Backcountry Skiing News Roundup

Post by blogger | November 28, 2008      

As many of you know, it’s been as dry as an overcooked pancake here in the west. But it is FINALLY storming today in Colorado. So perhaps this will be a repeat of last year, when the heavens held off till we cried, then dumped a record snowpack? I just got a phone call from Jordan White, who’s up skiing “6 inches of powder” on Aspen Mountain. Of course, in the same phone call he was asking if he could borrow my base grinder. Oh well, some snow is better than no snow, eh?

This just in from the beef boot wars: Black Diamond has distributed and sold all remaining warehouse stock in the Factor boot. Thus, what retailers have is the last of this year’s production run. If you’ve got your heart set on the Factor, time for strategery. Wait till a sale, but your size might be gone by then? Or get ’em now?

Meanwhile, if you do find your chosen Dynafit compatible beef boot has been snapped up like the best brownies at a school bakesale, remember that virtually all the heavy duty AT boots on the market are tasty. If you need something super stiff and Dynafit compatible, Dynafit ZZeus is definitely an option that our comparisons show easily equals the Factor in rigidity. Other options we feel fit the bill are Scarpa Skookum, Garmont Radium, and the Black Diamond Method.

Uh oh, check this out. Dirtbags are less likely to die in avalanches. Yet another in a long line of neuron scorching statistical avalanche studies shows that the male backcountry skier, 25 to 29 years old, with a college degree and above average income is more likely to die in a slide.

On the enviro rant and land use issues front: White River National Forest here in Colorado is getting near to finalizing their Travel Management Plan. They’re accepting public comments till the 6th of January.

In my opinion the USFS public comments system is a form of mob rule. They take the comments seriously, so whatever group has an umbrella organization that pushes for letter writing tends to have more say, as do individuals who have the leisure time to write letters — or are confident enough in their own literacy to do so (letters and authors become part of the public record).

What’s more, regarding the anti-access Scrooge, I noticed government entities are even adding to the comment pool. Specifically, if you dig through the comments you’ll find one from Pitkin County recommending closure of a paved public road (upper Independence Pass) to winter snowmobile use! Those pols need to go jump in a lake. Pitkin County has a land grabbing industrial skiing complex second to none, along with an airport that’s a major source of pollution for the region — and they want to close a popular road to snowmobile use? Their reasoning is that it would prevent “Wilderness trespass.” Well, how about closing the airport to prevent pollution? Or closing Snowmass ski resort because it borders on Wilderness?

At any rate, we all might as well join the mob. Any one should comment if possible, even from out-of-state (and if you have a Travel Management Plan in development near you, remember to send in your comments for that as well). For White River, Colorado, you can send a comment letter to:

WRNF Travel Management Plan and SEIS
c/o BW-CAG
172 E 500 S
Bountiful, UT 84010

Or email to

Important: Key to writing comments is to cover one specific road or trail, and keep the variety of issues to a minimum. This is tougher than just writing things like “keep all roads open.” But it’s essential. You can study the documents and look for something annoying, or just pick your favorite road or trail and write a support letter. Remember your letter and name become part of public record, so don’t write a rant you’ll regret later. Even if the route you pick is not slated for closure, a support letter will become part of the record and have influence on possible changes to the plan or future decisions. Following is an example of a letter I’ll email today:

To: White River National Forest Travel Management Plan
Document commented on: Travel Management Plan & EIS
Regarding: Montezuma Basin Road snowmobile use
From: Louis Dawson, address, phone

To whom it may concern, I’m writing to support continued management of Montezuma Basin Road as open to all vehicles, all seasons. I would like this road to remain open for all vehicle traffic to the traditional upper parking area near the base of the permanent snowfield and pond. I would like the road remain open to snowmobiles during snow seasons. Montezuma road is a historical amenity and resource that’s been in use for mechanized transport for more than a century. It’s a traditional motorized access route for backcountry recreation, and unique in that it allows motorized access to summer skiing on a permanent snowfield, as well as close access to climbing 14er Castle Peak for individuals less physically adept than those capable of longer hikes and climbs. More, I encourage the USFS to improve the parking area at road end, but to cease all but minimum upkeep and grading on the road so it remains a rough 4-wheel-drive recreation amenity as is its historic and traditional state. Fact is, motorized recreation of all forms is the fastest growing and one of the largest forms of recreation on White River National Forest, and roads such as Montezuma Basin Road are essential resources for motorized recreation as well as backcountry access.


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16 Responses to “Backcountry Skiing News Roundup”

  1. Randonnee November 28th, 2008 1:29 pm

    Perhaps the “dirtbags” approach exposure to avalanche terrain in a more gradual fashion out of economic restraints. Thus, said “dirtbags” gain understanding and experience and decison-making skills. Those who can afford to buy the gear and take the classes quickly perhaps expose theselves more quickly

    That “male backcountry skier, 25 to 29 years old, with a college degree and above average income (who) is more likely to die in a slide” probably took an avy course from a cool guy with the best talk and gear, and has an expensive transceiver, the best shovel, perhaps an avalung. In my view, this is the tragedy that has been cultivated by some marketers of avalanche transceivers, shovels, and other gear for use after failure in judgment and discipline. Have some in the “avalanche community” have become sycophants with a hand out to the gear pushers and focus on the marketed gadgets instead of teaching focused on terrain and avalanching? Thus I remain on my soapbox.

    Again- get it right, or die. A partner with that expensive transceiver watching you ride an avalanche could potentially perform a rescue with the transceiver and shovel used per the Manufacturer’s instructions, or perhaps would just share the horror of your death. With knowledge of terrain, avalanching, and snowpack, one may enjoy many great powder days safely without the need to use the transceiver, shovel, probe, etc.

  2. Dongshow November 28th, 2008 1:36 pm

    Lou, that article from the Calgary Herald is pure gold, excellent find. Myself, and everyone I ski with, would fall into that category (except for our dismal incomes), and it is a nice reminder. Although the conclusion is common sense, i.e the people that put themselves in the most risky situations are most likely to get involved in an avalanche.

  3. GeorgeT November 28th, 2008 5:53 pm

    TRAVEL MGMT: Get Involved
    Lou: Thank you for providing the links to research the travel management plans and also an outline on how to have a voice in the process. I agree this is a mob rule, but this is the process and so it is important to know how to “play the game”. Your outline is excellent and now we need to get our BC Mob energized to provide input. Thanks for your leadership on this important issue.

  4. Lou November 28th, 2008 6:55 pm

    Best way to have influence when it’s mob rule is to join the mob, sadly…

    The big problem in all this is that the USFS is closing roads rather than working to build/open them, and they are most certainly not making new trailheads in any significant way. Both things are needed for the greater recreation numbers.

    My view as a recreation advocate, anyway. I know there are other takes from all of you…

  5. Dave Field November 29th, 2008 11:19 am

    Well put Randonnee. Too often its the emphasis on having the latest gear and being on the cutting edge as opposed to focusing on the basics of developing good backcountry and avalanche risk evaluation skills. As a society, the trend seems to be that you can buy your way into the ranks of the core experienced and skilled group as opposed to doing the hard work and spending the time to learn the soft skills and acquire experienced judgement that no amount of shiny gear is a substitute for.

  6. Randonnee November 29th, 2008 12:10 pm

    Thanks, Dave. I believe that there are many knowledgeable folks who understand this concept as discussed. It is my hope to enlarge the discussion. I just think that the marketers of gear and promoters of extreme skiing just steamroll the discussion to the detriment of sober thought and evaluation of the avalanche problem.

    Yesterday I reviewed the transceiver manufacturer’s websites. Most use the word “Safety” in regard to using rescue gear, I take exception. Use of a transceiver and shovel is not safety, instead it represents the result of unsafe behavior and failure in judgment and discipline. One, the Ortovox website, has information about full curricula avalanche training courses that Ortovox in involved in facilitating. On the BCA website I see several PDF files, many pages that address the use of products for rescue, I see 1/2 page about avalanche topics.

    Unfortunately too much of the discussion about backcountry travel on avalanche is tragically skewed in the direction of gear and gadgets used as a result of unsafe behavior and failures in judgment and discipline. The discussion must be refocused on terrain, weather, snowpack, decision making, and a reasonable focus on rescue. Get it right or die.

  7. Owen November 29th, 2008 12:14 pm

    sweet! Now that I’m 31, i’m less likely to die in an avalanche!

  8. Alan November 29th, 2008 8:06 pm

    Hey Lou, any word on production numbers for the Method and Shiva? Up here in Canada you can find either in any size. MEC is waiting on their shipment. Tried to pry it out of the guys at BD the other day on the phone, but they are staying pretty tight lipped.


  9. Lou November 30th, 2008 7:45 am

    Alan, exactly what numbers are you looking for?

  10. Alan November 30th, 2008 8:26 am

    Hey Lou.

    Mondo 29 for the Method
    Mondo 24.5 for the Shiva


  11. Alan November 30th, 2008 8:33 am

    Oh, those numbers. Oops. Well basically, the main retailer up here (MEC) received a few pairs in October, but haven’t had anything come in since then. Just about every size is back ordered. I’m bootless right now and I’m just trying to get a read on the situation. Is BD actually going to produce enough of these boots to have a chance at getting my size, or should I be looking at a different company to be safe?

  12. Lou November 30th, 2008 10:49 am

    I’ll check. All I found out before was that all Factors are distributed.

  13. Dave N. December 1st, 2008 8:46 am

    Lou, Thanks for your enviro rant. I agree that a majority of travel plan comments seems to be affected by “umbrella organizations” and their organized form letters.

    Interestingly enough, a north central Idaho plan’s comment period ended recently and the resulting report had a prefaced comment on form letters stating, in effect, that the form letters wouldn’t be given the same consideration as individual letters…I personally love the remote area for machine access to backcountry skiing (I shut the machine off and skin once I’m there), but it’s access is threatened by a possible non-motorized proposal, this would make the area almost inaccessible with a long slog before getting the the usable terrain. The majority of letters written in support of keeping the area open were written by people with neither the time or education to comment on, and research, the large and complicated plan…The area is already remote and not affected by large metropolitan areas and the non-motorized proposal would, in effect, make the area almost nonusable by many…


  14. Bryce December 1st, 2008 3:25 pm

    There are only a few sizes of Shiva and Method boots available (even to retailers) at the moment, but I don’t know if that means they won’t be available the rest of the year like the Factor.

    But you’re interested in some pretty available sizes. 24.5 is one of the two sizes of Shiva left. They also have the size 29 Method. (I, for instance, could order either of those right now. They’re not listed on my site, but click the link and call the phone number if you want a price quote.)

  15. Lou December 1st, 2008 5:00 pm

    I just spoke with my inside source, who informed me there are still BD Methods in the warehouse, but not a whole lot. Shoppers take note.

  16. evision March 8th, 2010 7:10 am

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