Backcountry Skiing News June 2008

Post by blogger | June 18, 2008      

I’ve heard of playing the race card and the enviro card as excuses for all sorts of things, but how about the avalanche card? They might be doing just that in Utah, where Alta ski area wants to build a new ski lift in an area that’s presently used by backcountry skiers. The proposed lift is said to be intended for avalanche control “snow safety teams.” Backcountry skiers might do well to play the enviro card and release some pet lynx in the area. Then sit back and see who wins in the ski touring wars.

It’s amazing how sometimes the wild swallows people up. Any mountain range in the world holds spooky tales of folks who went there, never to be seen again. One of Colorado’s stories is that of Michelle Vanek on Mount of the Holy Cross, and last winter I was wondering if two snowboarders near Wolf Creek would end up joining Vanek as forever lost. Thankfully their remains were found the other day, bringing what I’m sure is much needed closure for their loved ones.

Some of Europe’s glacier skiing is still happening despite global warming “shrinkage.” Check it out.

Back here in Colorado, the unusual opening for lift skiing on Aspen Mountain this past weekend was a big hit. We were trying to get up there but got sidetracked by the incredible snowpack on Independence Pass. Even so, just knowing people were skiing and snowboarding on Aspen Mountain brought a smile to my face.

Here at WildSnow HQ we’re making the transition to a few months of summer, before ramping up for skiing again in (hopefully) October. We’ve got some backpacking on tap, along with rock climbing, fourteener climbs, gear reviews and mods, automotive blogs, and plenty of website content creation to round out our vast selection of historical and how-to info. We’ll also be doing fieldwork for, as well as laying the foundation for more guidebook style websites.

And, we’re not done skiing yet!

With skiing in mind, no WildSnow News Roundup would be complete without comment about global warming. Not to make the mistake of taking weather for climate, I still can’t help but wonder if our cold wet winter represents a trend that shows a climate change. I don’t see any decisive conclusions out there, but how about some interesting reading? Looks to me like the issue is a lot more complex than the usual “it used to be cold, now it’s warmer, so the end is near” point of view we get bombarded with.



15 Responses to “Backcountry Skiing News June 2008”

  1. Dongshow June 18th, 2008 12:42 pm

    as an ex Alta resident I’ve been laughing pretty hard about the proposed new lift and the controversy. The terrain it’d open for in bounds skiing is mostly south facing garbage unless it’s snowed within 12 hours, but with the open boundaries would flood the adjacent areas. I think the Wasatch super resort (which I don’t have much interest in) is inevitable. Feel for the back country guys, but it’s hard to describe anything in the Wasatch as either wilderness, pristine, or remote. The easy access, which is one of the Wasatch’s biggest draws is also it’s greatest downfall.

  2. Lou June 18th, 2008 1:14 pm

    I have to admit that some of the worst breakable crust I’ve ever skied is where they want to put that lift. But it’s also the place you climb to access major powder goods northerly of that area. If they put a lift there, not only does it dump skiers on the crust zone, but it also converts much of the other terrain to lift served. This terrain is already maxed by human and helicopter, thus, even with limited use the lift is a terrible idea in my opinion. And talk about a bad precedent. If we start building ski lifts for avalanche control, where does that lead?!

  3. hunter June 18th, 2008 1:16 pm

    The lift is being suggested primarily to aid in avalanche control. The feds (Pentagon and Dept. of Homeland Security) don’t want UDOT and others using military ordnance for control work anymore and are considering a ban on military explosive sales to all avy control agencies. There is not at present any plans to open the terrain on Flagstaff Ridge to Alta’s skiing public; not that this couldn’t change…

  4. Lou June 18th, 2008 1:49 pm

    Hunter, yep, that’s the story. But depending on the lift to remain that way in this area of industrial tourism would be a reach, in mine and many other’s opinion. What we should be asking is how else can they do avy control in this area?

    The walk to where the lift will go to takes less than an hour. Perhaps they could use human power most of the time and just get the helis to drop a charge now and then when conditions are really dicy. Also, the more this area gets skied by backcountry skiers the less of an issue it is in terms of avy control. And it gets hit alot.

  5. Dongshow June 18th, 2008 2:29 pm

    Yea, that area gets hit extremely hard, anyone familiar with Alta will know that all the terrain behind that ridge will become another Rocky Point should the lift go ahead. I look forward to people making Keyhole style bus laps by going all the way to the Big Cottonwood road in the future… sigh.

    I’m really surprised they haven’t installed the compressed air devices if they are really worried about getting their artillery taken away. I think the lift is just a front though. If the artillery was truly the issue they’d be far more concerned with the areas lower in the canyon that cause the road to be closed far more often. If the avalanche situation is so dire that they need a lift up Flagstaff the chances of the canyon ever opening on a big snow day are effectively zero.

    I started laughing when you mentioned WPB’s helicopter. Is there a more worthless heli opperation in the country. Their slogan should be, “Terrain you could of walked to in 45 Minutes!”

  6. Randonnee June 18th, 2008 3:05 pm

    In regard to Global Warming and Solar Radiation By D. Bruce Merrifield-

    Very interesting. Thanks for linking to the article. Some of that information was familiar to me 30 years ago before the current fashionable agendas and has germinated my unholy doubt before the the environmentalist altar. Totally Politically Incorrect these days. Hooray for Wildsnow, the First Amendment, Big Oil= cheap fuel for my snowmobile, and for the climate change that resulted in this excellent past/ current ski season!

  7. Lou June 18th, 2008 3:07 pm

    WPB’s other slogan is “duck if you hear a helicopter!”

    On the other hand, there are skiers for whom human powered vertical is a tough and not so fun option. Let’s not be so elitist as to forget that.

  8. Joel June 18th, 2008 3:16 pm

    a lift on flagstaff for avy control – that’s a riot! I’ve seen several different avy devices that are likely way, way cheaper than a lift (especially when you can hike to the top of flagstaff in 45 minutes). One of the more clever ones I’ve recently seen are large pads placed in “sweet spots” that are vibrated. Saw them in Verbier a few years ago.

  9. hunter June 18th, 2008 3:22 pm

    Actually the idea was to control the ridge avy danger through skier compaction. Explosives of any kind, including those delivered via air compressed launchers, are verbotten, and the gas-ex systems are supposedly too expensive and difficult to maintain. It would be an oddball set-up: regular Alta skiers couldn’t access the lift from the main mountain without walking across the road, so it would mainly be used by BC inclined folks. I assume that the lift would require a payment of some sort and perhaps it would only be open at certain times and/or days, but I don’t know what Alta intends to do in that regard. There’s an extensive battle of words going on about it on the Teton Gravity forum and most seem concerned by the “side-country” access that it would provide and the always rumored “Wastach Interconnect.” Also, there are rumors that much of the private property below Flagstaff Ridge is in the process of being subdivided for more trophy homes; they’re worth a lot more if they have a lift next to them…

  10. hunter June 18th, 2008 3:39 pm

    OK, I can’t resist any longer… The whole “Global Warming” hysteria is out of control not because it doesn’t exist, but because no one, anywhere, really knows what is going on. I prefer climate change, because there are clear changes occurring, but we don’t fully know the causes, the mechanisms, the outcomes and the solutions (if any). Since the article that you highlighted states that it’s all about solar cycle and output, I’ll suggest taking a look at this written 2 months ago. Clearly, no one knows what is going on! While I was struggling to get a degree in Geography a few years ago, we did extensive computer modeling of global warming and learned that the phenomenon is far too complicated to replicate with any degree of certainty. What really chaps my hide is that all of the hoopla over this issue is diverting attention, money and time away from more meaningful environmental issues; like finding out a way to make Randonee’s sled turn off whenever he takes it off trail! (Yeah, just kidding amigo.)

  11. Lou June 18th, 2008 4:56 pm

    …and how about feeding more starving children (or at least insulating your house better) instead of installing PV panels that take 20 years to pay for and are worn out by then?

  12. Paul S. June 19th, 2008 7:12 am

    After taking a course this past semester where we discussed PV cells , energy conversion, and distribution, I think you are only half right. Yes, PV cells are expensive, but there are areas of the country where they makes sense (thankyou Arizona!) whereas here in New England, coastal dwellers could develop significant energy from tidal/wave generation, and people both on and away from the coast could do well with personal wind turbines. My feeling is that distributed generation at the individual level is key to improving our energy security, and the US/Canadian carbon footprint. What we really need is money going into product and platform development to allow everyone to generate, store, and sell energy into the grid system. Fortunately, soaring energy prices are doing just that, at both a private an public level.

    my $0.02

  13. Randonnee June 19th, 2008 9:59 am

    With all due respect to some valid concepts, pardon my pragmatism. I would point out that our global energy use is based on petroleum for the most part, and it is efficient, the negative effects are easily ameliorated, there is plenty of oil with new reserves explored regularly, and it is inexpensive even at $5/ gal of gas.

    Further, when something that is an alternative energy source that is better in all ways comes along, it will be developed and marketed very quickly without artificial funding, legislation, protest, etc.

    The use of petroleum allows all of us to live, ski tour, do what we do. And no, I do not work for big oil, my dad retired from and my brother continues in the nuclear materials industry.

  14. Lou June 19th, 2008 10:12 am

    Good points you guys, and thanks for the civility. As many of you know, I do believe the climate is warming, but just how much and why, and what the consequences are, now those are some open questions that I believe we as backcountry skiers should direct our attention to on occasion. Hence my bringing up the subject every so often.

    Also, remember we don’t allow personal attacks here, so stay away from Randonnee’s sled! (grin)

  15. Paul S. June 19th, 2008 6:53 pm

    I think “easily ameliorated” is a debate that is complicated enough we’ll never settle it here. 🙂 I’m probably a knee-jerk environmentalist if anyone is, but I do agree that decreasing fossil fuel use has to be a slow process. Society of Automotive Engineers just completed the first Challenge X competition, where the goal was to minimize the carbon footprint from “wells to wheels” which is what we have to think about. I believe that the availability of Plugin hybrid powertrains for ALL mechanized forms of transport and local generation, although 30-40 years away, IS a pragmatic, and hopefully effective, solution.


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