we are drinking coffee. They have spent a lifetime looking for these places and have discovered them. The lines are not documented but recorded in the minds and verbal histories of the privileged. This is their land, their terrain, and you are a visitor. You might see their tracks, but sightings are rare. Tracking them can be dangerous prospect. They might feel hunted and reactions are unpredictable. You should stick to what you can ski from the road.
Lisa Issenberg – Artist, “Former” Ophircan and CDOT groupie.
This tribal phenomenon is rich in the Southwestern Colorado San Juan Mountains. This area is home to one of the oldest ski cultures in the country and is also one of the least developed. For example, there is no formal written documentation or publication of first descents and features are often unnamed; most significant information has transcended the generations through verbal history. At 13,000ft plus, alpine ridge crests develop distinctly segregated circles that separate the populations. This cultural division has always reminded me of the evolutionary history of minority groups in Southwestern China. Large groups of people separated by terrain that after thousands of years have distinctly diverged languages and traditions. Silverton, Ophir, Ouray, Ridway, Durango, Telluride all have separate castes of usual suspects operating in their respective terrain. They even have different names for the same futures seen from opposite sides. The explanation for this is simple. The terrain is constructed in such a way that discourages travel. One could ski tour from Silverton to Telluride faster than one can drive there. The biodiversity is limited. So is information sharing.
Asking about sking around the verbal history of the area is vague. I have picked up scraps of information in coffee shops, taverns, and road cuts. My casual research tells me the early ski explorers in this avalanche stricken terrain were some of the nations first avalanche forecasters hired by the state of Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) and National Forest Service. Their job was to keep Highway 550 open for commerce. This effort was not in vain since during the winter of 2006 – 2007, CDOT triggered 464 avalanches with explosives for mitigation purposes. 159 of the controlled slides impacted Colorado highways. Veteran CDOT forecaster Jerry Roberts is a local living legend and was part of the first the group responsible for most of original exploration and naming of the back country zones in the Silverton area in the late 60’s, 70’s & 80’s.
Due to the correlation with avalanche mitigation several of the ski runs here were named after slide paths that hit the highway. The only ski beta sold for years was the Colorado Department of Transportation slide path map. This is the most intact record of the San Juan ski history.
The passes are still today mitigated by CDOT with artillery from a vintage Korean War howitzer. One of the culprit paths is named “The Battleship” in its honor. Outside of these documented paths the consistency of names drift. Which name you use will indicate just how long you have been here. Roberts’s crew skied most of the drainages for better understanding of the continental snow pack. Roberts stated ”We were not special skiers in any way, we were just the only ones exploring.”
The snow pack is technical. More, it is intriguing. To complicate matters there are six to seven micro climates in the San Juans that manipulate the weather. This is dependant on how the storm tracks into the range and how the mountains alter the air masses relative to the complex terrain. Telluride will get 15” and Silverton will accumulate 2” yet the towns are 12 miles apart as the crows fly. Truthfully, the opposite trend is typically the case, but Silverton wants Telluride to believe just what it needs to. The local wind effect here makes it difficult to find the stashes at first. The wind here is the most powerful factor. Large wind events will strip windward faces to the ground. The snowpack will be transported in its entirety to the leeward aspect. This all making perfect avalanche country.
Notorious San Juan Desperado
Contemporary bands of elusive locals from Silverton are the contributors to recent King Lines. Not naming names to protect the innocent, they can be found all living on one of the most unassuming back alleys on the other side of the tracks in the town of Silverton. They are a group of unsung heroes without team name or sponsor. They are tackling the never skied bold lines San Juans 13K peaks and taking the secret home with them. A few of them are responsible for a descent of Hunter in the Alaska Range. Mount Hunter is a entry test piece of American mountaineering to climb let alone ski. They sneak into the deep corners of the San Juans, redefine the standard, and slip back into town to saddle up to the Miners Tavern. That’s the way its been done here for decades and that’s the way the trend seems to remain. The most common trend in the terrain accessed from the Highway 550 these days is the presence of more people. The rapid pulses of public interest in back country skiing due to the advances in gear, media, and its availability are making places like the San Juans more accessible.
Helitrax, San Juan Ski Co, Adventure Guides are all services bringing the public into the snow. Andrew Klotz is the author of new guidebook “Cold Smoke” writes about San Juan backcountry and showcases 25 classic tours of the area. This book has had little effect on the true secrets of the area covering only few of roadside classics. Recently the town of Silverton has transformed from a mining boom town and has seen a resurgence as a ski advocates epicenter. The Elementary School even has PE classes on skis for local kids. The sleepy town hosts collections of boutique manufactures like Venture Snowboards and Skis, Mountainboy Sleds, Montanya rum distillery, and the Silverton Brewing Co. The town’s exports have become cold powder, skis, split boards, local brews, and kicksleds
All of these factors are encouraging new activity to what is easily seen from the road and the ski are, bringing a new resident culture to the range with it. Yet, the core tribes of the range are still skiing the lines that have never seen second descents by outsiders. The silverbacks’ wish to keep it that way. Approach at your own risk.
Written story by OR Brand Ambassador By Mark Allen, November 19, 2012.
Tashi Hackett (son of proud father Dr. Peter Hackett) came in third place this weekend in Telluride in the Freeride Tour, and won the overall Mountain Award, given to the kid with the best spirit. Cool!
Peter Lev going over tidal charts with Friedman posse on RMP.
Fundraiser for the George Gardner Scholarship Fund~~3/7/14~~Providing Wilderness Education for Ouray County Youth
For more information about the GeorgeGardnerScholarshipFund
RIDGWAY – Friday, March 7, Jim Nowak of Ridgway gives a presentation about his back-to-back “old school” ascents of El Capitan’s North American and Mescalito Walls, way back in 1994.
The event takes place from 7-9 p.m. at the Sherbino Theater in Ridgway, and is a fundraiser for the George Gardner Scholarship Fund.
Nowak is an avid climber and adventurer who has accomplished plenty of impressive feats in his lifetime, including co-founding the dZi Foundation that is transforming thousands of lives in Nepal. But his 1994 adventure on Yosemite’s iconic granite monolith stands out as one of his all-time favorite capers.
He did it with a climbing buddy named David Nettle, a well-known American mountaineer, rock climber and adventurer from Tahoe whose career has encompassed mountains in Nepal, Alaska, Europe, South America and North America.
“He’s still a hard charger, and a ferocious alpinist,” Nowak said.
The two had never climbed together before their Yosemite adventure, “but we tied a rope on and spent the next five days climbing the North American Wall,” Nowak recalled. “When we were done with that, we drove down to Sequoia National Park, walked in 17 miles, and then did the first ascent of Angel Wings [an 1,800-foot granite wall at the entrance to the Valhalla Cirque] and then walked out, and then drove back to Yosemite, and then jumped on Mescalito, where we spent the next seven days. It was a pretty good link-up for us.”
It’s just the kind of adventure that the late George Gardner would have loved. The Ridgway-based outdoor educator had a simple, yet profound, philosophy: Get outside and play.
“He was a great believer in the outdoor classroom,” said his wife Colleen Gardner, who helped found the George Gardner Scholarship Fund after her husband died in a mountaineering accident on the Grand Teton in 2008. The fund’s largest endowment is provided through the Ouray County Winter Sports Swap, held each October at the Ouray County 4-H Event Center, which typically raises $6,000-8,000 annually.
Last year, the fund (now a licensed Colorado nonprofit organization that operates under the umbrella of the Telluride Foundation) assisted six college-bound students from Ridgway Secondary School, helped another spend a day with Exum Mountain Guides on a rock climbing course and provided the opportunity for a special needs student from Ouray to participate in several Telluride Adaptive Sports programs throughout the summer, in addition to its ongoing mission to underwrite the Ridgway Elementary School Learn to Ski Program and provide scholarships for Ridgway seniors participating in the senior Outward Bound River Trip that Gardner started many years ago.
This year, GGSF board members decided to re-align their mission with Gardner’s vision, focusing solely on providing financial assistance to Ouray County teens ages 14 to 19 who wish to pursue alternative/nontraditional educational opportunities or self-designed adventures – and especially outdoor educational programs. Examples of programs that will be supported are Outward Bound, National Outdoor Leadership Programs, and accredited avalanche and guide programs.
But really, anything goes, as long as it fits within the scope of the George Funds’ mission. As GGSF Board President Jerry Roberts said, “We’d love it if a group of kids came to us with an idea for their own self-directed adventure to go backpacking in the Weminuche for five days.”
Best of all, the board has done away with deadlines for applying for funds, which will now be awarded on an ongoing basis as new applications role in.
“Deadlines tend to paralyze people,” Roberts explained. “Especially 16-year-olds. We are just looking for kids with enthusiasm. I hope there are kids out there to get excited about stuff like this.”
Roberts, who has worked as an avalanche forecaster in the San Juan mountains for the past three decades, met Gardner in the mid-1970s when the two worked together as Outward Bound instructors near Marble, Colo.
“He was such an inspiration,” Roberts said, recalling the huge grin on Gardner’s face the first time they met. “That’s what George was about. Getting kids to experience the outdoors so they could become better people.”
Roberts and Nowak, who is on the GGSF advisory board, hope that the upcoming “El Cap, Back-to-Back” presentation will not only help fill the George Fund’s coffers, but also serve to “let people know what we are doing. We have been under the radar,” Roberts said.
Entry is $10 and there will also be a silent auction featuring goodies from Marmot and local supporters. But most of all, audience members should expect a good, old-fashioned climbing story, augmented by some great photos. “Just don’t expect any GoPro video,” Nowak grumbled.
Remember, this is “old-school,” folks.
For more information about how to support the George Gardner Scholarship Fund, or how to apply for a scholarship, visit GeorgeGardnerScholarshipFund.org