Backcountry Skiing News Roundup — Summer Ski Touring and Fires


Post by WildSnow.com blogger | August 14, 2008      

Colorado backcountry skiing.
Coal Seam Fire, Glenwood Springs Colorado, 2002

If you’ve ever wondered why the Forest Service is short on money, wonder no more. A fascinating series in the Los Angles Times puts it on the line.

Yes, the USFS is spending a Pharaoh’s ransom on firefighting. More, a veritable fire hose of money sluiced on wildfires has become the economic sugar daddy for everything from whole towns, to small contractors with one pickup truck and water tank.

Simply amazing. The info in this series of articles will make you weep next time you see a campground slated for closure, or a rotting trailhead sign that hasn’t been replaced due to a staffing shortage.

Who to blame? It’s the job of the USFS to battle fires — not much they can do internally to change that, though they do have some discretion on what they let burn and what they fight. What we probably need is a shift in public thinking, this followed by smart lawmaking (oxymoron?) that requires better forest management (also known as logging and controlled burns). More, where homes exist in wildland fire regions, we appear to need much stricter requirements on fire resistant construction and defensible space. If none of the above, then spending $1.37 BILLION dollars a year (as was thrown to the flames in 2007), will continue to drain the USFS.

Summer skiing is alive and well. Folks in the Northwest do it more than they talk about it, as finding summer turns is easy when you’ve got a wet and scrappy climate. In the desiccated middle mountains of the continent we tend to talk about it more than we do it, but we do have our moments. They get it in the Tetons, and down here in Colorado we have our glory at places such as Montezuma Basin.

What’s terrific about Montezuma Basin is you can drive a jeep trail to snow. One reason this sublime road exists is it provides access to a parcel of private land that’s used as a parking area and crossed by most people who ski or climb in the area. Looks like a land swap might give this to the public. Good? We don’t know. Apparently no formal easement exists for public use of this land, so conveying it to public ownership would solve that problem. BUT, once the road only accesses public land it could easily be slated for closure. Catch 22?

I’ll go on record by saying that Montezuma Basin Road is one of Colorado’s most enjoyable and stupendous tracks. Not only is it a historical resource, but it provides perfectly situated access to all manner of recreation that would otherwise require a lengthy approach hike. (There, now when the planners Google it, perhaps they’ll see this and it’ll get ’em thinking.)

In news of mountain trials and tribulations, I ran across this report that one of New Zealand’s leading mountain and ski guides has died of a heart attack while on a hut trip with the country’s Prime Minister. Also, more about the K2 tragedy in this first person account: climbers screaming as they fall to their death, others bare footed and dangling in a web of tangled ropes…



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Comments

11 Responses to “Backcountry Skiing News Roundup — Summer Ski Touring and Fires”

  1. Jason August 14th, 2008 11:39 am

    Thanks for pointing out the news about Gottlieb. He was the first guide I ever skied with. He opened my eyes to what ski touring could be with 5,000+ vertical descents and days of 7,000-10,000 vert. Also opened my eyes to the fact that with a guide, you could ski in a completely foreign land and ski a 5,000 foot glacier run of dry powder on you first run.

    He was pretty much the guy who brought Euro guide standards and backcountry ski touring to New Zealand. He was also a true pioneer in ski touring the Patagonia Ice Cap and I am pretty sure was the first to ever guide it.

    Lou, you will appreciate that he was also the first person to climb all of New Zealand’s 3,000 meter peaks in a single winter. His wife is pretty much a badass as well doing many of the female “firsts” for alpinism in NZ.

    Also noticed from the link you provided how the PM of New Zealand actually gets outside. I have heard that we have not had a president who has slept outside since Teddy Roosevelt much less one that actually climbs.

  2. Dongshow August 14th, 2008 11:49 am

    I agree Lou, whenever you hear wildfire news the first thing mentioned is always the number of homes under threat. People need to take some responsibility and realize if you live in a forest, fires are going to be a risk. It’s no different then people living in flood plains and complaining when their homes are under water. It’s one thing to protect a town site, entirely another when people have just scattered a loose collection of homes across a valley. Maybe the public will come around to the realization that protecting extravagant rural development from the threat of fires is a bit non nonsensical. Fires happen.

  3. Lou August 14th, 2008 1:21 pm

    Apparently, after people worrying about their homes, the second thing that comes to many minds is the $$$ they’ll make from the fire. According to the articles, fire officials even order unnecessary slurry drops just to make photo ops and show that the powers that be are “doing everything they can” to save lives and property.

    I’d always known that the USFS money problems were more challenges of allocation than an actual shortage. These articles offer more proof.

  4. David August 14th, 2008 3:00 pm

    Here in Cali we have already burnt through $285 million and are spending about $13 million a day. We now have big fires year round, fire season now lasts 12 months. This is a big change and we haven’t adapted yet. The west does need more controlled burns, selective logging around human development, much stricter defensible space rules, and stronger limits on sprawl in prime fire habitat.

    While there is always extravagant waste in emergency response, once a fire is threatening homes it’s near impossible for firefighters to decide not to “allocate” resources to try fight the fire.

  5. Nick August 14th, 2008 3:08 pm

    David – completely agree…. A 12-month drought leads to a 12-month fire season. Up here in North Cal it is like a giant tinder box ready to go at the slightest trigger (e.g., clay pigeon shooting leading to the wildfires at the SW enterance to Yosemite several weeks ago).

  6. Clyde August 14th, 2008 4:38 pm

    The Hurricane Katrina of fires is just around the corner here in Colorado. My chainsaw has been busy these past few months.

    BTW the live to 100 link goes to BCA. Am I missing something?

  7. Lou August 14th, 2008 5:00 pm

    Hey Clyde, thanks for the bad link info. I had a glitch this morning while writing the blogpost, and a few things got messed up. Didn’t catch that. I’ll fix. Meanwhile, BCA will help us live to be 100 (grin).

    Fixed now.

  8. jeff August 15th, 2008 12:09 am

    I haven’t read the articles but will, and am curious if they brought up a solution that wildfires should be managed under an emergency expenditure, similar to the way hurricanes and tornados are under FEMA. When a business burns down, they don’t cover the loss under operating income, but through insurance. USFS needs the same to keep their normal operations running and still battle fires.

    I grew up in Cody and during the Yellowstone fires, the death threats and armed security around park superintentendent Robert Barbee should give an indication of the feelings in the west towards let it burn. The philosophy of control and contain is still very much alive.

  9. ken August 16th, 2008 6:18 pm

    Having been a USFS firefighter for 14 years I came to believe it should be called the Small Town Investment Program. Goddamn disgusting and ended up causing more damage than that being prevented.
    Quit and do massage now so I can ski and live with a guilt free conscience.

  10. Wart August 17th, 2008 9:33 am

    Anyone been up to montezuma lately? Hoping to go up this week. Heard that july up there was very good.
    P.S. What is Louie Jr. hiding behind his back in the coal seam fire photo? Looks kind of suspicious.

  11. Lou August 17th, 2008 11:05 am

    Jordan White said he might head up there today. With a dusting of new snow it might be pretty good, but last report I heard said many rocks were on snow surface, so if those get hid by a small amount of snow, then watch out! But it’s always fun.

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