Backcountry Skiing News Roundup — Sledders and Jumping Slugs


Post by WildSnow.com blogger | July 1, 2008      

The WildSnow access watch can’t help but notice controversy up in the PNW about a washed out road that used to provide excellent access to some of Olympic National Park’s backcountry. A section of the Dosewallips River Road was washed out in 2002. Instead of simply being repaired, enviro-angst ensued and the track has remained closed to automobiles and likely to stay that way. Thus pushing humans ever farther from convenient backcountry access. That’s of course fine with many wilderness advocates, but not fine with many other backcountry users. We’re of course in the latter camp.

What if they gave a trail and nobody came? To that end, The Washington Trails Association has agreed the Dosewallips road should remain closed, thus ensuring quite a few less people will use trails the road used to access. Good example of a recreation advocacy group being swayed by the whim of environmental winds.

How about some common sense? The road was there for years, and the animals did fine. Fix it, use it, and enjoy it. It’s not like Olympic National Park has an overburden of roads. Far from it. This is one of the most wild and roadless areas you can imagine. Check the Google Map. To worry about one tiny road in this vast region is absurd.

Colorado backcountry skiing.
Warty Jumping Slug

Latest on the Dosewallips repair is a 355 page EIS filed by Olympic National Forest. Naturally, they found an exotic species that doing anything human will impact in some way. Or so they say. While the EIS apparently tries to make it clear the road repair will NOT trigger the Endangered Species Act when it comes to the Sensitive Warty Jumping Slug, we imagine it’s only a matter of time before someone finds a biologist who will say otherwise. (Amazing the power biologists now have.) Our take: Beware, someone might find a Sensitive Warty Jumping Slug the next time they try to repair a road near you.

More access stuff: Near here, ongoing controversy about sharing snow up behind Aspen Mountain ski area on Richmond Ridge is a constant source of amusement to those of us who ski everywhere but there. (Though in fairness, we do know people on both sides of the issue and understand it’s a serious thing to them.) In a nutshell, Aspen Skiing Company has a snowcat skiing operation that uses a combination of private and public land, with necessary permits. Sport snowmobilers and sled assisted skiers want access to the same public land.

According to an insider I recently spoke with, the Richmond Ridge snowmobile access issue has been through some interesting changes. The number of users has increased dramatically. But more importantly, for some time most of the sled skiers stuck with driving on the packed “over snow roads” and hauling their buddies up for petrol powered vert. But as snowmobiles have become more fun to ride in steeper terrain that used to be more appropriate for skiing, the sled crews are combining sport riding with their skiing, thus using up more of the powder in a shorter time.

A while back it looked like sledders might be allowed plenty of access, but recent mutterings from the Forest Service make it look like the concept of open motorized use (snowmobiles allowed offroad on almost all public land, excluding legal wilderness) is being reconsidered for the area in question. Pitkin County, long known for a restrictive take when it comes to land use, is also a player. As a result, the sled skiing advocacy group Powder To The People is calling for a new planning process that will more directly involve actual users of the area, rather than waiting to see what kind of restrictions the ‘crats come up with. Their proposal involves something like what’s been done on Vail Pass so mechanized and non mechanized users have areas to go. We’re not fans of splitting the non-wilderness backcountry pie among different user groups (as the saying goes, he who cuts the cake gets the worst share). But sometimes it’s a necessary evil that can be effective. Perhaps so in this case.



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Comments

21 Responses to “Backcountry Skiing News Roundup — Sledders and Jumping Slugs”

  1. Jay J July 1st, 2008 8:19 am

    Lou – this IS a ticklish issue and one that I’m NOT sure where I stand immediately. I don’t mind skiing in abit further for access and I do mind working for 2-3 hrs.(skinning up a track/road), only to have the powder stolen by a sled, sled assited skier, heli-skiers or snowcats; I subscribe to EARN Your Turns! Perhaps some sort of time share arrangement – like with the Heli-skiers near SLC, but something has to give.
    I’ve said many times – the ROOT of this problem is TOO many rats in the race – in a small cage!!

  2. Greydon Clark July 1st, 2008 3:03 pm

    From the WTA site circa 2005, “In addition to site specific issues, NMFS is concerned about the alignment of the road in general, as articulated by official Steve Landino “Simply put, restoring motorized access past the current washout will not solve the long-term issue that this entire road is in the wrong location.â€?

  3. adam olson July 1st, 2008 3:33 pm

    Lou,
    This is very touchy issue indeed. I’ve always felt that with the Thousands of acres the Ski Company currently controls in the Roaring Fork Valley that they should think inside the box for this one. How Green would it be to see them abandon this diesel burning, hydrolic fluid leaking, globe warming snocat operation for some roped off area they currently control?

    Say, The Ladder or Cirque areas @ Snowmass, how about all of Tiehack!? Or the G zones @ Highlands. Only allow access to guided skiers who are going to pay the big bucks for “the experience”. They will sell thousands of tickets to that terrain. Call it the EPIC Pass.

    Everyone wins! The SKICO can make MORE money AND save the planet, and we can have the woods back…………………….AGAIN.

    ao

  4. Dongshow July 1st, 2008 6:54 pm

    familiar with the sled issues, same thing in Alaska. The east side of Turnagain pass is non motorized and has great skiing. The west side is motorized, and has the terrain that’s more conducive to good snowmobiling, and although the skiing is quite good over there it’s often beat by sleds. However, there is a simple solution to the snowmobile problem. Creeks, ravines, and thick trees are often impassable on a sled, skis can go anywhere. Skiing places where crossing a couple of these annoyances is mandatory is a simple way to avoid snowmobiles.

    Complaining about a snowmobiles use of powder is hypocritical in the extreme. What’s next, complaining about the less skilled skiers tracking up the easily reached powder of resorts? I also find it a bit odd that people complain or express shock that an easily accessible, and popular area, is (a shock!) crowded. Sorry to keep the resort skiing analogies going on a backcountry site but that’s like expecting lift line powder on the last chair of a bluebird day.

  5. Dongshow July 1st, 2008 6:56 pm

    I forgot to mention that you can at least look forward to the price of gas keeping people some off there sleds though!

  6. John Gloor July 1st, 2008 9:54 pm

    HI Lou. This phenomenon is happening close to home in the roaring Fork valley also. The Wilderness Workshop is trying to close areas up beyond the Mining town of Ruby, Rocky Fork up the Frying Pan, areas above carbondale near Thompson Creek, and both sides of Smuggler road above the overlook platform (Smuggler to Warren Lakes would be closed except for hut maintenance). Some of these areas are open to motor usage (on roads) and some are roadless. I am an advocate of keeping the roads we currently have open while not condoning illegal offroad usage. Mtn bikers pay attention, you will also be excluded if their “Hidden Gems” wilderness goes through!
    As far as the Ski Co powder tours go, I cannot think of another guided activity (hunting, climbing, fishing etc) which receives preferential usage over the general public on public lands. My vote goes to powder to the people on this one even though I never sled/ski up there

  7. Randonnee July 1st, 2008 10:34 pm

    In regard to roads washed out here in Washington State. This year we lost the Icicle Valley Road about five miles below the trailheads that are less than a mile from the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Boundary. Fantastic access, not to mention the valley trails and several developed USFS campsites now not accessible. When one drives to the end of the Icicle Valley Rd. from Leavenworth the journey starts in sagebrush semi-arid land and Ponderosa forest, and ends amongst old-growth Douglas Fir, Western Hemlock, Englemann Spruce, Western Larch and several true Fir species. This wonderful valley forest at 2000 to 3000 ft. elev is flanked by 7000 to 8000+ ft. elev. peaks and ridges- quite a spectacular valley. That access is now severed I have been told for perhaps 6 years while the ineffective bureaucrats create more plans, statements, permits, etc., instead of doing a few days’ work with a D6. The twisted advantage will be more solitude for those walking the added approach, but less access for the majority of the public owners of the land. This is yet another example of failure to carry out the intended purpose of the USFS. Unfortunately, the schizophrenia split the revolutionized USFS beginning in the ’80’s. Forced Affirmative Action introduced inexperienced individuals with non-traditional agendas displacing many who possessed knowledge, ability, and tradition of USFS resource management. USFS has become the full-blown, ineffectual, abused, and psychotic agency that we now see.

  8. John Gloor July 1st, 2008 11:01 pm

    I forgot the big one in my last post. The Redtops WSA closed some of the best biking in the Aspen/Basalt area. The climb up the Reudi overlook trail was awesome, with bermed, large radius corners and a great descent into the area everyone rides up Basalt mtn. The road up top gave access to others for many uses, while not disturbing much. This area was lost to average users due to the ideological zeal of a vocal (non-local?) minority and the ignorance of the majority of its users. I do not think the Wilderness Workshop will be satisfied until only human powered access is allowed in a 50 mile radius around Aspen. As a final note, I love the wilderness areas around Aspen, and I applaud the efforts that led to their establishment. However, I feel a blend of uses needs to be considered for public land and they should not be only usable by a select (fit) few.

  9. Huck July 2nd, 2008 8:11 am

    Yeah, Lou! Those enviros who close roads ought be strung up in front of said roads. Roads are our right, and we have the god-given permission to access every inch of public land by any means we choose. Those who choose to not use vehicles choose wrong. Vehicles are the natural evolution of the human form. Frankly, it makes me sick to see some pathetic ape literally walking up a mountain when they could’ve been motoring. How do these idiots get to the trailhead? With a car. Bloody hypocrites. I’m sick and tired of wild places encroaching on our roadways and cities. I am afraid to bring a child into a world where wilderness terrorizes mankind with dark, adverse inaccessibility.

    Anyway, cool blog, bro. Glad someone around here is super righteous. One question: I was clicking around and I think I saw a photo of you in some wild place, with no evidence of road or vehicle in the photo. Was that frightening for you?

  10. Lou July 2nd, 2008 8:32 am

    Huck, your sarcasm is well done but I’d say a bit misplaced. If you read our last thousand or so blog posts, you’ll see we (we meaning myself and most guest bloggers) like roads, but also like the existing roadless areas. It’s closing existing roads we’re generally against. As for my extremist views, I think a few more roads here and there would be useful, but don’t want to see them everywhere.

  11. Lou July 2nd, 2008 8:36 am

    Gloor, having the Red Tables locked up was a horrible outcome. Just incredibly bad. No one did anything up there with vehicle or mountain bike that caused anything more dire than a bit of dust floating off into the air. Closing it just looks good on someones resume, and costs the land managers less to manage. Very sad.

  12. geoff July 2nd, 2008 8:40 am

    It’s amazing the power biologists now have?

    Might you be overstating this? Or is there some cadre of biologists lurking behind all the social policy and management decisions that seem to be decided by people with economic interests in the outcome?

    If it just weren’t for all these darned biologists studying things and telling us how they worked….

  13. Huck July 2nd, 2008 9:24 am

    Thanks Lou. I’ll try to catch up yer archives. I heard there’s a bunch of science in there though, so I doubt I’ll get it. Anyway, why do you and your cronies advocate only a few more roads “here and there?” Are you enviro windbags too? Name one instance where a road caused unnatural erosion, or introduced invasive species, or facilitated widespread resource extraction, or led to the development of bandit motorcycle trails through fragile tundra grasslands? Betcha can’t name one. ‘Cause it doesn’t happen! Roads provide access to wildland fire fighters and to valuable public resources like natural gas, which my good god-fearing kin down in Battlement Mesa sell to you at substantial profit. Roads are hitched to the concept of liberty itself. I also need roads to hunt. My favorite things to hunt are conservation biologists and ecologists. I’m trying to trap one of those Wilderness Workshop bozos so that we have some leverage to negotiate with these media darlings.

    I think we’re on the same side Lou. Just don’t stop short of Total Access for All. Otherwise we won’t get nothing.

    Please don’t sell out. Join the Campaign for Total Access.

  14. Lou July 2nd, 2008 9:24 am

    Yeah, biologists who are human, studying stuff where the facts and truths are sometimes unknown (which is why there are scientists in the first place), some with political agendas, hired by various agencies and groups based on how open they are to the “correct” point of view.

    As for a cadre of biologists. I didn’t use that word. What I’m saying is that many serious land use decisions come down to the “facts” and even probabilities (as in, “human impacts will probably influence the breeding habits of the rodents”) coming from a wildlife or conservation biologist. That’s power. If not, what is?

    And if you believe in the ability of science to give us absolute truth, what’s wrong with admitting that anyone believed to be in that position has power?

    And what, me overstate something (grin)?

  15. Huck July 2nd, 2008 9:31 am

    Who cares about some warty slug? Fire up the chopper and the salt-sprayer. One less species to worry about, in my opinion. It’s time for an Endangered Roads Act. The government ought to be keeping these super-rare invertebrates away from our National Right-Of-Ways. When it’s my Jeep versus a slug, Jeep wins.

  16. hunter July 2nd, 2008 9:40 am

    Hey Lou,

    One of the biggest causes of the “road-no road” argument is the huge explosion of ATV users in the last 5 years or so. ATVs can go anywhere, off road, cross country, over snow, through creeks, etc, and they cause extensive and serious damage to tundra, wetlands and my favorite mtb trails (that are supposedly closed to mechanized use) to name but a few. To add insult to injury, most of the ATV users are visitors from Texas and other points south and east and have no respect for the way that we do things up here. If we stakeholders could come to grips with with the increasing abuse of off-road areas by irresponsible users like ATV people and the 4X4 “mudders” (yeah, yeah, there are A FEW responsible ATV owners, I agree, and I too drive a 4X4), maybe we could head off some of the wilderness designations. We’re fighting a battle to keep some of the sweet Colorado Trail mountain biking from turning into wilderness down here in Durango, and it’s a tough one for me as I’d like to see the ATV gapers (that are trashing it) kept out of that area, but at risk of losing an epic chunk of riding. Now if I only wore hemp clothing and lived on organic granola and sprouts, I wouldn’t have these crises of conscience!

  17. Randonnee July 2nd, 2008 11:21 am

    Even my dog must be licensed, but one may become a “biologist” or “scientist” just by getting a seasonal GS-4 position in the USFS. Yea, we should yield to their expertise..(not).

    An example, the spotted-owl studies here in WA 15 years ago spawned many new summer jobs for marginally-employed casual workers suddenly crowned as biologists. Since I did not personally witness it, I can only pass on these individuals’ stories of sleeping at the TH after smoking something rich, then waking up to tally the spotted owl count.

    There is legitimate science, but in my opinion there is much suspect information unchecked by USFS.

  18. geoff July 2nd, 2008 11:21 am

    I don’t know. I know a lot of biologists and none seem to have much power, yet I bet all of them have examples of their work being used, and often misused, by various interests that do. I don’t think it would be accurate to say that we give their opinions that much respect, let alone power.

    Absolute truth is a tall order. Best current understanding based on observation and reason alone is more like it. There are plenty of things, like what we should value, that are beyond science. I don’t think you’d find many scientists that would say otherwise.

  19. Jess Downing July 2nd, 2008 11:56 am

    I was hiking up to Savage Lakes last weekend and was amazed the amount of damage the trail had from horses. (Well, the part of the trail i could see due to the mass amount of snow still there…) We had to tread carefully not to step in horse ‘leftovers’, and the muddy areas were very torn up. I’ve never seen a bike trail in such horrible condition. Loosing the Thompson Creek area to wilderness, as well as the other ‘gems’ would be a bummer as there are so many ways besides just walking to enjoy our beautiful valley. I’d love to see an agreement between the ‘non-motorized’ users – hikers, horses, mtn bikes and climbers. Why are bikers and climbers the bad guys??

    And the biologists tried to close the section of the Rio Grande trail between Catherine Store bridge and Rock Bottom Ranch for more than the 5 or so months its already closed. Obviously a train used to go through there and the animals and river still exist!

  20. Lou July 2nd, 2008 3:11 pm

    Whew, sounds like we all need to do more skiing or something!

    Jess, yeah, it was really really strange that they’d close a railroad corridor that had been in use for almost 100 years (though recently not used), because of wildlife concerns. Really a good example of the weirdness I blogged about. You can bet the guys on that train in the 1800s shot at anything that moved, and look how lush and full of animals that area is now. To close it 5 months of the year to bicycle riders and walkers, thus ruining the non petroleum alternative transport corridor up and down our valley, is simply absurd.

  21. Lou July 2nd, 2008 3:21 pm

    Hunter, good point about the ATVs. They really are a problem. I laugh about it, however, as all those years through the late 1960s to the 1980s, environmentalists were worrying about closing areas to those pesky Jeeps, which tended to stay on roads and were much easier to regulate (being bigger, and licensed as vehicles and all). Then the law of unintended consequences hit. Because so many areas were made tough to reach with Jeeps, hunters and others began to favor ATVs and the rush began.

    To be fair, ATVs also got popular because they’re fun to ride sometimes. But with better road access in non-wilderness areas, a lot of those people would probably have stayed with using a 4×4. ATVs are no picnic when you’re at 11,000 feet and a thunderstorm hits. My opinion, anyhow…

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