Backcountry Skiing News Roundup — Land Use and Grant Gunderson

Post by blogger | July 13, 2009      

Backcountry Skiing News

Thought I’d break the mold a bit today and do a news roundup on a Monday instead of later in the week, as I’ve seen some interesting stuff come down the media highway the last few days.
Over in Summit County, Colorado, mountain bikers have woken to the fact that legal wilderness might not be the end-all be-all in land use designations. As many WildSnow readers know, my opinion is we have enough legal wilderness, and need a new style of backcountry land management that mixes more types of recreation while still being conservationist. Is that oxymoronic?

After years of recreating in and observing non-wilderness backcountry (including that with roads), I’m convinced that quite a bit of recreational use (even of the motorized/mechanized variety) can be concurrent with land and wildlife preservation. Making this happen requires public education, rule enforcement — and the will of land managers and the public to make it happen. (What’s more, perhaps we even need a new land management designation, but that’s another subject.)

Doubtless, the Summit County cyclists face a difficult battle. Fighting new wilderness designation is like saying no to fire district tax increases, or disagreeing with a mill levy hike for schools — politically incorrect no matter how you frame it. Indeed, the Summit County government already rubber stamped the new wilderness proposal, apparently with little to no consideration of recreational interests.

How does this relate to backcountry skiing? Simple. You can’t build huts in legal wilderness. More, the larger the wilderness area, the less friendly it is to the most common form of backcountry skiing in the western U.S., that being day trips from trailheads accessed by roads that probe wilderness lands.

In the end, what we all need to realize is that the concept and laws behind legal wilderness have little to no consideration for recreation. To some, that’s the best thing about “big W” Wilderness; that it’s purely intended for preservation — and by default provides a designated area where only muscle powered activity is allowed.

In other words, the term “locking up” is not a disparagement, but rather is exactly what the Wilderness Act intends to accomplish. Sometimes that’s fine. But not always. Thus, the choice to severely limit public land access must be made with care and forethought, not as some kind of rubber-stamp feelgood politically motivated act, as if it has no downside.


Now, check this out. El Nino is baaaaaack. This pesky little ocean current sometimes results in EPIC winters for the mountain states. Since we’re already having epic winters more years than not, I’d say even a little boost by “The Kid” could be simply amazing. Perhaps we should pick up a snow blower while they’re still cheap?

Most of you probably heard that Robert McNamara died. As the architect of the Vietnam war while Secretary of Defense, McNamara was much disparaged. Yet like most human beings he had many sides, one of which was a lover of mountains. As a result, he worked with Fritz Benedict in the founding of the 10th Mountain Division Hut System for backcountry skiing, and funded the first two huts (one of which is built in memory of his wife Margy, thus known as Margy’s Hut).

Lastly, I’d imagine some of you are fans of Grant Gunderson’s photos. I certainly am. Check out this nice little Tim Mutrie vignett of Grant, with an associated gallery of photos to get you stoked for this coming season!


Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


19 Responses to “Backcountry Skiing News Roundup — Land Use and Grant Gunderson”

  1. Andrew McLean July 13th, 2009 10:26 am

    “mixes more types of recreation” Are we talking Nytro Z1000 Sleighmasters here? 🙂

    Personally I don’t care that there aren’t that many huts in the US as places like Europe, Canada and NZ have such great systems already. It is nice to have them, but also nice to not have them.

  2. Dostie July 13th, 2009 10:37 am


    There may be plenty of huts in Colorado, but California has a dismal number and with the vastness of the Sierra, we could surely stand about 40 more. Naw, make that 80. That way, after haggling with the Sierra Club we might end up with 20 more.

  3. harald b July 13th, 2009 10:45 am

    Lou – I appreciate your sensible stance on land management. Keep up the argument.

    Here on the front range, climbing is limited in the spring time on certain crags for raptor nesting.

    Fair enough.

    However such ostensibly wildlife friendly rules are sometimes used to close access to areas with no nesting raptors (ie mickey mouse wall, ralston buttes). The front range outdoors man is now faced with the oxymoron of closed open space.

  4. Andrew McLean July 13th, 2009 10:59 am

    You barely need a tent, let alone a hut in the Sierras. Just find a nice bed of soft, spongy moss to sleep on and then let the warm California air keep you comfy at night. 🙂

    One thing that I don’t like about huts/yurts in the US is that they are so overpriced for what they are and what you get.

  5. Mark July 13th, 2009 12:24 pm

    My brother Tim did his Masters thesis on El Nino issues and perhaps can add some insight. On the Federal land grab made in the last days of the Clinton administration, I got the feeling that many Americans, along with their government, thought adding huge areas of wilderness was just the neatest warm fuzzy on which to end that administration. Real consideration of the consequences of such a move seemed distant or non-existent. Wilderness is needed, but the undercurrent of thought that there can never be enough is unrealistic at best.

  6. Dostie July 13th, 2009 12:37 pm


    In spring, agreed, snow camping is about as benign as it can get in the Sierra. But that isn’t the only time to enjoy the Sierra, and huts extend the season backwards to December or November.

    The main value, IMO, of huts is to allow more folks to enjoy the beauty of the wild. As more learn to appreciate it, more will become stewards of it. We don’t need more laws protecting it, we need more people willing to treat it better. Y’know, pack in what you pack out, etc.

    Furthermore, huts control the impact on the wilderness in a way that can minimize impact by dealing with waste, etc.

  7. Lou July 13th, 2009 12:45 pm

    I’m not advocating for motorized recreation in particular, just a system that’s not as restrictive as legal wilderness. A system that doesn’t defacto exclude mountain bikes, for example.

    For Andrew’s benefit, I’d add that I’m fully aware of one frequently huge advantage of legal wild, that of helicopter skiing being verboten. I’m totally behind that, so long as at least some of the existing wilderness has decent road access to border areas where one can make non mechanized day trips without expedition logistics. When they expand legal wilderness and connect areas, doing so tends to eliminate such access…

  8. Jeff July 13th, 2009 12:55 pm

    S***w Huts…I mean there nice and all, but I’m with Andrew on this one. For the most part there way to over priced for what you get and to some extent allows way to easy of access.

    I mean I spent 5 days at the Friends Hut this winter. Fun indeed. Made everything a bit for comfortable, but as I was out touring three seperate packs of sledders came in a used the place like there own…weird.

    Not many huts here in Montana and partially because of that, you have a smaller (at least off the radar) BC “Scene”. Keep them in colorado IMO.

    I like the idea of “Wilderness Lite” though…keep it up Lou. I can only imagine the mtn bike rides I could string together here in the northern Rockies if Mtn bikes were given the green light.

    Lou, what do you think the forest service and other wilderness freaks would think about my solar powered robotic horse? Still a “primitive” user, non-motorized and “green”. I wonder what they’d say….still in development but coming to a trailhead near you soon! Cheers!

  9. adam olson July 13th, 2009 12:57 pm

    I think its funny to hear Andrews sarcasm; “the Sleighmasters” sounds like Santa Clause is coming to the party. LOL

    “they are overpriced for what they are and what you get.” I guess if you can’t fly a helicopter to it its not worth the effort? I find the Braun Hut System very inexpensive for what you get compared to the Canadian model.

  10. Lou July 13th, 2009 1:06 pm

    Jeff, I can’t believe that about the Friends Hut! Did you let 10th Mountain know? It’s illegal for anyone to use the hut without a reservation or permission. It’s trespassing, pure and simple. Just like using a hotel room without paying, even for a few hours.

  11. Andrew McLean July 13th, 2009 1:32 pm

    Adam – I’ve been priced out of heli accessed huts, so I was mainly talking about the yurts/huts I’ve stayed in around the Utah/Wyoming area. I realize that a chunk of the cost on a heli accessed hut in place like Canada goes for the heli transportation to/from the hut, but when you add in airfare, a rental car, food, ,etc., a lot of those huts are in the $1,500 per person per week, which comes out to a couple hundred bucks per day of backcountry skiing.

    When it comes to regular old skin in, yurty type of huts, the ones I’ve been to are still in the $30 per person, per night range, which kind of makes a tent look cheap. Sure, you don’t have to carry a tent, but then again, since you are staying in a hut you bring a ton of extra stuff so it is not like a hut trip is any less weight.

  12. Jeff July 13th, 2009 2:20 pm

    Lou, Thats what I thought. One party of sledders saw us depart on our final run down and quickly fired up sleds and took off…I was really looking forward to talking to them to!

    A side question, can sledders even use that area legally ? We weren’t sure at the time, but after the slog from Crested Butte it sure would have been nice to sled to the hut though the experience would have been totally different and not as fun ultimately.

    As always, great site Lou. Keep it up.

  13. Matt Kinney July 13th, 2009 2:23 pm

    FWIW ….in Wrangell/St Elias National Park (the biggest in the USA)all the huts are free. Some are old trapper cabins with a few new ones here and there. This effort by Parks is to draw folks aways from Denali which is being over run by lovers of wilderness.

    Also in the Wrangells/St Elias National Park ..all forms of motorized access are allowed with the exceptions of……helicopters. At the time and even today helicopters for recreational access was considered….cheating and was actually stated as such in NPS documents by land managers and the public, including bush pilots that still fly that area. I tend to agree with that on all public lands.

  14. ScottP July 13th, 2009 4:53 pm

    As a mountain biker I’m still miffed that we get grouped in with motorized vehicles (when HORSES are allowed on the trails we’re not). The forest service has disproved the myth that mountain biking ruins trails. I’ve given up on the Sierra Club or other conservation groups. If people aren’t allowed to use the wilderness it’s only going to create ill will to preserve it. They’re really shooting themselves in the foot there.

  15. Colin in CA July 14th, 2009 2:00 am

    Lou (and others),

    Check out this law review article by Jan Laitos at DU Law on the conflicts between various recreational users on federal lands.

    That was the only place I could find it for free. Sorry it’s not all in one piece.

  16. Lou July 14th, 2009 6:36 am

    Pretty interesting. Funny to see rock climbing put in the same category as off road vehicle recreation. I guess if your sport involves power drilling, perhaps it is motorized?

  17. Kidd July 14th, 2009 8:55 am

    I live in SW Colorado this summer and this is the epicenter of 4wd users. It is so out of hand that its a traffic jam to Telluride and Yankee Boy. I my opinion its sometimes a matter of too many in a short span of time. Just a two years ago there wasn’t near this amount of traffic but a few magazine aticles took care of that. Now there are, for example, FJ7 rallies where thousands show up from all parts of the country and try and out do each other driving off road. And they are driving off road, into tundra and thru creeks, just like the commercial showed.
    I’m sad to say that many of the 4wd enthusiasts are not good stewards, in fact the
    amount of trash and trashed land has been the subject of several newspaper articles. We now have forest service personel driving around handing out tickets like state patrol. Too many too fast.

  18. Colin in CA July 16th, 2009 12:54 am

    Yeah Lou, I’d say climbing should not be in the same category as OHV use. It does produce noise pollution if using a power-drill, but honestly how many climbers are regular route-creators? And of route-creators how often are they creating vs. climbing? And of course, bolts can be drilled by hand, it just takes longer.

    In terms of the physical impact… I just see there being a few shiny things on the rock (I’m not talking ethics here, just visual impact), potentially more use trails at the base of crags, maybe some crushed vegetation from bouldering pads if people aren’t careful, and sometimes trash. But nothing close to the physical impact of concentrated OHV use. So yeah… weird.

    Of course, for the purposes of the Wilderness Act, powerdrills are obviously prohibited. I’m ok with that.

  19. john Gloor July 19th, 2009 9:45 pm

    I for one am glad it has come to this. While most climbers and bikers consider themselves environmentally aware, apparently not everyone does. That elderly couple with the wool socks up to their knees are not too keen on the freeride bikes riding their favorite trails at breakneck speeds. I understand the ban on power drill for bolts, but wilderness also bans permanent anchors I believe. Does this mean no slings on a tree? What it boils down to is a vocal well organized group getting approval for what they do and kicking out every one else. Unless hiking is your only activity, maybe you would be better represented by a group other than the Sierra Club

    In the Aspen area, the Wilderness Workshop is close to getting approval for more Wilderness surrounding the town. There will be a severe loss in biking trails, and only recently did a coalition of bikers form to object. The Wilderness Workshop is also one of the main supporters of the proposed Summit County wilderness areas. The areas are called the “hidden Gems wilderness areas” but the reality is that they are the areas many people use for multiple activities. I have heard that the Summit county commissioners are going to endorse this wilderness. Just another nail in the coffin of multi-use over there.

    Unfortunately, the Wilderness proposals are being pushed forward by some fairly extreme groups (my opinion) to try to keep the extractive industries and motor sports out. There is another option which is the Special Recreation Management Area. This management tool can be used to restrict or prohibit certain uses while being less elitist than the Wilderness proposals currently out there. The SRMA is not as solid as wilderness in that it can be overturned easier, but it does offer a more well rounded usage of our public lands than Wilderness does.

    My last gripe about “Wilderness” is that it does not necessarily protect the wilderness from recreation pressures. Examples are the monstrosity staircase/trail built on the lower flanks of Pyramid peak and the turd-under-every-rock syndrome at Snowmass Lake. All Wilderness does is limit the recreation to a certain elitist type while still allowing damage (only the good type!)

    I love the wilderness we have near my home, and I do not want to see bikes or motors in a lot of areas. That absence is why I go to certajin places. However, I am open to modes of transportation and recreation which are newer than 100 years old for many areas.

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