Text Size

Site Search

Public Lands

HW Winter2018 FINAL2cover

Colorado's public lands are faced with new challenges but water and land management depend on working together. Read about the relationship between water and land in Colorado and how Coloradans are converging to restore Colorado's public lands in the Spring 2018 issue of Headwaters magazine.

Browse articles and find a flipbook of the magazine here.

Connecting the Drops

connectingdropslogo4.1Bringing you the reporting you crave over the radio airways with extras and archives on our website. Visit the audio archives or listen to the latest story on the connection between Colorado's forests, watersheds, and forest fires:

IMG 20180402 101801web

Water Education Colorado

Paul Testwuide, Vail Resorts Inc.

By Allen Best

Paul Testwuide vividly remembers December 1976. Skies were distressingly blue, the slopes melancholy brown. The lifts at Vail remained idle, the lodges, stores, and restaurants empty. All awaited the winter's first snow.

As Christmas approached, the ski company sponsored a soup kitchen of stew and spaghetti dinners for seasonal employees still without work and paychecks. It was, remembers Testwuide, a grim time for Vail and most other resorts. At that time, few Colorado resorts had snowmaking.

‘Once you go through something like that, you don't ever want to do so again,’ says Testwuide, Vail Resorts senior vice president. ‘It hurts everyone from the people making the beds to the people who own the ski company. It's a disaster for everybody.’

After the winter of 1976-77, still the benchmark for winter drought in Colorado, Vail and most other major ski resorts extensively invested in snowmaking equipment. Ski area attendance was growing in double digits annually. Vail and other resorts had become too big to rely solely on fickle weather patterns that allowed Thanksgiving openings only half the time. Now, all but two of Colorado's 25 ski areas have snowmaking, and ski season reliably lasts from Thanksgiving until April.

According to Colorado Ski Country, the ski industry currently contributes some $7 billion in direct and indirect expenditures to the Colorado economy every year. The water resources required to make that happen are a critical, yet perhaps often over-looked, piece of that economic gain. For Vail Resorts, Testwuide was the visionary, the person who foresaw early on the need to methodically install an extensive network of high country reservoirs and pumping stations to provide long-term water supply for snowmaking and community needs.

‘Weed,’ as he is called by friends, arrived in Vail 40 years ago, during the resort's second season. He first joined the trail crew, then ski patrol. His youthful good-humored mischief is still legendary in the community lore. Yet almost from the beginning, he took a strong interest in snowmaking, and hence water. After a second major drought in 1980-81, Testwuide supervised the resort's first water storage initiative, a modest on-mountain reservoir.

‘That,’ says Testwuide, ‘was my first realization that the real key to developing a portfolio for a water system is reservoir storage, because it doesn't damage the stream as much, it's predictable, and you can rely on it.’ Today, water from Gore Creek which flows past the town of Vail, is still pumped 1,400 feet up the mountain to this 18 acre-foot reservoir.

This project gave Testwuide valuable experience in the challenge of managing the state's waters for multiple uses. Gore Creek is also a gold medal trout fishery. Taking water out of the creek for snowmaking without somehow replacing that water, would have crippled fish habitat. In response, Vail Resorts helped construct Black Lakes, a pair of now twice-expanded reservoirs located along Interstate 70 at Vail Pass.

Water from these high-altitude reservoirs can be metered into Gore Creek to supplement low flows caused by snowmaking, or to supply downstream calls for water from senior diverters. Additional replacement water comes from Dowd Junction, where Gore Creek joins the Eagle River. At the confluence, water is diverted from the stream and pumped back some three miles up Gore Creek to the location of Vail's snowmaking intake.

For Testwuide, keeping water in streams is more than a legal obligation required by Colorado's instream flow program; it is a personal responsibility. In his spare time he can sometimes be found in Nebraska, restoring farmland to wetlands for migrating fowl. His calendar is thick with outdoors trips. ‘

We call him the senior vice president of hunting and fishing,’ says Brian McCartney, vice president of operations at Vail Mountain. ‘If he had his choice, Weed would be in a hunting blind or in Alaska fishing for salmon every chance he got.’

But it hasn't been easy. In a community where the ski company dwarfs all others, Vail Resort's stature can often spark distrust and resentment. Testwuide worked hard to collaborate and share his vision with the public.

James Collins, an attorney for the Eagle River water district, credits Testwuide's ‘force of personality’ for his success. People like Paul, he says, they trust him and respect his opinion. ‘People either believe your values or they don't, they are prepared to follow you or not — not just because of your argument that morning, but also because of how you got there,’ says Collins. ‘His arguments are always above-board, unambiguous, and in the best interests of the public.’

Long-time friend McCartney, who has worked for or with Testwuide for 31 years at Vail, says Testwuide's leadership begins by listening. ‘He listens and is able to take a whole variety of conversations and put them together to make some sense or give some logic to a particular point of view.’
Testwuide's success is also rooted in his credibility. People, McCartney says, ‘know when they ask Paul a question they'll get a real answer. He doesn't dance around you or take you on a bird walk. He cuts right to the chase.’

Ski areas are relatively new to Colorado's water priority system, and generally face two major challenges when looking to increase their water rights holdings. First, ski areas typically need water in the winter when most streams are at their lowest annual ebb. Second, taking water from local creeks is possible only if the needs of senior downstream diverters can still be met. To resolve these two issues, storage is essential.

In the Upper Colorado River Basin, the Shoshone Hydropower Plant in Glenwood Canyon has a large and very senior water right. To deliver enough water to Shoshone, and still be able to divert water upstream, Testwuide and others began contracting for water out of larger multipurpose reservoirs located on tributaries to the Colorado River, such as Green Mountain and Wolford. From a basin-wide perspective, these exchanges helped allow the ski areas to grow and use more water, while also meeting downstream calls during critical low-flow times in fall and winter.

As the 1990s boom began, Testwuide saw the impending need for more water storage projects, both for the ski areas and surrounding communities. The strategies Testwuide took to his boss were both bold and creative. They involved Climax, the dormant molybdenum mine at the headwaters of the Eagle River.

First, Vail purchased water from a groundwater well along the Arkansas River and pumped that water across the Continental Divide into the Eagle River drainage — possibly the first substantial East-to-West Slope diversion in a century.

Then, Testwuide and colleagues ambitiously assembled a consortium of Eagle County water users to buy an existing reservoir at the Climax mine. Located at an elevation of 11,000 feet, the reservoir was scoured of mining toxins and renamed Eagle Park. The process took seven years and a mountain of patience. Those involved say Testwuide's leadership was evident all along the way.

‘I'll never forget, when I took over the company in 1992 as president, Paul came to me with the concept of examining Eagle Park Reservoir as a long-term water source,’ says Andy Daly, Vail's past-president and CEO. ‘There was no one in the company who's had the vision to the extent Paul has for the long-term needs of the company and the valley's communities.’

Water attorney Glenn Porzak has been Paul's friend and partner in orchestrating Vail's key water deals over the last 30 years. Looking back on their progressGlenn describes Paul as, ‘one of those rare individuals who has been able to adapt with the changing times without losing the essence of why people began to downhill ski in the first place. To develop water for snowmaking while at the same time enhancing the quality of the area streams is a lasting legacy.’

In 1993, Testwuide was elected to the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District Board of Directors. This district, working in conjunction with Vail Resorts and other local water districts, has markedly increased the Vail community's overall water portfolio. Among the gains are agreements with Colorado Springs and Aurora to allow winter releases from Homestake Reservoir, a high-elevation reservoir located on a tributary to the Eagle River.
At the center of this resource expansion for the last 40 years, Paul Testwuide has helped set the precedent for future water use and development in the winter recreation industry. Revered by his colleagues and detractors alike for his steady presence, measured reasoning and core values, Paul's story provides important insight into the collective memory of the growth of the ski industry in Colorado. Paul, perhaps the least we can do is: Think Snow!

Social Media

Stay in touch and connect through:

FB-fLogo-Blue-broadcast-2 Twitter Logo White On Blue instagram    

Sign Up for our e-newsletter

learn more3learn more

 And view the latest issue of Headwaters Pulse, Water Education Colorado's monthly e-newsletter, here.


Click the icons below for videos about climate change, ranching and more; or audio from Water Education Colorado's Connecting the Drops radio series.

filmicon   headphonesicon

1750 Humboldt Street, Suite 200
Denver, CO 80218