Winter Wildlands Grassroots Advocacy Conference

Post by blogger | October 27, 2008      

About halfway through the lecture on “Federal Agencies and NEPA,” I really started wondering why I was there.

Winter Wildlands Alliance (WWA) is a non-profit that advocates for what they call “quiet winter use,” meaning they’re anti snowmobile. Most of you Wildsnowers know I’m a recreation advocate who, while seeing the need for non-motorized areas, is uncomfortable with how much we divide and regulate recreation on non-wilderness land.

Hence, I did feel out of place at WWA’s annual conference. Sure, in terms of backcountry skiing many kindred souls were present, but I kept wondering what they really thought of our Yamaha and what new use restrictions they were cooking up. Luckily motorized recreation activist Jack Welch was attending, so he balanced things out a bit and I felt more comfortable.

NEPA is of course the National Environmental Policy Act, the famed law (signed into being by none other than President Richard Nixon, imagine that) which forces our government to look at how the human world impacts the natural world. Enactment of NEPA being a somewhat revolutionary event in the history of governance (or something like Moses and the tablets if you talk to certain people — and there is probably some truth to that).

At any rate, it was obvious I was in for an earful after about 15 minutes of the lawyer waxing on about NEPA. Six hours and at least that many presentations later, with my legs approaching thrombosis from too much chair, I was definitely thinking about the snow in Montezuma Basin and how to improve how our Jeep worked for access to such. But I have to admit that my level of knowledge about environmental activism has definitely received a boost, and that’ll help inform this blog.

A couple of take-homes:

Most interesting to me is how snowmobiling has been passed over in much of National Forest travel planning. Turns out that the USFS Travel Management Rule, which takes an immense amount of time and money to implement (not to mention enforce), simply does not apply to snowmobiles unless the forest manager decides to include snowmobile in the process. Since it takes even more money and time to include winter use, forest managers tend to not do so. Thus, managing snowmobile use has been tough no matter which side of the fence you’re on, as there is still no real nationwide system in place for doing so.

Quite a few guys from the USFS were there and gave presentations. So another take-home was just how embroiled this group of activists and the USFS are in the “spend and control” view of managing things. What really brought this home to me was their talk about Vail Pass, where heavy winter use has led to the solution of charging a stiff daily user fee ($6.00 per person), which in turn finances education and enforcement.

All well and good, till you find out that a hefty percentage of winter use on Vail Pass is from outfitters and their customers. In other words, the crowding might be caused in large part by commercial use. Knowing that, I can’t help but wonder if the average non-commercial day user is paying a fee so the USFS can manage crowding caused in good part by commercial use? In other words, we’re being asked to support people’s business endeavors with what is pretty much a defacto tax, and a regressive one at that.

The situation reminds me of how we’re taxed here in our region to support a bus system that mostly benefits business in Aspen (by providing transport for massive amounts of inexpensive immigrant labor). You look at the details, and you wonder if business shouldn’t be shouldering more of the burden (or perhaps just paying people more)? But then, you consider the economic engine business provides and how much value their customers get, so perhaps they should be subsidized in various ways? Interesting questions, anyway.

As for Vail Pass in particular, perhaps the solution they’ve implemented is a necessary evil. Time will tell. But I have to admit to some amazement that the solution of simply providing a few more trailheads to reduce crowding is rarely mentioned. Doing so just seems like such a nobrainer, instead of all this endless effort to cut up the pie, charge user fees, have enforcers on site, etc.

Specifically, the northerly side of Interstate 70 at Vail Pass is defacto non-motorized as it butts up to legal Wilderness. But you can’t park there even though perfectly adequate road access exists (parking is reserved for commercial use). To not have public parking available there, in light of the crowding problem, seems insane to me. But then, I’m just a user digging for $6.00 of coins in my center console.

Winter Wildlands directer Mark Menlove invited me to the Conference (thanks Mark) to sit on a panel about “hybrid” snowmobile use, meaning folks who use sleds to either access skiing, or as a substitute for ski lifts (I’m in the former category, thank you very much.)

Our panel convened when everyone was somewhat burned, but we got in some interesting discussion anyway. Panelists were Wildlands director Mark Menlove, Ben Bartosz of a snowcat skiing operation, USFS recreation manager Tim Lamb, and myself.

As hybrid skiing was a relatively new concept to many of the folks in the room (many who’d grown up in the tradition that skiers used lifts and toured, while snowmobilers rode), most of our panel talk was about what hybrid skiers do and how they do it. I had fun describing things like ghost riding and steering side-by-side. You could see a few jaws drop when I mentioned that I expected to see a remote control system for snowmobile operation come out withing the next five years (so you can ride up, send your sled down the hill, then make turns).

I also got in a mention about how important snowmobiles have become to snow-season alpinism here in Colorado. Which I hope got some of the climbers in the room thinking about how these issues are not so black and white, and that some of the snowmobile routes they may be thinking about closing could have more purpose than just being fodder for sled heads.

The concept of backcountry skiers who use snowmobiles really does fly in the face of much the Winter Wildlands Alliance is based on. So I didn’t hear any concrete ideas on where they’ll go with the issue. One guy mentioned that you can’t just keep dividing the land up for different uses, and that we have to work on other types of solutions. I’ll second that emotion.

In all, the conference got me thinking we need to take care of crowding and user conflicts — but that we all, motorized, quiet or hybrid, should be on guard about the cure being worse than the disease.


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34 Responses to “Winter Wildlands Grassroots Advocacy Conference”

  1. ron October 27th, 2008 12:01 pm

    why can’t we all just get along?

  2. Mark Menlove October 27th, 2008 12:32 pm

    Hey Lou,

    Thanks for sharing your insights on hybrid skiing with the Winter Wildlands Alliance conference participants and for your thoughts on the subject here. And, sorry for the chair-induced thrombosis and the glazed eyes from too much policy wonk talk. Believe me, I share your pain. I’d much rather be out in the backcountry than listening to explanations of NEPA or, worse yet, trying to stay awake when wading through three-inch thick NEPA documents.

    While its easy to paint Winter Wildlands into the anti-snowmobile corner, I don’t think it’s accurate. The whole point of having you there to talk about sled skiing and Jack Welch and others from the snowmobile community there was to approach things from a balanced perspective.

    I’m not against snowmobiles. I’ve logged my share of miles on a sled, commuting for three winters to a cabin high in the Wasatch and, yup, on occasion using a sled to access remote ski terrain that would have taken days to approach on skis. My wife even tells me the lingering smell of two stroke on my clothes is sexy. So, I freely admit snowmobiles have their place. But it isn’t every place.

    That’s why I’m willing to sit through wonky NEPA discussions and wade through way too many governmentalese documents. It’s the only way we, as backcountry skiers, have of keeping some balance in the backcountry. Otherwise it turns into a free-for-all where those with the biggest, loudest, most powerful toys get their run of the place and the rest of us get backed into a few pockets of accessible Wilderness or secret stashes overlooked — for now — by our motorized brethren.

    At any rate, I appreciate your insight. It’s all part of the keeping things in balance. I hope next time we get together it’s out on snow. I promise not to mention NEPA .


  3. Clyde October 27th, 2008 12:37 pm

    The Vail Pass fee works perfectly for me…I haven’t been there since it was implemented and will never give a dime to causes that support such taxation. The Commando Run is dead anyhow.

    As for snowmobiles, as long as you all are limited to the new 4-cylinder machines, I have no problem. But the noisy, smelly old machines still plague many places and they plain suck.

    Now if WWA would work to ban snowshoers from using ski trails and skin tracks, it might actually be worth supporting 😉

  4. Lou October 27th, 2008 1:11 pm

    Mark, again, thanks for the opportunity you gave me to do some learning.

    I should have mentioned (but ran out of room) that the crazy dynamic behind things such as Vail Pass is that a few people complain, then the Forest Service steps in. When the complainers can’t agree during negotiations, the Forest Service threatens to “Take care of the situation ourselves, and we guarantee most of you will find our solution highly distasteful.” Then the complainers (otherwise known as stakeholders even though not everyone is included) are forced to hack out a solution that might be a good compromise in terms of rules and regulations, but might not be as good as simply letting things stay as they were.

    How this whole process works really gelled in my mind while listening to the presentations. I have no doubt it sometimes works, but can’t convince myself it ALWAYS works. And I’m for from convinced it resulted in the best solution for Vail Pass.

    And Clyde, yeah, I mentioned in some writing on this subject a long time ago that if we were going to segregate use, why not have a division for snowshoers as well?

    P.S., I do know that a number of folks in WWA look for balance, but you have to admit there are number of people involved who are pretty down on motorized recreation in general, and snowmobiling in particular. And their idea of “balance” might be quite a bit different than my view of how we use non-wilderness lands for recreation. I know this for a fact.

  5. Njord October 27th, 2008 1:16 pm

    I don’t think the general public has any idea how little terrain is actually open to snow machines… when you look at the FS’s Forest Plan, most of the non-wilderness land is also incompatible to snow-machines.

    Sometimes I feel like the granola crowd needs a boogyman just like Rush Limbough needs his Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid boogyman just keep thier “causes” going. Everyone needs someone you can blame all the evils on…


  6. Lou October 27th, 2008 1:30 pm

    Indeed, a map passed out at the Conference says that here in Pitkin County, Colorado, 64% of USFS and BLM land is closed to motorized use, and that doesn’t include the places where snowmobiles can’t go due to access blockage or impossible terrain, which I’d say increases that amount to more like 80% (despite the myth that the “new mountain sleds can go anywhere.”)

    By the same token, in that closed 64% there is a ton of legal wilderness that’s only possible to ski on if you’re up for a multi-day trip or a huge single push. This is due to poor road access caused by a number of factors, including private land blocked access, roads that have been closed to both snowmobiles and 4x4s, and the total lack of new road or trailhead building.

    And adding to the crazy state of affairs, quite a bit of our land that’s closed to snowmobiles but good for skiing is best accessed by, yes, snowmobile. Maroon Creek Road is best example of this.

    Last point is where I think organizations such as Winter Wildlands can be problematic. If they get on a tear to close something that’s actually good snowmobile access to a much larger region of non motorized terrain, then they’re working against the interests of many backcountry skiers. I think folks like Wildlands director Mark are very aware of this and I trust are guarding against it, but it’s a dangerous possibility because as I mentioned above, you stir the USFS in the mixing bowl with complaining users, and you never know what’s going to come out of the oven.

  7. Mark Menlove October 27th, 2008 3:13 pm


    You’re right about the blanket closure approach being problematic. One more reason it’s important to be involved in the process when the forest service or BLM start mapping out where different uses are allowed or disallowed. Especially important for local folks who know the area (your example of Maroon Creek Road is spot on) to get involved.

    Also meant to mention that I fully agree with your comment about the obvious solution of providing more trailheads to reduce crowding. Makes a whole lot more sense than bottlenecking everyone — motorized and non-motorized — through the same access points.

  8. Lou October 27th, 2008 5:38 pm

    All good, just beware when you start designating snowshoe and sledding areas where skiing isn’t allowed. After all, we’re sometimes kinda noisy.

  9. Lou October 27th, 2008 5:48 pm

    By the way, 10th Mountain Huts has worked with the Forest Service around here to create a few new trailheads and deserves cred for that. Most are just parking relocations, but a few are real new trailheads with attached access trails. Sadly, these are too few, too late, and too specialized. What we need are trailheads that’ll ease crowding. Building one on the opposite side of the highway from Vail Pass Rest Area is the obvious one. I’m simply flabbergasted that this has not been done.

  10. Frank K October 27th, 2008 6:13 pm

    I’ll only add this one thought. One compromise which is rarely seen is “limited access” openings for snowmobiles. I.E.- You can take a snowmobile up a road, but you can’t go off the road. In the absence of snowmobile tour groups, this will mean that for the most part the only people on snowmobiles will be hybrid users, since puttering down a road isn’t fun for a serious snowmobiler.

    In other words, I want to snowmobile up Gothic road outside of Crested Butte, so I can access the Maroon Bells-Snowmass wilderness, and I don’t need to go one inch of the road to be happy.

  11. Lou October 27th, 2008 8:05 pm

    Frank, tell us more about Gothic Road. What’s the status for snowmobile use?

  12. Frank K October 27th, 2008 9:49 pm

    Snowmobiles are allowed on Gothic rd. past Rustler’s gulch. That’s fine early season, but when the closure is in Mt CB in mid winter, there’s no access, so basically Gothic rd. is closed. I wish there was a situation where we could still use that road so long as we weren’t roosting around all over the place. That’s basically the situation up Washington gulch, plus you have to get a special permit for Wash Gulch, which tends to exclude the sledhead-only types.

  13. John Gloor October 27th, 2008 11:16 pm

    Lou, I would like to point out that both Maroon Creek road and Independence Pass road are under Forest service control in the winter (Maroon Creek all year). Many of the people nordic skiing and hiking or dogwalking would love to have sleds banned from those roads even though T lazy 7 grooms them for nordic usage out of goodwill (they are a snowmobile touring operation). Like Frank K , I use only the paved road path, but I can sense the dislike people have of my vehicle being used of all places, on a road! If someone wants a wilderness experience, I’d like to suggest not playing on Highway 82. It scares me to think that with one change of opinion, the Forest service could essentially render large areas of land inaccessible except for those willing to slog 10-15 miles of road. When it comes to user numbers, the hikers and walkers outnumber sleds probably 40-1 (total Guess). These roads are the only place a vehicle can go due to wilderness and terrain limitations and would be a shame to loose. I hope the hybrid skier phenomenon gives responsible sled users more clout as opposed to dumping fuel on the fire by increasing obnoxious usage.

  14. MJ Hall October 27th, 2008 11:40 pm

    Thanks for representing, Lou.

    If Mark invited you there to speak about the benefits of sled access, then the meeting is exposing people to you and giving them a face to associate with a different slant on access. You probably even looked acceptable to the folks.

    I couldn’t agree with you more, on the spreading out the access points. It always baffles me why multiple trailheads are not utilized. It seems that being crowded together is where some problems start. I would drive further to access a less crowded trailhead. If some trailheads are not maintained as often, then it will keep some people out of that one, but you would have the option.

    I am new to snowmobiling, my 4th year, the only reason I bought sleds for my wife and I, was to access some of the far reaches that we had mountain biked into during the summers. I would have never thought about owning a sled, but it makes sense. These new snowmobiles are much improved over the old ones, as far as pollutants. But it takes time for the old snowmobiles to work their way out of the system. The new sleds get 2 -3 times better gas mileage because they burn cleaner and leaner. Even the 2-strokes.

    LET it SNOW…

  15. AK Jack October 28th, 2008 1:11 am

    I have no problem with mechanized access, but I despise the noise, emissions and wildlife stress from sleds. Almost all of us use fossil fuel to get to the trailhead, ski hill, etc. But, quiet use, self-propelled advocates like me want some peace and solitude.

    Until I quit hearing and smelling sleds from a mile or more away, I’ll keep fighting to reduce sled access. But, I would rather see strict noise abatement and emissions limits.

    Chugach National Forest, Glacier Ranger District solution in the Turnagain Pass area is OK – sledheads on one side and non-motorized on the other side of the highway at a winter wonderland that has incredible snow. The motorized side is sees helicopters, sled skiers, and even a few healthy (but perhaps emission-induced asmatic) self-propelled enthusiasts.

  16. Lou October 28th, 2008 7:13 am

    The main thing anti motorized advocates need to realize is that we’re wanting recreation access, and if they keep doing things that limit access their reign will be short lived. Recreation access in the mountain west has been severely curtailed by a number of factors, and people are getting feed up with being blocked from their own public land. Keep in mind that Winter Wildlands, as Mark said, is not necessarily in the class of the total anti motorized groups, but enough of their members and supporters are in that class as to require caution on the part of anyone who values recreation access. In other words, the “antis” will co-opt anything if they get half a chance — so look out.

    Above is why I’m very cautious about supposedly pro recreation groups such as Winter Wildlands, Colorado Mountain Club and others. Also, they’re pro recreation, but usually more about their own form of recreation. (As they should be since that’s their mission, but one needs to be aware of that.)

    I’ve written in the past about how I’d love to see a backcountry access advocacy group form, that basically worked to deal with private land blocks, making new trailheads and keeping roads open — for all legal types of outdoor recreation. Blue Ribbon Coalition has the potential for that, but they’re viewed by the non-motorized as too much of a motorized group. But perhaps Blue Ribbon will evolve into something. They’ve got the structure and their mission is about including all user groups.

    Gothic road out of Crested Butte is a really good example of a perfectly good access road being shut down for winter shared use. Maroon Creek Road out of Aspen is a county road so it’s not under total USFS jurisdiction, but I’m pretty sure the County could close it any time they want, and perhaps the USFS could as well. Luckily it’s been used for years by a snowmobile tour operation so closing it in winter would raise a stink, but I’m sure there are people who would like nothing better than to see it closed to motorized winter use.

    In fact, I think Gloor has a point in that there are a ton of non-motorized folks using the Maroon Creek road, and closing it to motorized at some point could indeed become an issue. In that case, we’d get the usual mob rule situation with tons of people shouting at the USFS and them responding with some sort of divided use or other such nonsense. Scary.

    Interestingly, even though Maroon Creek Road out of Aspen is open to sleds, it’s not a place that recreational sledders go for poaching. I’m not sure why that is, perhaps too many witnesses as there are quite a few people up there usually. So, regarding Gothic Road, if it was open to everyone and got more use, perhaps it would self police in terms of the poaching. But no, instead, just close it. That thinking is like “wow, someone drove recklessly on the highway, we’d better close it to all drivers.”

  17. cory October 28th, 2008 8:08 am

    How many sledders are asking to limit sled access? How many human powered folks are asking to open up sled access? My point is that right or wrong, we justify what we do. Lou- I can definitely say that I saw an increase in sled related articles since last winter. Back in the day when you were banging out the 14ers, were you also raising consciousness to sledders rights? (Just curious). All I’m asking here is for people to open up and try arguing the other side of the coin.

  18. Craig Burbank October 28th, 2008 8:22 am

    A few years back a couple of friends and I decided to take the safe and easy snowmobile approach (Gothic rd.) to the Maroon Bells Wildernesss to ski S Maroon. After a day and a half we returned to the trailhead only to be met by two of Crested Buttes finest. They searched thru their little field books and found that they couldn’t charge us with any wrong-doing despite the so-called closure. I wonder if this and other closures are even legal or if they are just in place to deter people from trying it. In the published police report they quoted us saying, “we would do it again to ski the bells” So True. Although we havent done it since, I would like to believe that it would be the same result. Like Frank says we wouldnt have to go an inch off OUR public road to achieve this, so why wouldnt we??? Its OUR road after all………

  19. Lou October 28th, 2008 8:30 am

    Cory, I’ve used snowmobiles for a long time, as well as being pretty down on them in the 1970s… Over the years I’ve written quite a bit about how we should try and share use and that dividing the pie could be bad for everyone. I indeed did some of that writing during my 14er project, and used snowmobiles for access to some of the peaks while doing the project.

    I agree, we should try to look at all types of recreation as being valuable and worth trying to include rather than exclude, though segregated use does have its place when the crowds get too thick.

    What suprises me is that we’ve got all sorts of people advocating to block motorized use of public land, but where is the organization that’s trying to do something about all the private land that used to be crossed by the public to access public land, and is now closed? This results in folks who happen to own certain property having exclusive rights to vast tracts of prime National Forest. Does anyone care? Colorado Mountain Club is doing some work in that arena, regarding access to peaks, but that’s about all I know of. Seems like private land blockage is a way bigger problem than Vail Pass — for all of us.

    (Disclaimer: I believe in property rights as a foundation of our economy and governmental system, but I also believe the public has the right to cross certain critical property to access their public land.)

  20. Jim Jones October 28th, 2008 8:35 am

    Problem is too many snowmobiles have shown up and many have no ethics. Everybody seems to have bought a sled in the last few years and overpopulation of anything creates problems. When I started ‘Hybrid’ skiing back in the 70’s there were only a couple of friends that were out there as well, we would go whole seasons and only see ourselves, now its a mad house, esp. off the top of Aspen mt. So, becuase there are so many sleds skiers there are now issues. Too many people change everything.

  21. Lou October 28th, 2008 8:42 am

    Burbank, that reminds of a time long ago when I happened to provide my own access to a “closed” road for a certain life changing 14er descent. I wasn’t sure about the legalities invoved, though I could possibly have been busted. Figured the price was worth it if that happended.

    Civil disobedience is honorable, is it not? At least that’s what I keep hearing from protest groups. But it can get expensive. Now that I’m more of a public figure I watch my p’s and q’s pretty carefully, as the USFS loves to make one-in-a-thousand examples of rule breakers who happen to have a high profile. One has to wonder if in the case of the Gothic Road something like a “ride in” would make a point. Like when all those Beuticians climbed Red Lady years ago and painted a big anti mining slogan on the side of the mountain. USFS responds to whomever shouts the loudest, so a ride-in civil disobedience event could invoke “change.” And are we not on the cusp of “change?” Is not “change” what we all desire? So why not invoke some change?

    Meanwhile, I’ll keep digging for spare change to make the Vail Pass user fee.

  22. Craig Burbank October 28th, 2008 8:49 am

    Maybe we should ride our old beater sleds up Gothic Rd in the summer months and see what happens………

  23. Chris October 28th, 2008 10:23 am

    I must admit I did not read all of the above chatter (too nice a day here in CO) but one thing we need to think about is reckless use. To ghost ride a motorcycle down main street would be unacceptable and off trail high-mark type use is comparable to driving through a city park (in my opinion). The oversight of such use is expensive given the amount of public land in the west but in the end we all want to be safe out there and keep the resource from getting trashed.

  24. Randonnee October 28th, 2008 11:16 am

    Arrrgh, Lou! Oh please, quit parroting the dissimilar (to you) mainstream and unprincipled out there- “Civil disobedience is honorable, is it not? At least that’s what I keep hearing from protest groups.” The true measure of character is how one chooses to behave when no one is watching. We citizens must advocate for change through the established Process and Authority. My experience recently proves that positive and active involvement may effect results.

    As far as being a target of USFS Enforcement, I would argue that they “hate everyone equally” (rhetorical phrase for illustrative purposes). In my view and experience conducting USFS Law Enforcement is so difficult that anyone gets ticketed when the opportunity arises. I have felt the same even about our County Sheriff Deputies in this rural mountain County.

    “To ghost ride a motorcycle down main street would be unacceptable” True, and unrelated. Ghost riding a motorcycle on main street would be unlawful. If no law (that I am aware of) regulates snowmobile ghost-riding, it perhaps would be unlawful only if one causes reckless endangerment of others, or disorderly conduct, or destruction of property/ resource damage, or something along those lines.

    As far as Enforcement on public Lands, a few examples of Citations and the stiff Fines involved go a long way. The other aspect is civil citizen involvement. For example, I try to gently do my part to correct Public Land law breakers on their mechanized transportation and even those improperly firing rifles or shotguns on Public Land across roads or trails or littering, for example, with clay pigeons. Sometimes some logs moved or a waist-high log and brush pile across an illegal mechanized-vehicle route has the proper effect.

  25. Chris October 28th, 2008 12:17 pm

    Sorry for the poor example. My point is saftey and respect for the resource. I think most motorized and non-motorized users would agree it is a small percent of users (of both motorized and non) being reckless out there. If there is no law against running an ORV without a user on board or with multiple users on the grips there should be.

  26. Marcus Libkind October 28th, 2008 12:51 pm

    I’ve been a part of the human-powered winter recreation community for more than 35 years. I’m active in advocacy and work toward providing places for the muscle-powered recreationists to get away from the drone and pollution of our cities.

    When I started advocating for the muscle-powered community 22 years ago it was because year after year I saw the places that I enjoyed over-run by snowmoibles. For many years advocacy was pretty much confrontational. I am very happy to say that in California where I live things are changing for the better. I’ve been snowmobiling as part of working with that community. I’ve met one-on-one with leaders in the snowmobile community in an effort to work out quality on-the-ground plans that will benefit both user groups.

    In most cases my goal is to create quiet zones close to the highway and expand access to snowmobiles beyond these zones. In a current case I’m hoping to establish a three square mile non-motorized zone adjacent to a highway where a number of marked ski/snowshoe trails snake through the woods. In return I have advocated to eliminate 4x4s on a road coveted by snowmobilers and encouraged the State to provide the local snowmobile club with a groomer. With those two tasks complete I am in favor of expanding the snowmobile staging area and expanding the groomed trails into a major area offering both road and cross-country snowmobile touring.

    I hope that working in this way we can come up with win-win solutions. I should also add that this project began when the President of the California Nevada Snowmobile Association came to me asking to work together. I embraced the idea and only hope that it will end in progress that is beneficial to all. But I don’t see this as the norm. In most places user groups continue to butt heads.

    But I’m in CA and the conditions are much different than in CO. Hopefully you will be able to work toward good site-specific solutions. But it takes a willingness to talk and trust that is often hard to find.

    It all boils down to there are just too many people for everyone to get everything they want. It’s easy to say we should all share. But sharing to many does not mean a balance between areas open to snowmobile use and those designated solely muscle-powered recreation where people like myself can find in nature that which they seek.

    Snowmobile users should not think that there are no restrictions on muscle-powered recreationists. In summer I can no longer just go backpacking. I have to make a reservation and very often the trailhead I’m interested in is full. I accept the situation but don’t like it. So don’t think that only motorized visitors to our forests are limited by rules.

    My wife once commented that wouldn’t it be nice if everyone embraced outdoor recreation. My reply was “absolutely no.” That’s a horrible idea. The conflicts and overuse in some areas would be much worse if that were true. In fact, the worse thing that could happen is if football were outlawed. Think of all those people who would now be free on weekends to go into the mountains.

    Well, that’s my perspective.

  27. Lou October 28th, 2008 1:05 pm

    Marcus, I’m honored to have you drop in with your thoughts. Good stuff, and thanks for being intellectually honest about “everyone” being a “horrible idea.” A lot of people feel that way and are not honest about it.

    As for myself, I think that concept is somewhat rhetorical (and perhaps you meant it to be so) as the whole population of potential outdoor recreators would never take it up all at once. More, most of our U.S. population increase is from a culture that doesn’t pursue outdoor recreation very aggressively.

    Through my lens I see the whole problem is one of not having enough access to underutilized terrain.

  28. Kai October 28th, 2008 2:37 pm

    Interesting dialog. In the interests of disclosure, readers should note that I am an avid backcountry skier, own a snowmobile, and also am somewhat gainfully employed as the Snow Ranger for the USFS on the Gunnison/Crested Butte Ranger District, and thus responsible for managing the increasingly complex issues regarding winter backcountry recreation.

    The Gothic Road outside Crested Butte is both a Gunnison County road and a Forest Service road (just beyond Gothic townsite). The road is closed to snowmobiles for it’s full length, year around, until the boundary of the White River National Forest on Schofield Pass.

    Gunnison County closed their portion of the road to snowmobile use in 1995(they have jurisdiction over the first 4 miles or so), and the Forest Service followed suit, after years of difficult negotiations and balancing with a great deal of local input and environmental analysis. The USFS winter designations around Crested Butte may not be perfect, but they do provide a spectrum from fully motorized/mixed use (Kebler, Slate River, Cement Creek) to something in between (Washington Gulch and Brush Creek) to non-motorized (Gothic)

    I think that it is very important to note that the Gothic Road/corridor is the ONLY winter non-motorized, major drainage leading out of Crested Butte. I really don’t think that is asking too much. All kinds of winter recreationists who want to enjoy the winter backcountry without motors whizzing by, deserve to have relatively easy and accessible places to do that too, not just relegated to distant, designated Wilderness, or groomed nordo trails. The Gothic Road gets a ton of use by flat track , novice skiers and snowshoers looking for a quiet getaway on an easy to follow road. And, it’s free.

    The backcountry, sled accessed skiing around Crested Butte is endless. I own a snowmobile, and regularly use it like a car to shorten the approaches. I’m perfectly satisfied (personally) that if I want to get out to the far reaches of the upper Gothic area, I’ve got to get there under my own power. Ultimately, isn’t that what backcountry skiing is supposed to be about? I can’t claim alot of sympathy for snowmobilers or hybrids who feel that somehow they should have rapid or quick access to every corner of the winter backcountry. Aboslutely, it is perfectly legitimate use and I fully support and participate, but multiple use doesn’t mean multiple use on every acre.

    that’s my two cents.


  29. Christian October 28th, 2008 4:00 pm

    Vail Pass is a great place to study these overlapping issues and interests. I have no problem paying a fee to sled there, but it’s down right illegal to charge me to merely skin for a few laps, take a tour through the area, or otherwise generally access the terrain.

    I refuse to pay for those basic uses, and will vigorously fight any citation I receive (I’ve always refused to pay when skinning, and have never been cited).

    The volume of sled use at the pass needs some management for sure, but it’s how the non-motorized crowd subsidizes this that is wrong. BTW, I use the pass quietly, and loudly.

    “The Secretary shall not charge any standard amenity recreation fee or
    expanded amenity recreation fee for Federal recreational lands and waters administered by the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service, or the Bureau of Reclamation under this Act for any of the following:

    Solely for parking, undesignated parking, or picnicking along roads or trailsides.

    For general access unless specifically authorized under this section.

    For persons who are driving through, walking through, boating through, horseback riding through, or hiking through Federal recreational lands and waters without using the facilities and services.”

  30. Frank K October 28th, 2008 7:00 pm


    I agree with you- the compromises made in the CB area are not perfect, but they do seek to achieve a balance. As a skier, I find Gothic rd. to be the jewel that I covet, for it holds the best and most interesting skiing of any of the trailheads. I would trade closures on Slate and Wash gulch and Brush creek just to get Gothic in return. Meanwhile, Kebler is de facto closed to anything other than motorized use, unless you want to risk getting run over by a sled going 80. It’s all good, might have to check out the new cabin in Gothic for some human-powered missions.

  31. Lou October 28th, 2008 7:55 pm

    Am of the mind that a main road that’s open in the summer should be open for snowmobiles in the winter. Period. I just don’t get why some snow justifies shutting down access for a good part of the public.

  32. Dave Nixon November 7th, 2008 2:32 pm

    Interesting dialogue all. History: I have been an avid backcountry skier 20+ years but now that I don’t live in the Tetons–with easier access–I have resorted to sled skiing in MT. With all the logging roads demanding a 10+ mile access before good skiable terrain.

    but that we all, motorized, quiet or hybrid, should be on guard about the cure being worse than the disease.

    I concur. Having worked as a group member involving coalitions of mixed users, I can say that I have experienced the worst the feds can offer on “multiple use” which is to completely close an area to all use.

    I don’t think the general public has any idea how little terrain is actually open to snow machines… when you look at the FS’s Forest Plan, most of the non-wilderness land is also incompatible to snow-machines.

    Agreed. Non-motorized or “muscle powered” proponents use the FS acreage on skewed graphics trying to point out the advantages or disadvantages of one user group over another. This brings me(us) back to quote#1 do not force the feds hand with biased facts.

    If they get on a tear to close something that’s actually good snowmobile access to a much larger region of non motorized terrain, then they’re working against the interests of many backcountry skiers

    True also. By demanding a complete closure to motorized we will also shoot ourselves in the foot by effectively cutting off access to sled skiing. Back to quote#2: most of the FS lands are not compatible to sled machines or skies.

    but usually more about their own form of recreation.

    We must be careful in hoping the FS is going to choose our specific recreational use, over another’s, because it is more saintly.

    In most cases my goal is to create quiet zones close to the highway and expand access to snowmobiles beyond these zones.

    Sort of agree. I have found, statistically, that a very small percentage of muscle powered backcountry users venture more than a days tour away from their vehicles (busy lives, equipment failures, ageing populace, etc). The vast majority of muscle powered users (remember I’m one too) will drive multiple hours for an hour+ of activity so quote#5 is a good start, but be aware that the diehard sled crowd is populated with the engine modder mentality that should have no place but on a racetrack. I use a smaller, newer, stock machine that is quiet and still allows access to remote terrain. So, like backcountry access at a ski area, or motorized use at an OHV park, users should have to meet some vehicle/skill/equipment requirements before being allowed remote access.

  33. Lou November 7th, 2008 3:12 pm

    Wow, nice analysis Dave, thanks!

  34. Dave Nixon November 7th, 2008 4:14 pm

    Trying to look at the subject from all points of view

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