Backcountry Skiing News Roundup

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I think I’m an environmentalist, or am I? My opinion is that much of the quality life we enjoy is engendered by environmentalist ideals such as clean water and good air. But then, we can also blame environmentalism on things such as localized crowding due to limited backcountry access, as well as the disaster our forests have become. Thus, it was with mixed emotions I noticed that the villain in the latest James Bond film is an “environmentalist.”

Actually, the Bond baddie is just a revert posing as an enviro, but in doing so makes a point. Not everything that looks “environmentally correct” on the surface is actually wise or beneficial.

Along the lines of enviro stuff, have you heard about the fuel cell powered and silent snowmobile? Neither have I. But what if? I’m heading over to the Winter Wildlands Conference this weekend, and much of the energy there will be on how to deal with those pesky snowmachines (hidden definition of pesky: we hate ‘em). Hence, as a thought experiment I’m wondering how the totally quiet snowmobile would fit into the concept of “quiet use,” which is the buzz phrase of the Winter Wildlands Alliance.

It doesn’t take long for the experiment to play out. Once the quiet snowmobile joins in with all other quiet users, then perhaps Winter Wildlands will change their name to the “No Friends on a Powder Day Alliance.” Now that would be some refreshing intellectual honesty, wouldn’t it?

We’ve had a steadily growing mix of people dropping by and contributing guest blogs. All their cool stuff was getting buried, so I’ve spent some time organizing the site based on post authors, including a list of guest bloggers in our categories in right sidebar. Most of the WildSnow voice will continue to be mine, but I think you’ll all enjoy our other backcountry voices.

And our biggest news, pioneer extreme skier Bill Briggs (first descent of Grand Teton) has been inducted into the National Ski Hall of Fame! Congratulations Bill!

The Briggs induction was a long time coming and should have been sooner. But it’s taken a while for our various skiing “Halls” to accommodate how skiing is going back to its roots, becoming more populist and backcountry, with less (and I hope continued less) emphasis on industrial tourism. That’s because many halls of fame induct new members by existing members voting, and most hall of famers are ski industry folks or racers, not ski mountaineers, backcountry skiers and freeskiers. I expect that change to continue, and we’ll do whatever we can to hasten it here at WildSnow.com.

National Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame

Comments

31 Responses to “Backcountry Skiing News Roundup”

  1. Dongshow October 22nd, 2008 11:57 am

    Some form of electric/fuel cell snowmachine is critical to future of a lot of our rural communities in AK. They all survive off snow machines, have plenty of wind (windmills soon) and plenty of water. I don’t know who quiet they’d be though.

    Hopefully they’re advocating for quiet use areas directly under flight routes?

  2. Scott October 22nd, 2008 12:17 pm

    To be honest, my only real problems with snow machines (like jet skis) are the noise and exhaust. If those were gone, I’d be perfectly fine with them.

  3. Marc October 22nd, 2008 12:45 pm

    Well, it looks like folks are at least working on several electric models that have been used in very sensitive habitats:

    http://electricsnowmobile.mcgill.ca/English/index.htm

    http://www.megawattmotorworks.com/display.asp?dismode=article&artid=379

    http://www.rasertech.com/apps_snowmobiles.html

  4. Lou October 22nd, 2008 12:48 pm

    I’m sure that the noise and exhaust will indeed be gone someday, but probably not too soon.

    As for problems with them, when a dozen show up and track out the powder bowl you were skinning up to ski, then for most people problem is more than noise.

  5. Randonnee October 22nd, 2008 12:55 pm

    Hmmm. Scott, another big problem for me is that a snowmachine rider can track up a few days’ worth of powder skiing lines in minutes. I ride snowmachines but would be fine to see them mostly limited (in my area) to roads or routes that are appropriate for motorized transportation. In other words, not all of the non-Wilderness close-access backcountry needs to be tracked by snowmachines. The USFS has demonstrated effective Multiple Use management where I live, but a little more accessible skiable snow off limits to snowmachines in my area would be welcome. To be honest, I find it equally annoying when a great area is artificially promoted online and suddenly the hordes of city folks are tracking up my formerly pristine lines.

    I consider myself a conservatonist, since before the term “environmentalist” was common. Since I was a Boy Scout in the 70′s I have done conservation projects. The problem that I have with “environmentalists” is that some with that self-label come across as anti-human use or even anti-human.

  6. Lou October 22nd, 2008 1:00 pm

    Marc, when I do a roundup I always spend some time on Google, but I did not seasrch for “electric snowmobiles.” My bad! Very cool you came up with some super links, thanks much.

    These guys sure look like they have fun..

    http://electricsnowmobile.mcgill.ca/English/index.htm

  7. BG October 22nd, 2008 1:46 pm

    Grand idea with the quiet and non-smelly snow machines, but the slednecks WANT to be obnoxious.

  8. Joe October 22nd, 2008 2:30 pm

    If someone gets the goods before I do, so be it. It’s my fault for not getting there earlier or finding a less crowded place. The argument that snowmobiles cut up the powder to quickly reminds me of the old arguments against snowboarders. Bottom line, if you think there are too many people here, you can move somewhere else.

    Still, I mildly dislike snowmobiles because they are noisy, end of story. I don’t like hiking or skiing within earshot of highways; same goes for snowmobiles. So silent snowmobiles would be welcome.

  9. Chris October 22nd, 2008 3:56 pm

    If we let the trees grow denser they can’t get through…so keep your powder stash lined with dense forest, and it will be like a family of bees waiting to get into the hive

  10. Andy M October 22nd, 2008 4:19 pm

    I think it would be great to have quieter snowmobiles, but there is a possible downside.

    Many years ago a couple of friends and I were almost hit by a snowmobiler going way too fast down a narrow windy road with limited sight distance. It was snowing hard and distant sounds were muffled. As we skinned up, I thought I heard a snowmobile in the distance. I said that we should probably move off to the side as much as possible, and no sooner had we stepped to the side than the snowmobiler came charging around a blind corner. As he passed us just a couple of feet away, he did a double-take at us, like “What the heck was that?” but he never slowed down at all.

    Ever since then, when hearing the whine of an approaching machine, I have been extra cautious. So will we call these new quiet machines “SBD snowmobiles”? ;-)

  11. Dostie October 22nd, 2008 5:16 pm

    First, a hearty, overdue congratulations to Bill Briggs. His descent of the Grand inspired every red blooded skier in America.

    Re: the silent snomo concept. While I’m not all the enamored with the pesky machines, I would be even more incensed if they had the ability to sneak up on me silently. No, I don’t like their braaaap, braaaap, braaaap 2-stroke smoke mating call, but at least when I hear that I know to watch out for ‘em and move to another ridge or valley. I’d rather just see the sledding industry work to make them burn more efficiently. Don’t let ‘em be stealth though. I want to know if they are out there, and where they are.

  12. Marcus Libkind October 22nd, 2008 5:20 pm

    Sure, quiet and non-polluting snowmachines would be a big improvement. But by no means would that make their unregulated use okay. Due to the power and speed of the machines, and the skill of modern riders, a few can track up an entire bowl in a matter of minutes. I for one still want to have the opportunity to enjoy some pristine snowscapes and have the chance to carve turns without the danger of snowmobile ruts.

    You can’t expect the snowmobile community to regulate themselves in anything near a reasonable manner, which considers the needs of others. Therefore, regardless of the power plant for the machines, we need regulations that limit where snowmobiles are permitted to travel.

  13. rad brad October 22nd, 2008 5:46 pm

    Randonee,
    There is no such thing as arificially promoting an area online. The online promotion is a tool to progress the sport. Sleds are just as much of a tool to backcountry skiing as are cameras and computers. Maybe you should put a little effort into promoting your stash (blogging, filming , etc…)and help the sport progress. People were the same way with hotdogging in the seventies and snowboarding in the nineties. Welcome to the new millenium !

  14. Matt Kinney October 22nd, 2008 6:48 pm

    Lou …I think you found a reasonable balance with your silent 4-stroker to get to those stashes far away from a typical day of skinning. And obviously, you seemed to have earned the right to ride from time to time regardless of the objective and time constraints. You are “greener ” than most. I rarely see a trip report from you using the thing anyway. You da man!!

    I have no issue with using snowmobiles for deep access, though I never would. Early-birding, camping or expedition style works for me. I do have issues with them being used to access slopes or peaks that one can typically ski to or perhaps get up earlier (sic). To make a simple alpine ascent “easier” with combustion seems lame. At over 50, I can and do laugh at 19-40 year olds using a machine to yo-yo Thompson Pass or to get to a peak I skied for a day trip years ago or recently on a full day.

    I’m a strong proponent of separating user groups. Sharing only works for tarheads and it is the pits for anyone else.

    With that said, some may agree that with the economy the way it is, along with our dependence on foreign oil, most if not all forms of motorized recreation may soon become “un-american” or be percieved as a threat to national security. and of course the global warming thing cannot be ignored.
    (I tend to think it is, but I’m a “green-neck”).

    I totally advocate 4 -strokes as an alternative. All 2-stroke recreation engines should be banned this year or next. Wasting a precious resource for recreation is not going to be acceptable sooner than we think. We need the oil for the basics of our economy. Can you imagine in the Great Depression folks out highmarking? They would have been called traitors or worse. I’m a bit more tolerant than that of course, but times are changing.

    With that said, I own and operate a Polaris WT 500, but it’s a work and emergency sled. I got about 6 hours of recreation time on it in 13 years. Found it would take me farther than I could reasonably expect to rescue myself from if the thing broke down or I got hurt slednecking with skiis on my back.

    I still have to drive to get my mail, get to work, to the store, to Anchorage, and of course to the trailhead . This is t where I have always drawn a line in the snow and with my other recreational pursuits

    .Cheers.

  15. Randonnee October 22nd, 2008 8:30 pm

    Hey rad brad,

    Perhaps TRs for well known spots are ok in my view, but how about leaving something for individual discovery? The best example is when I showed another randonnee skier who came along with my acquaintance a nice stash, one that I hardly ever saw tracks on. He replied, “I thought I was the only one tracking this!” That was cool. One wonders how many pristine experiences there are by folks who “find” the stash. If that stash is advertised online, it would be quite different.

    Another consideration is that some folks may gain experience and knowledge as they discover skiable terrain on their own. There are some folks diving in out there that do not express much knowledge of avalanche hazard and other important stuff.

    Fortunately snowmachine transportation allows one to escape the ski touring hordes in my area. And sorry dude, I am not yet fond of snowboards, but who cares?

    Best, Rob

  16. Derek October 22nd, 2008 9:44 pm

    Lou~

    You are most definitely not an environmentalist. Neither are most people who consider themselves enviro’s. Claiming that enviro’s don’t value clean water and air or are the cause of our forest’s problems are more than pure nonsense; it deepens the animosity and contributes to the communication breakdown among the groups responsible for resource protection. This childish pointing of fingers, the refusal to listen, and the inability to cooperate is the root of our current “situation”.

    We can as much blame others for crowding our favorite backcountry areas as we can you for temping people to crowd Mt. Sopris’ slopes each winter as we can ourselves for posting our most epic TR. The people we all see on the trail, on the slopes, or on the river are there because they share with us a love for the outdoors. Accepting responsibilty, listening, and cooperating with various points of view and resulting laws or expectations means that access might be limited or seasonal restrictions might apply, but be assured that your values and the values of people who go into the wilderness for the same intrinsic reasons as you will be held in the best interest. One person’s perfect day may be ski touring and following lynx tracks that end in a pile of white fur in a newly protected area, while for another may be getting fresh tracks on a new pair of Manaslu’s after covering 20 miles on their snowmachine.

    Who are you to say one is more valuable than the other?? The places that you, I, and the people reading this visit are disappearing–and very rapidly. It’s time to grow up, stop pointing fingers, and accept the fact–revel in it–that as these magical places are disappearing, they will become more and more crowded and subject to more and more restrictions. For the fact that many more people are assuming an environmental conscious will be the very thing that “saves” it. As a current environmental/outdoor/place based/science educator my students don’t see anything wrong with the environment–but they see everything wrong with the people trying to “save” it. As they would say,”Lou, don’t be part of the problem, be the solution.”

    Respectfully,

    Derek

  17. RAD BRAD October 22nd, 2008 9:55 pm

    Randonee,
    There is no greater feeling of individual discovery than sharing the ski experience. There are no secret stashes nowadays. We as a community should share the love and help progress the sport. Take as many people as possible to your “secret stash” and you will then really make an individual discovery. The sports progress depends on this.
    p.s. I agree with the comment about snowboarders-still better than telewackos.

  18. Lou October 22nd, 2008 9:59 pm

    Derek, I think I see where you’re coming from, but one of the fingers you pointed at me I believe was because you might have mistaken the word “engendered” in my post for something else? If so, and if you want to edit your comment a bit, let me know.

    Otherwise, yeah, we probably have ourselves to blame for most of our problems… but the crowding I truly believe is because of limited access caused in part by misguided intentions.

    ‘best, Lou

  19. Randonnee October 23rd, 2008 9:48 am

    The problem of crowding is exacerbated by the nature of land use. In the Cascades, there is a lot of wonderful country, but very little of it is easily accessible from the car in a day if self-powered. Some folks like me need to get the kid off to school then go ski tour (oh yeah, I have mostly mid-week days to tour), so 20 hour days are not really an option for deep self-powered access. I have thought that to pay a fee to use a USFS Road that has been snowplowed in order to allow access would be very worthwhile. Such access would alleviate the crowding, and would offer great mountain experiences if the user groups were appropriately managed.

    Another unfortunate problem is parking along mountain highways for recreation. The USFS here supports fully the hugely profitable operations at Ski Areas, on Public Land, and Sno Parks mostly for snowmobiles, while inhibiting and not supporting general Forest winter uses. A local Pass Sno Park was removed in the 1990′s here to allow for Ski Area expansion. No replacement parking has been created, further exacerbating the parking problem for winter recreation access other than for Commercial use in that area.

    A strange result of lack of from- the- car self-powered access for winter recreation is widespread, uninhibited Wilderness Trespass by snowmobile riders here. The snowmobile riders like to say around town that “there is nobody out there, we are not hurting anything.” There has been little observation by other users of snowmobiler Wilderness Trespass, except by me and Ludwig who snowmobile lawfully and then walk into the Wilderness on skis. On a positive note, my involvement and reporting along with others’ has probably helped USFS to get some funding and take some Enforcement actions starting last season.

  20. Will October 23rd, 2008 1:13 pm

    Lou (and Derek et al),

    I definitely had to re-read your first sentence to catch “engendered”. However, without putting words in Derek’s mouth, it was the second sentence that caught my eye. You wrote: “we can also blame environmentalism on things such as localized crowding due to limited backcountry access, as well as the disaster our forests have become.” I suspect “environmentalism” means many different things to many different people, but I know of no definition for “environmentalism” that would make it responsible for the mismanagement of our public lands.

    This blog is an amazing resource and very informative. Thank you for your many contributions to the skiing community.

  21. Lou October 23rd, 2008 2:54 pm

    I’ll keep it short. Example. Environmentalist says public land should be preserved. More people are bad for that. Adjust policy to keep people out, or use it as an excuse to not keep a road open, or just an excuse to avoid managing groups of people. Simple as that. Not saying that’s always bad, but I believe it happens too much and is indeed sometimes a “mismanagement.”

  22. cory October 24th, 2008 9:37 am

    The flaw in this discussion is that people hid behind generalized terms like “environmentalist”. It’s the hot thing in politics. Throw out a generalized term that causes emotion and divisions among people and avoid the actual issue at all cost. Even better than using the generalized term is telling the generalized group of people what “they” say.

  23. Randonnee October 24th, 2008 10:43 am

    Cory that is a good point about labels, emotions, and divisions. It can be fun to throw around labels and hyperbole (mea culpa sometimes), but it is important as you point out to address the real issues. Indeed, one should guard against “they said,” which is a problematic expression, instead perhaps express that one’s impression of what “they” said is…

    My family lives in a County in the mountains with land that is 88% Government ownership. We are thankful to leave here. However, our Communities and lives have been dramatically and permanently altered, some to our detriment, by Regulations and Laws that are derived from environmental initiatives. Much of that effect has literally destroyed Communities.In some cases Communities grew again as decadent tourist and retiree villages instead of a fully functioning community. Land use is driven by environmental initiatives, and the resulting land use concentrates users in certain locations on the Forest resulting in overcrowding, overuse, and damage. Along with the environmental-initiative is also the bureaucrat tendency to accept concentrated use, since less service to the Public landowner makes it easier for the bureaucrats, it actually allows more time for meetings about environmental initiatives.

    It appears to me that many in the greater suburban or urban population or of a certain mindset so easily accept the significant anti-human effects to rural Communities. Some folks have expressed approval that such effects are necessary and justified, especially when those effects impact others- “them.” Also, it appears that there is little or no understanding even why they themselves are inconvenienced during their recreational visits to Public Land. There is much more to this discussion, but I will leave it for now. There are flaws, for sure, but this is a worthwhile conversation.

  24. cory October 24th, 2008 11:30 am

    Rando-
    My county is also predominantly public lands (Chaffee County..approx.85%). The bulk of that is federal. As a result, it belongs to everyone in the country. Unfortunately, it often means that our local interests are trumped by the interests of the nation as a whole. (Ex.: grazing rights).
    However, I love the wild places the government has set aside and am willing to put up with what I sometimes percieve as federal interests “nonsense” so that I can get more than my fair share of public land opportunities. That’s why I chose to live here.
    Before living here I lived in Rifle. (Once again…lots of public land.) The nonsense there got to be too much (thus the reason I moved). The oil and gas industry went crazy with their drilling and access was limited (parachute falls to name just one example…excellent ice climbing)).
    I guess the point here is that we all need to be concerned citizens and choose the right forum for our points of view. If it’s local public land…then our voice should be heard locally. If it’s state lands…then our voice should be heard at the state house. If it’s federal lands…our voice should be heard in DC.
    While we all sometimes disagree with land use, we have to remember who the land belongs to. It’s not mine, it’s ours. Yes, agencies often make what I percieve as stupid choices for those lands, but in the end I have my vote as my voice.

  25. Will October 24th, 2008 1:43 pm

    I see how an unintended consequence of environmentalism can be localized crowding. But, “the disaster our forests have become” is a much greater problem than localized crowding and caused by many things. If environmentalism contributes to the public land disaster, it is a misinformed sort of environmentalism which ought not exist.

    Great points about land ownership. As someone who has lived in Alaska, Idaho and now Wyoming, federal land management has a huge impact on local communities.

  26. Randonnee October 24th, 2008 2:03 pm

    True, Will. Some public land management has been knee- jerk to knee-jerk, so that if you think that the old management practices were poor, just wait, there will be a new previously unimagined bureaucratic disaster that penalizes the public.- in a new way. In Washington state, there was a lot of roadbuilding and logging on USFS land to harvest what was an assumed inexhaustable supply (in 1950). Then, the political winds (environmentalists) blew the other direction. After logging was more than decimated here on USFS lands, the money from logging, that had supported in a large way all other, went away. Now we have the undesirable position of abandoned roads in poor shape, the requirement to walk through logging-hammered former clearcuts to get to the nice country. We have fewer trails every year in the Forest, and less maintenance of trail, campgrounds and facilities. The former tree farm that could be managed for timber is now unhealthy and neglected, not great for recreation, some mono-silviculturally boring, overgrown, mismanaged, prone to burn.

    Also, there are fewer Sno Parks, less USFS support of winter or summer recreation, new Fees- the bureaucratic solution, less service, less public opportunity to use public land.

    Cory, we agree that public land is for all of us. What is tragic is that our land is hijacked for dubious or unproven justifications, taken away from use by the owners, the public.

  27. Lou October 24th, 2008 4:16 pm

    My opinion is there has been a lack of balance. Back in the day some of the land was over logged, over mined, etc. But now, we have overgrown unnatural forests that sit there and load up with fuel, then burn like something out of a science fiction novel. And when they don’t burn, they get attacked by beetles anyway and killed off. If our forests here in Colorado had been cleared out more and let to burn more, they’d be much healthier. How do I know? Some of the most healthy forests I’ve seen and skied in are filled with 100 year old logging stumps. The ones that have never been logged are sometimes the most unhealthy. Sorry that’s not totally scientific, but it seems like an accurate impression.

    All, don’t get the impression I’m some kind of land rape advocate, because I’m not. I just love our wildlands and want to see them managed for quality, not junked out at the whim of some misguided preservationist philosophy — nor at the whim of unregulated extractive industry…

  28. Peter October 24th, 2008 4:59 pm

    Lou, the unhealthy forests you are referring to mostly reflect a century of fire suppression. Everyone agrees that returning these areas to a natural fire regime is the answer. Unfortunately, that goal is complicated by rapid development along the urban-wildland interface: it’s hard for the agencies to let fires burn naturally when million dollar homes are on the line.

  29. hunter October 24th, 2008 6:43 pm

    Hey all,
    One of the biggest mis-understandings about environmental policies is they’ve been implemented because someone hates logging, mining, hunting, atv’s etc. While some enviro’s do base their decisions on such a premise, most of these decisions are based on science and economics. Logging, most especially that practiced in the past on public lands, and still practiced on some private lands, results in a plethora of negative impacts, including, but not limited to: habitat destruction, topsoil loss, stream and river sedimentation, more blow-down events and lower forest transpiration (leading to reduced precipitation down wind). The results: reduced biodiversity, more frequent and more severe flooding, sedimentation and destruction of aquatic species habitat and breeding areas, reduced rain and snow fall. etc. The long-reaching effects of these impacts can include: property damage (and possible threats to human lives) from flooding, fisheries collapse, ecosystem collapse (of which some say the pine and spruce beetles and sudden aspen death are symptom), reduced crop yields, etc. Economically, the loss of a few jobs in the timber industry (with today’s technology, 4 guys can do what it took 40 to do 25 years ago), may save the jobs of 10 in the fishing industry, and these cause and effect linkages can and have been made numerous times in numerous locations with numerous activities. I work for a Colorado Enviro organization, and I don’t support industrial clear-cut logging, the “select-cut” (actually clear-cutting that leaves every 15th tree or so), or “salvage projects” (where only 10-20% of the trees that they cut are actually diseased) because of these impacts and because, yes, I like the idea and fact of natural landscapes, and I don’t appreciate mono-culture plantation forests on public land (not that many of them ever grow back since all of the top-soil has been eroded away). I, and most environmentalists, don’t hate logging (or mining, ranching, hunting and other extractive industries), we just want to see it done in a sustainable manner. Unfortunately, that is rarely the case.

  30. cory October 24th, 2008 7:44 pm

    Sounds like we should all go skiing. Lots of points from intelligent people that I’d love to sit and chew the fat with and solve the greater problems of humanity. Lou- organizing a free thought community ski some time?

  31. hunter October 24th, 2008 8:59 pm

    amen on that Cory

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Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information opinion website and e magazine. Lou's passion for the past 45 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about backcountry skiing and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free back country news and information here, and tons of Randonnee rando telemark info.

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