Backcountry Skiing News Roundup — Lynx and Helicopters

Post by blogger | June 4, 2008      

An ongoing issue in Southern Colorado is that of massive development near tiny Wolf Creek ski area. Developer Billy Joe “Red” McCombs wants to build commercial space and housing for up to 10,500 people near the base of the resort. The situation seems like something dreamed up by a guy in treatment who missed his meds, but it’s real. In a recent development, a lawsuit between the ski area and developer has been settled. No doubt an important event in this saga, but final outcome still unknown.

As backcountry skiers we’re always interested in climate change issues. To that end, while visiting Crested Butte a few weeks ago I swiped a copy of “progressive” Mother Jones Magazine from my loving — and liberal — mother.

‘Jones has always intrigued me, as they do have some good writing with a left slant. The May/June book I ended up with is their green issue. What I like about their take on global warming is it differs from other progressive rags in being, in my opinion, much more intellectually honest (if you ignore the tiresome anti-corporate whine). Good example is a piece covering nuclear power.

In “The Nuclear Option,” Judith Lewis asks “…can nuclear power rescue our warming planet? And if you answered quickly, answer this too: Are you for or against because you know the science, or because someone said you should be?”

Lewis goes on to really line things out, including the facts about what nuclear powered France does with their waste (answer: they process some of it, store some of it, and dump quite a bit of nasty stuff in the ocean — all with associated and serious problems.)

But my favorite article in the Mother Jones green issue is ‘7 Myths of Energy Independence.’ Here you’ll find a nicely detailed take on how changing our energy economy to domestic supply (with emphasis on renewables) is actually dependent on oil — specifically foreign oil. More, you’ll also find a realistic view of just how incredibly difficult and tricky this change is (which is one reason I always question it as the “solution” to climate change.) Worth a read.

Hey, what’s happening with our friends up in the Great Northwest? For the answer, check out their snowpack. Roadtrip?

Big backcountry skiing news here in Colorado is 10th Mountain Huts, after learning their USFS special use permit for a new hut would doubtless be denied, has chosen to withdraw their application for for a proposed hut. Main issue appears to be locating the hut in Lynx habitat, but area residents opposed the hut as well and had an influence.

We’re of the opinion that this result is flat out bogus. We believe non-motorized non-industrial recreation is essential to the fabric of Western life, even at the expense of what’s really just an experiment in Lynx biology. But Lynx worship is the law of the land, and it seems if you live near public land you somehow get to decide how the rest of us will use it. So there you go. That said, beyond possibly helping Lynx it sounds more like the nimbys got their way by playing the enviro card. Sad. I hope the residents who opposed the hut enjoy their own residency on former lynx habitat… Or perhaps they’ll scrape their houses and donate their land to the Nature Conservency for a Lynx preserve?

Meanwhile, 10th Mountain has vast financial and human resources for hut building, but they seem to be having a problem finding locations.

Is there a solution for 10th Mountain’s dilemma? First, they probably need to forget using National Forest and look for private parcels they can buy and build. Thus avoiding much of USFS and nimby power you open yourself up to when going for a special use permit on public land. More, to avoid restrictive land use regulations perhaps they need to think outside the box in terms of design. For example, how about huts on wheels?

More news from west of here involves USFS use permits: A Boise Idaho man wants to do private helicopter skiing in the Sawtooth National Forest. His application was denied and he’s appealing — for the third time. Has the guy never heard of Dynafit ski bindings? Or, with the money he’s spending on lawyers he could easily hire a couple of Exum guides to tow him uphill on shortrope, throw in a ski lesson, and even make lunch! But then, he’d probably need a special use permit for that too…


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34 Responses to “Backcountry Skiing News Roundup — Lynx and Helicopters”

  1. Joe June 4th, 2008 12:34 pm

    No hut there, but Blue Sky Basin was a-okay. I think the Forest Service’s priorities are pretty obvious.

  2. keith June 4th, 2008 12:41 pm

    Perhaps the largest problem faced by backcountry skiers is that we do not possess a consistent view of “environmental quality” for the ski world. We want access, use, development rights for “small” structures such as a hut, yet we also want to exclude others from use to develop, log, etc. While I wholly understand the internal struggle, it is important to remember that what we do is a privilege enjoyed by a minority. As people who enjoy use we have a responsibility to protect what it is we truly enjoy and respect. But what is that? Is it solitude? Freedom from development? Pristine nature? Clean air? Wildlife in abundance unfettered by fear of man? Exercise? Stories we can tell later? An ego trip? An adrenaline rush? If we can figure out what it is we truly value, we can make a stronger presentation to the agencies that regulate our purpose in life. In some situations yes, we should be willing to give up certain “rights” or desires because our overall goals trump our desire for instant gratification. This is okay — but we must remember who we are and get back to basics!

  3. Lou June 4th, 2008 12:45 pm

    Nice points Keith, thanks!

  4. Lou June 4th, 2008 12:46 pm

    Joe, indeed. USFS lets Vail develop and then they nix a hut!? I call BS on that.

  5. Greg W June 4th, 2008 12:52 pm

    You’ll really like this.
    BJ Red McCombs is a Texan. His name is very familiar to me as I now live in Texas and he has a number of car dealerships around.

    As a native of Utah I know how much fun it is to see Texans on the ski slopes. 🙂

  6. dave downing June 4th, 2008 12:55 pm

    another point might be that FS sees BC skiers and a more simply defined “skier”. And therefore why do we need a little hut when we have a whole lift system in the same area? We understand the differences, but what about the other 99% of the people out there? I think this is one of our biggest hurdles.

  7. Lou June 4th, 2008 1:45 pm

    Let me assure you the USFS is plenty aware of the $$ they get from 48,000+ hut user nights a year. But income from lift skiers far exceeds that so perhaps money talks.

    I have to admit I’m baffled about how Blue Sky can be approved in spite of lynx, while hut is nixed because of lynx. But I’m not up on the details of the process. Anyone care to guess how this came about?

  8. Dongshow June 4th, 2008 2:41 pm

    yea Nuclear! I find it funny that they believe a hut could impact the Lynx population. I feel for you guys down there. A friend of mine has a trap line along one of his skin paths and actually sold a couple Lynx (along with Wolverine) pelts this winter and made some good money. Funny how up here in Alaska they help a back country skier feed his family, where in Colorado they’re used as a reason to keep people out…

    Great points Keith. I agree on choosing a set of values to protect but so much of that is relative to the area. I think it’s naive to expect pristine nature when touring from a highway or anywhere near a crowded city, but then those are the areas most prone to crowding and in need of protection.

  9. Lou June 4th, 2008 3:06 pm

    All, I reworded the post a bit because technically, 10th Mountain withdrew their application BEFORE it was denied. But they did so because it was obvious it would be denied — better to cut bait rather than have record of a denial hooked on their next application.

    Dongshow, nice irony (is that the right word?) Yeah, protecting and reintroducing an animal that’s used for food and pelts elsewhere in North America is just too weird. It’s an amazingly powerful law, however, and this is still only the beginning of seeing what it can do.

  10. BJ June 4th, 2008 5:03 pm

    Two words….commando huts. I’ve already got a few nice spots picked out.

  11. Lou June 4th, 2008 5:18 pm

    Good point BJ, I’ve heard of dozens of those things. When government gets to big and restrictive, guess what happens?

  12. gtrantow June 4th, 2008 6:05 pm

    Global Climate Change –Check out this website for honesty and common sense.
    Czech President on “Blue Planet in Green Shackles”.
    Vaclav Klaus’ questions include:
    “The basic questions of the current climate change debate are sufficiently known and well-structured:

    1) Do we live in an era of a statistically significant, non-accidental and noncyclical climate change?

    2) If so, is it dominantly man-made?

    3) If so, should such a moderate temperature increase bother us more than many other pressing problems we face and should it receive our extraordinary attention?

    4) If we want to change the climate, can it be done? Are current attempts to do so the best allocation of our scarce resources? ”

    See more from Vaclav Klaus, Czech President at website above.

    Huts — I wonder if the Lynx fanatics will kill the Taylor Pass hut too. Maybe 10th Mtn should consider going with smaller huts(Braun style), on private land, above treeline and on wheels, building on Lou’s points. The RV dealers are building off-road RVs that could substitute for huts and bypass the permanent structure rules. I would love to see a big honking Airstream on off-road axles parked deep in the trees commando style or on private property.
    Lou do you have one of these already?


  13. Vince S June 4th, 2008 9:14 pm


  14. Njord June 4th, 2008 9:37 pm

    I love how ignorant Americans are about nuclear power. Believe it or not, we actually have the technology to re-process about 99% of the waste genereated. It just has the super-scary word “Nuclear” about it and Americans are uncomfortable with nukes and physics (secret anxiety caused by high school physics classes)

    Of course, I also love how ignorant BC skiers are about helicopters. (Must be some sort of secret anxiety caused by the fear of getting your lines poached).

  15. pete anzalone June 4th, 2008 9:39 pm

    Lynx love nukes. Just ask ’em.

  16. andyw June 5th, 2008 2:30 am

    Quote “(if you ignore the tiresome anti-corporate whine). ”

    Big Brother loves you, thats why the banks aren`t in turmoil from greed. They care about you not profit, you are all that matters.

  17. Lou June 5th, 2008 6:25 am

    Andyw, Repeat, over and over again, as you go out skiing: “the corporations are after me, the corporations are after me, the corporations are going to get me, the evil corporations are right behind me, the evil corporations are ruining my life.” That way you’ll be grumpy all day and won’t have to feel guilty about having fun while other people are suffering at the hand of the evil corporations.

    Pete, I thought we were going to use the nukes on the road gates, since they mess up the Lynx pelts.

  18. scotthsu June 5th, 2008 7:38 am

    Lou, I enjoy reading your blog, have lurked here for some time. i applaud you for taking a little time and space for talking about energy and alerting us to the existence of Mother Jones. But what prompted me to post is to encourage everyone to learn the facts about nuclear fission power for themselves, as you suggest by your post. As a fusion energy scientist, I am working toward fusion energy, but all the present facts point toward nuclear fission power as our best (and almost only realistic) intermediate term solution (i.e., the world needs many tens of terawatts of carbon-neutral power by 2050). Renewables do and will round out our future energy portfolio nicely, but it is unlikely they can supply the bulk of the world’s needs reliably anytime in the foreseeable future.

    hope everyone gets some more good skiing in! i myself am looking forward to june powder in the san juans this coming weekend.

    scott (los alamos, NM)

  19. Lou June 5th, 2008 8:18 am

    Thanks Scott, very cool to hear from someone in the trenches. And yeah, all this yammering about renewables seems to be obfuscating the cold hard facts. From everything I can see, for the carbon reduction the gurus say is necessary we need two things to happen: conservation, and nuclear. And even with that, will China keep burning coal?

    Funny how the law of unintended consequences is working in all this. I know lots of enviros who hope global warming will be the final thing to force us into an Eden-like world run on renewable power. Instead it’s looking like nukes are back on the table. If that isn’t ironic, I don’t know what is.

  20. Randonnee June 5th, 2008 9:47 am

    A strange positive effect of emotionally-driven environmental initiatives is the fact that the US is preserving its untapped oil reserves and continues to have reserve capability for energy sources that are currently underutilized including nuclear, coal, natural gas, and aforementioned petroleum. Sadly, to paraphrase friends and family who had careers in gaseous diffusion to produce nuclear materials, the US decimated its nuclear industry since the 1960s and surrendered leadership in the field to Europe. Aside from foolishly allowing our nuclear energy capability to wither, the US is also the only industrial country which refuses to conduct offshore drilling to obtain petroleum.

    We in the US are fortunate to be so wealthy as to tolerate the current costs of greenie enviro-lib anti-Western civilization initiatives. Those costs are tangible and significant. In fact the recent cost increases in food, fuel, and other costs of living are obvious. Some of the wealthy techie want-for-nothing Prius-driving cityfolk telemarking enviros surely must now wring their hands with glee to see the increased costs that will limit consumption- as some have previously expressed as desirable. Do those same individuals give any thought to the effects of artificially greenie-affected cost of living increases on common folk, families, the children that barren, bitter lib politicians like to reference?

    In regard to Federal Land, our County lives with the simultaneous blessing and curse of having over 80% of the acreage Federally owned. That means we have lots of nice country, large Wilderness. It also means that bad science and greenie initiatives have resulted in effects to the very fabric of society. Those effects are harmful to people, and all without logical, significant, or good effect for the “environment” or the cute critters living in the woods that are held at higher value by greenies perhaps than are humans.

    What is truly entertaining to me is to watch the greenie Bureaucracy, greenie Advocates and their ilk all cling to disproven concepts and emotionally-driven illogic in regard to greenie initiatives. It is much like repeating for four decades the mantra that marijuana is not harmful and is better than alcohol, or constantly repeating that telemarking in the modern form is better or more beautiful or whatever, or living the lie that (it matters at all) if one drives a Prius the (insignificant) lesser amount of carbon produced than others’ makes one morally superior.

    In summation, I believe that the foolishness will eventually subside out of neccesity. The US will eventually utilize its energy sources and will continue to lead the world and remain the greatest country n history. Future historians will marvel at greenie behaviors and effects on society in conjunction with examination of other tragic consequences to society resulting from activities anti-Western lib enviro Silent and Boomer Generation buffoons.

    Thus, my eructation of political pontification ends, and I am off to the mountains.

  21. Lou June 5th, 2008 10:02 am

    Hold on there Rando, “telemarking enviros?” Isn’t that going a bit far? I know for a fact that at least two of the most prominent people in telemark publishing are not drinking the enviro koolaid…

  22. Randonnee June 5th, 2008 10:29 am

    Oh well, I sometimes enjoy spouting hot air and promulgating buffoonery for entertainment. Clearly, categorizing as a rule is often foolish. Some of it is intended as serious, some sarcasm…

    As a matter of fact, I think I mostly telemarked for 15 years in the mountains and randonnee 16 years, and in the off season made clearcuts for 7 years : )}.

  23. Lou June 5th, 2008 10:40 am

    “Spouting hot air and promulgating buffoonery for entertainment…” Isn’t that otherwise known as blogging (grin)?

  24. Randonnee June 5th, 2008 12:49 pm

    Yes, indeed, Lou. We are grateful for freedom of expression. Some Seattle-based website folks would probably like to see me muzzled and arrested . My wife’s liberal Seattle uncle upon meeting me and after my telling him that I had cut old-growth timber and trapped for fur quipped, “you’re lucky that you are not in prison”… : )}

  25. hunter June 5th, 2008 3:00 pm

    Hi Lou,

    After reading some of the above comments I couldn’t help but respond. I’m rather amazed at the “anti-environmentalist” rhetoric and negative connotations of the “greenie” tag that gets thrown around on various blogs, yours included. I would make the (possibly mistaken) assumption that the majority of your readers are environmentalists in that they love the environments in which they play. If this would be the case, than I would be led to assume that those that use such terms (and hold such deep disdain for those of us that care enough for the quality of our environment to work hard to protect ecosystems, wildlife habitat and human health, both now and for future generations) are only interested in their personal well-being and instant gratification. If I did accept this assumption, I would be guilty of the same stereotyping that they employ.

    Green”ies” come in many different shades; some are hemp wearing, off-the-grid, in-your-face types, and some are happy to help industry green-wash their activities. Most fall somewhere in between. What many of us in the environmental field do provides direct benefits for the majority of people by assuring clean water and air, stimulating new business and recreational opportunities (yes, it’s true!) and preserving natural landscapes for the enjoyment of you and your readers, to name just a few.

    Without the work of the much maligned “greenies,” there may well have been a giant open-pit mine where some of your favorite Marble runs are, a Denver Water Board Reservoir covering much of the Roaring Fork Valley (and Carbondale to boot), or a “Super Vail” with lifts stretching from Adams Rib (near Eagle) to Breckenridge (although I’m sure some people reading this think that it’s a great idea). Having enviro types around insures that there is some balance when it comes to development and public land use, especially given the political pull that large corporations have over local residents in the Intermountain West (thus the approval of Blue Sky Basin and the ongoing efforts to build the Village at Wolf Creek).

    As for nuclear power, there is certainly a place for it in the energy mix that we need, but what many of your readers don’t take into account are the unintended consequences of the industry. In the last 4 years there have been thousands of new Uranium mining claims filed on and around the Colorado Plateau. I would imagine that some of you reading this might actually enjoy hiking in the Canyonlands, paddling the San Juan, climbing clean sandstone around Moab, etc, but if even 1/2 of 1% of these claims get developed you may see some of you favorite places transformed into tailings piles, the river flows reduced for slurrying… well you get the picture. Oh wait, another perfect place for the “greenies” to mitigate the consequences of development! There are no free rides and no easy answers, anywhere.

    Hopefully you’re up enjoying some of our new June snow, we need it down here in the San Juans as our snow is melting off too fast thanks to all of the dust that’s been blowing around lately, another consequence of overgrazing these last 120 years or so…


    Oh yeah, I don’t drink Koolaid, enviro or other (too sweet)!

  26. Lou June 5th, 2008 3:50 pm

    Hunter, nice essay and good addition to the blog, so thanks. I think what you’re missing is that what’s getting us uptight is the people who would put things like Lynx reintroduction experiments in front of small gains in human powered recreation. Also, some of us are tired of getting preached at.

    That said, we of course appreciate the balance we have of green vs. industry and development. It’s just the extremism that’s engendering a backlash.

    I’ll give you an example. I know a guy who’d probably be a strong advocate for legal Wilderness, but he sees the illogic and just plain stupidity of the blanket ban on bicycles in Wilderness, so he’s against new wilderness. That blanket ban came from extremism, pure and simple, and is an example of what makes many of us sick and tired of all the illogical stuff we have to put up with as “green” sits on the moral highground and dictates our lives. I’ll give you another example. Here in Carbondale, they made a rather strict law that you can’t idle your car for more than 30 seconds. Where did that idiocy come from? Green extremism, nothing more. The list goes on.

    I’d submit that there is nothing “greenie” about wanting balanced growth, or clean water. That’s just normal human needs. But things have gone way beyond that, into a sort of religion complete with preachers in your face, stupid laws, bad decisions and the whole nine yards of fascistic thought.

    As for favorite places being tailings piles. Let’s not forget that the nearly the whole city of Aspen is built on mine tailings, and is considered to be one of the most desirable places to live in the world. We’re probably still using some of the silver that was mined there.

    Mining is necessary, and is no more the ultimate evil than logging is. But of course has to be done in a way that works, and so yes, balance is required. But extremism is not the way to achieve that. Taking that route makes the cure worse than the disease.

  27. hunter June 5th, 2008 4:45 pm

    Well… I absolutely agree.

    I get preached at as well, especially about bikes and wilderness areas (the ban of which I think is ridiculous, but that’s a whole other issue), but at the same time, enviro types like myself are constantly vilified as loony, hemp wearing, patchouli smelling, tree-hugging hypocrites, which is only true for a tiny percentage. Alas, all cultural and/or social groups are under the same gun (those poor lefty liberals for example), but It would be nice to start to lose the stereotyping behavior that we seem to be so good at as a species (or is that stereotyping).

    As for tailings, some are worse than others. When I lived in Durango in the 8th grade, our house was often filled with an odd yellow dust that blew in from the uranium mill tailings (now thankfully removed) that towered above the river a few short blocks away. These weren’t particularly radioactive, but they did emit radon which can (and apparently did) cause all sorts of health problems to people that had lived here for a long time while this dust settled into their homes, cars, clothes and lungs. On the plus side, it cost about $50 million to haul away and bury the tailings and a substantial amount of that money went into the local economy. One must always find the positive.

    I have to laugh at the 30 second rule, who thought that one up? Hopefully they won’t survive the next election!


  28. Lou June 5th, 2008 5:06 pm

    Aha Hunter, the yellow dust, that explains much (grin). I thought I saw a glow of the environmental Illuminati in your aura, now I know it was just radon (grin).

    Seriously, It is indeed amazing how mining can be cleaned up if the will/law/money is there. Gives one hope. As for the idle law, I think it’s 30 seconds, might be 60. Whatever, a good example of green thought run amok. Meanwhile, no one stops at stop signs here in Carbondale anymore, so they should just rip those all out. Not stopping at stop signs has MUCH more impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions than any dumb idling law.

    At any rate, thanks for stopping by.

    P.S., agree about the stereotyping, I try to watch that but indeed fall into it…

  29. Randonnee June 5th, 2008 5:22 pm

    Perhaps some individuals learned to be (and acted as) conservationists and good stewards of the earth long ago, possibly before many greenie “loony, hemp wearing, patchouli smelling, tree-hugging hypocrites,” (good one), various enviro cityfolk and other assorted Sierra Club members. In fact, some redneck global warming deniers may actually work for the benefit of stewardship and conservation with our own hands. Further, some may be shocked to realize that some of our Christian beliefs support both that the things of the earth were created for man to use, AND that we must be good stewards of the earth.

    In my personal experience my life’s professions and my home community have been altered by bad science and greenie initiatives which really have hardly any to no beneficial effects for the “environment.” Many of those greenie initiatives just create bureaucratic empires, piss away tax dollars, and create other unnecessary costs and restrictions. In summation, basically anti-human. In many ways the USFS that administers more than 80% of the acreage in my County appears to me to have become ineffective in performing its intended purpose and simply goes along with the anti-human greenie agendas. In effect, in my observation USFS and NPS now carry on a fulltime anti-human and anti-human use agenda.

    Likewise, if one lives anywhere near salmon streams as we do, one sees the full-on greenie illogic that results in Regulations affecting all aspects of everyday human life for very questionable purposes.

    Of course probably no individual is “for” old mines and tailing piles. It is specious to conclude that simply some do not appreciate or care for the “environment” because some individuals are “global warming deniers” or oppose asinine enviro regs and idiotic administration of Public Land.

    Speaking of enviro-greenie silliness, earlier this year Seattle proposed to implement a 20 cent per grocery bag fee . I am not so clear how that results in a significant savings of resources in light of the opulent tall buildings there and surrounding suburbs with yuppie palace homes with a Prius parked beside the GM Yukon that pulls the ski boat, but has a Sierra Club sticker, GreenPeace sticker, and a “mommy what is a tree” sticker. Anyway, it looks like it will raise millions of dollars for the city. That should do it, we must feel better already! : )}

    But what fun to spout off and those are some good posts there, hunter. I really need to go do some chores.

    Best, Rob

  30. Lou June 5th, 2008 7:13 pm

    Easy does it there Rando, and where can I get some of those “Mommy, what is a tree?” stickers (LOL)?

  31. Ian June 5th, 2008 10:40 pm

    I’ve kept out of these enviro-debates here in the past because I come to your blog for ski talk, not politics. However, Randonnee, I had to respond to your comment about the plastic bag tax. It may not be a big thing, but according to this article it had been dramatically successful in reducing waste from plastic bags in other countries.
    The idea is not that eliminating disposable plastic shopping bags is going to somehow save the world, its simply one part of a multifaceted approach.

    Now lets talk about skiing! Tomorrow I’m going to go get me some June powder in the Cascades!

  32. andyw June 6th, 2008 2:33 am

    Lou I like to goto forget with the trees and the fresh air and stuff what with working on an oil rig in the North Sea an`all…..(for Canadiens too:)

    ….but I generally pick up my pace when I hear them coming after me…. 😀

  33. Lou June 6th, 2008 4:11 am

    I think the enviro-debates are important, but we do need to watch that we don’t just start shouting at each other about politics, when we’ve got such wonderful common ground in our love for the mountains and skiing… I watch that in my moderation of the comments and appreciate all you guys self moderating….

  34. Randonnee June 6th, 2008 9:23 am

    Yes, Ian, it looks like new snow all week. My annual Father’s Day week volcano pilgrimage is forecast for freshies! And I would agree that less consumption is inherently a good thing. Along with that, I would argue that a ban (eg on plastic bags) rather than a tax would be more equitable and reasonable (politically) for something that is truly a problem in light to consumption and the environment. I agree that plastics pollute- we were negatively impressed at the amount of plastic littering the Olympic Coast at Shi Shi Beach last August.

    In my view Lou courageously presents environmental and political views that are less commonly presented. Clearly, I am fairly passionate about debating from my perspective against a certain popular perspective. Individuals with differing viewpoints may very well care equally for the environment and cherish as well the natural environment.

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