Sprinter Vans and Snowboard Bans — News Roundup

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | April 28, 2016      
2016 Power of Four winners John Gaston and Max Taam at the last transition, 'Gondeback' on Aspen Mountain.

2016 Aspen Power of Four winners John Gaston and Max Taam traveled to Switzerland for Patrouille race, which got canceled.

Biggest “ski” news I’ve seen lately might be the recent decision by a federal appeals court to allow the Alta, Utah resort snowboard ban to remain. Here at WildSnow we’re somewhat amazed by that, as we can’t help but think riding and skiing are so similar it would be difficult to even come up with legal definitions. For example, what if the guy gets on the lift with his splitboard as two skis? In that case can he ride cable to access the backcountry out of Alta’s permit area? According to this report, “The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with lawyers for Alta who said luring skiers with the promise of a snowboarder-free experience is a private business decision that doesn’t violate anyone’s rights.” As many of you know we are not unfriendly to business, but when a business uses public land we feel there might be a more accommodating definition of things such as “rights.”

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Skimo racing: We were bummed to see Patrouille des Glaciers race canceled as our local favorites Taam and Gaston were over there in Switzerland to podium. Nice to see that uphill rocket Laetitia Roux get the overall Worldcup trophy, she is amazing. Also, Boscacci edged out Jornet. More here.

Interesting to watch the development of Japanese backcountry skiing. They’re mobbed, and appear to be evolving their ski safety culture in a way that might be effective but perhaps over reaches as well. Any of you who’ve skied Niseko care to comment?

We just had someone from the U.K. stop by the WildSnow production studio, they mentioned that ski touring in Scotland can be beautiful provided you get decent weather and snowcover. Aparantly they’ve got the snow, though I don’t know about the weather. I’d sure like to hit Britain some day, be it for cycling, hill walking or skiing.

Whew, read this survival epic in Alaska. Apparently these skiers had an inReach or something like that, otherwise they’d still be up on an Alaskan icefield, buried forever. How they made a snowcave without a shovel is something I’m not sure I care to know.

File this in your “never gonna happen” folder? Income producing resorts on US Forest Service land give a chunk of their revenue to the Federal treasury in payment for special use permits. Meanwhile, National Forests in Colorado (and elsewhere) containing those resorts have an ongoing problem with budget shortfalls (the cause and necessity of which is debatable). With an act of Congress, those ski resort riches could perhaps be kept by local USFS branches for regional use. Seems logical on the surface. On the other hand, don’t those resorts extract money from folks on the upside of the income curve, and by keeping that money regional they’d just be helping improve amenities for those same folks instead of sharing the bounty with the rest of the country? Newspaper reports of course don’t look at those nuances. Nonetheless, reading up on this is interesting if you track public land issues.


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33 Responses to “Sprinter Vans and Snowboard Bans — News Roundup”

  1. Aaron Mattix April 28th, 2016 10:37 am

    From what I understand of the issue, keeping revenue generated from special use permits in the same region as they were generated makes sense, as long as the funds are not rolled back into the resort itself, but spread out to help trails/areas outside the resort. Utilizing funding to improve areas outside ski resorts could go a long way to improving the outdoor experience for users who are not desirous of upscale amenities. Combining fuel reduction with ski glading? Improving overgrown, and eroded trails? Better maintained trail heads? It seems many recreational areas outside of ski resorts are suffering from lack of funding, the consequences being that more users are being funneled into resort areas, who are not neccesarily looking for a resort experience.

  2. Kristian April 28th, 2016 11:14 am

    Did volunteer backcountry patrols for 5 years in the Indian Peaks Wilderness for the USFS – just South of Rocky Mountain National Park. Kind of depressing that the Federal Budget seems to go for all sorts of amazing waste (billion dollars each bombers that can’t fly in the rain…) and not basic essentials.

  3. Rudi April 28th, 2016 12:00 pm

    I know hunters and fishermen pay a tax on their equipment like licences, firearms and ammunition. These taxes pay for a tremendous amount of conservation and related programs. I think a similar tax on ski, bike, paddling equipment is logical and would reap that much more money to sustain the forests, trailheads and emergency workers that make outdoor sports possible. People love new taxes in the US so could be one way to make up the funding gap!

  4. Andrei April 28th, 2016 1:33 pm

    The ski/snowboard topic has been argued to the oblivion and people have tried to get on the lift with split boards on (they were stopped). But the whole public land argument is moot. Alta leases the land therefore just like when you lease your apartment, you have a right to refuse entry to whoever you don’t like…

    Also, rights have nothing to do with being able to ride PRIVATE ski lifts. You may be surprised, but the company that leases the land is called Alta Ski Lifts, not Alta hates snowboarders and wants to infringe on their rights… One more point besides snowboarders not being a “protected class” is the simple fact that all Alta is really doing is enforcing a dress code… Nothing more.

    P.S. I regularly see people snowboarding on the runs at Alta. People drop in the main chute from Snowbird’s side, people hike and ride back… I have never seen a snowboarder run down by ski patrol and ejected from a resort… So this whole silliness about people’s rights being violated is nonsense…

  5. Christian April 28th, 2016 2:44 pm

    Alta cares more about their “image” than treating people equally. Did you know they were the first resort in the Wasatch to allow snowboarding? Alta is best enjoyed before it is open for the season and after it is closed for the season…

  6. Colin Wood April 28th, 2016 3:47 pm

    Poor snowboarders. They clearly deserve “protected class” status under the EPC because they’re a historically persecuted minority group. There were lynchings I tell you! And what about the snow kayakers? Where are their rights to ride Alta’s lifts? #freethesnowkayakers

    That was not a close case. Conversely, let’s assume Bill Gates is an avid snowboarder who purchases Breckenridge from Vail Corp and decides to turn it into a snowboard only mountain. Assuming all else being equal and the Forest Service agrees to it, nothing in the Constitution prevents him from doing that. Skiers aren’t a protected class either.

    P.S.- I own a snowboard and it used to be my main form of lift-served downhill transportation. But that doesn’t mean I should be able to force Alta to let me ride their chairs.

  7. Kristian April 28th, 2016 4:11 pm

    In the Boulder Denver Front Range parts of the Rocky Mountains, there have been growing conflicts on traditional ski touring trails with the bike industry newly promoted fat tire bikes.

  8. DavidB April 28th, 2016 4:50 pm

    Re backcountry rules in Japan.

    This is a non issue. The rules have been in place for 15 years. This is more a marketing piece and a shot across the bow for rule breakers. The rules were put in place in the early stages of the Aussie onslaught that built Niseko into the powder destination it is today. Prior to that on a select few locals ever ventured out of bounds.

    The Japanese are extremely obedient in their adherence to the law or rules. All of a sudden they had this infestation of Australians who are predominantly rule breakers by nature. Watching the two come together and co-exist was interesting to say the least.

    Shinya san is well respected by all and a super nice man, so the foreign residents who now call Niseko home, be it seasonally or full time, respect the back-country rules and work to pass that on to the holiday makers as a sign of respect for Shinya san and his efforts.

    Niseko is still extremely tolerant of backcountry skiing and it will remain that way. Don’t sweat it, just be respectful and follow the same backcountry prep you would do anywhere and all will be well.

  9. Garrett April 28th, 2016 4:50 pm

    I skied Niseko this past February, including a number of days in the backcountry around the resort. Overall, there seemed to be very little understanding of the risks of skiing out of bounds, as much as the patrol tried their best to inform people.

    As the news article mentions, the resorts put in 11 access gates to try improve safety of people going out of bounds. The gates remain closed during poor weather and high avy risk. When you go through the gates, there are very clear warnings that you’re leaving the patrolled area (in multiple languages). Each gate has a beacon checker and often times a ski patrol member asking if you had proper gear or had read the avy conditions that day.

    Unfortunately, it seemed like 90% of the people that went through the gates did so without gear, completely ignoring the patrol as they went. While they’d offer advice and warnings, the patrollers wouldn’t stop anyone that chose to go through the gates without gear.

    A number of the gates provide access to the peak, which is about a 20 minute boot pack up from the resort boundary. However, when we went up, it was evident that the vast majority of people that joined us had hiked right by the warning signs without much thought. Most people seemed to just be there to snap some photos at the summit and then return to the resort. We saw full on beginners snow-plowing their way through out of bounds areas back down to the resort. As someone who errs on the side over “over cautious” when it comes to the backcountry, it was pretty distressing to watch. I don’t envy the patrollers as they’re clearly up against a big job trying to keep people safe.

    We greatly appreciated the daily avy reports that were available around Niseko, as there wasn’t much avy/weather information available elsewhere around Hokkaido.

  10. Bard April 28th, 2016 5:14 pm

    Gotta go with Colin on this one. I can see the headline now, “After a lengthy legal battle for justice and equality, the first ever Snowboarder allowed onto Alta’s sacred ground enjoys a police escorted ride up Collins lift, a la Ruby Bridges.” This case is important for one reason……entertainment:)

  11. yama April 28th, 2016 5:33 pm

    Hello, I am Japanese, but educated in America. I have been ski patrol in US. Niseko is a small part of Japanese backcountry in user numbers, avalanche risk and terrain size. But it gets most of the attention because that is where most of the money is going, and the famous snow. Yes, Niseko is leading the way in lift access backcountry rules, but is not part of Japan’s national avalanche community at all, where a lot important progress is happening, but not seen in western or English news. Many ski resort in Japan also have backcountry gates that leave the resort. They are very busy places where you will see many well equipped skier. So they are not like the Niseko gates. Not all of Japan is like Niseko. Also, many backcountry areas in Japan do not have ski resort at all. That is backcountry. No gates, no rules. All of Japan is backcountry, not just Niseko. Please do not form opinions about Japan based on only Niseko.

  12. biggb April 28th, 2016 5:38 pm

    The day I kill an elk with my mountain bike or a fish with my skis … THAT will be the day i’ll pay more taxes on my outdoor gear … besides the sales tax already paid.

  13. See April 28th, 2016 7:42 pm

    Long ago, I used to ski at Taos and a few times at Alta, but I didn’t know there were places that still banned snowboards. I don’t see it as a civil rights issue, but I’m curious about how the ban is justified. Aside from post holes on traverses, what’s wrong with snowboards at “ski” resorts? I’ve heard the “blind side” argument, but all of the people I know who have been run into at resorts have been hit by skiers.

  14. palic April 29th, 2016 12:12 am

    Just fo Scotland – there is freeride, offpiste, randonee and skimo racers, for example in the area of Ben Nevis – check photo and routes here> http://www.tulenipasy.cz/freeride-oblasti/25757-tereny-v-nejvetsim-skotskem-freeridovem-stredisku-nevis-range/

  15. Jerry Johnson April 29th, 2016 7:17 am

    The fastest growing outdoor activities—hiking, kayaking, mountain biking, and rock climbing, backcountry skiing—require few, if any, licenses or fees. Sales tax is a completely different animal. Unlike fishing and hunting gear, the equipment used for these activities does not generate revenue for public land management. Outdoor recreation is a highly consumptive use needing, and recreationists expecting, well-maintained trails, river access points, parking, and SAR services. Increasingly, the USFS spends more time brokering user conflicts. All this activity requires significant amounts of funding yet, we are free riders who do not pay to play and so have no right to the amenities we use. Is it really too much to ask those who can afford expensive toys to pay a recreation fee or purchase a license, much like hunters and anglers do? A small hidden excise tax on outdoor equipment that helps fund outdoor recreation makes sense and gives our sports a voice with public decision makers. BTW – the Pittman-Robertson Act tax on guns, etc. is 11% and is used as a 75% match for conservation projects only – it does not go to the general fund. This would add five dollars to the cost of a pair of skis. Seems like a good deal we should get in on.

  16. See April 29th, 2016 8:21 am

    From the link: “Forest officials say federal money has shifted more to national firefighting efforts and put a crimp on basic functions like trail maintenance and backcountry patrols.” Here in California, it sure looks like a new (climate) normal. If so, systemic adjustments will need to be made.

  17. Lou Dawson 2 April 29th, 2016 8:46 am

    One problem with keeping Special Use Permit money “local” is who defines what that means? The USFS does a lot of good around here, but they also are like any gov entity in that they waste money, sometimes forced to do so by law, other times simply because of poor decision making or traditional budget allocations that have never been adjusted. What is more, even the article says that they might allocate funds to things like our state avalanche information center, which is not regional compared to keeping funds in actual USFS districts where the money is produced. All this and more is why I think the issue has some nuances. If the money was actually going to be used super local, for actual trailheads and trails and other direct recreation stuff, I’d be for it in a selfish way, but I’d be very very surprised to see that happen other than superficially. Lou

  18. See April 29th, 2016 9:23 am

    “(T)hey… are like any gov entity in that they waste money.” Like the private sector doesn’t waste money? Consider executive compensation.

  19. Matt Kinney April 29th, 2016 10:18 am

    The problem is hunting organizations and the special tax on bullets and guns only. By saying they and only they contribute directly to managing public lands, they deserve a far greater voice at the table in regard to land use and protecting legacy hunting privileges. That sound reasonable on the surface and that’s why we need a new recreation tax.

    The last thing they want is a broad recreation tax to allow more voices at the table. They mask their intention even more by supporting conservation efforts to support their special interest, such as saving duck ponds to….. shoot ducks. They brag about how much land they save so they can hunt on it. They contribute nothing to lands with no game, But in reality, greenies and moderate conservationist shave been successful in conserving far more land. Some example of organization with excessive influence are Duck!.. Unlimited and Safari International.

    As far as Forest Service receipts, somehow Valdez gets $32,000 this year as the Chugach Forest borders it’s boundary and does revenuer sharing.

  20. Jim Milstein April 29th, 2016 10:43 am

    The skiers rescued off the Harding Icefield had a tent but no shovel! I’d sooner have a shovel but no tent. In fact, I do just that in the backcountry. Shovels are pretty useful in snow country. Tents, maybe.

    Their text communicator sounds like an old model inReach, the version before the SE (which can send and receive messages all by itself). Whatever the device was, I’m amazed the radio signals could get through a layer of snow.

  21. See April 29th, 2016 8:12 pm

    “A friend flew them there under blue skies in the morning and planned to return at 5 p.m., long before a storm expected that night. By 2 p.m., the clouds moved in. By 3 p.m., they knew the plane couldn’t reach them.” Is it my imagination, or is weather prediction less accurate than it used to be? If so, can anyone explain why?

  22. sbm May 1st, 2016 11:48 pm

    Niseko is definitely a bit of a sidecountry shitshow these days, though no worse than any North American resort. I’m guessing Wildsnow readers would have a much better time driving past the peak of Niseko-Annupuri to tour the rest of the range, accessed from trailheads like Goshiki Onsen and Nimi Onsen.

    One BRILLIANT thing the Niseko patrol does, is provide a free topographical map of the hill alongside the normal ski resort trail map. It has various features marked including all the backcountry gates, the names of ridges and bowls of the mountain, and the winter road closures. See here: http://www.niseko.ne.jp/en/rules/img/15-16Niseko_Rule_JPEN.pdf?1449553144

  23. Lou Dawson 2 May 2nd, 2016 6:57 am

    Thanks Sbm, that map is looking good. Lou

  24. Dave J. May 2nd, 2016 12:02 pm

    I was in Zermatt prior to the PDG. We came over the Col de Valpelline in a whiteout on the last day of the Haute Route to Zermatt and, luckily, they had staked out a safe way through the crevasses with red poles.

    Pretty cool seeing all the racers training. Ski-mo gear was as common on the streets as flip flops in Hawaii.

  25. XXX_er May 2nd, 2016 3:00 pm

    I went to niseko in Japanuary and I would concur with sbm.
    We did much the same as sbm, we had planned to try Rusutsu but ran out of time. I noticed a lot of people with full touring gear including aviy packs in-bounds at Annupuri & Moiwa, I think there were more euro folk in that area than over at niseko which might have had more people from auz?

  26. Adam Olson May 3rd, 2016 8:35 pm

    How is Alta banning snowboarders any different that the SkiCo instructors cutting the lift line with guests? The forest service is very fascist in how the let companies run leased land…

  27. See May 3rd, 2016 8:53 pm

    I’m not sure your beef is with the Forest Service. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/24/business/economy/velvet-rope-economy.html

  28. Kristian May 3rd, 2016 9:15 pm
  29. See May 3rd, 2016 10:17 pm

    Interesting article, but did Eric Schmidt have to wait 45 minutes for his lavender latte (whatever that is)? In any case, still doesn’t seem like the fault of the forest service.

  30. Wookie May 13th, 2016 7:24 am

    I went to Niseko a couple years ago…..uh…..I think it was five years….anyway, without getting all preachy, the level of everything was kinda sketchy….Almost no backcountry gear….everybody hiking with snowshoes and a snowboard, and everybody bashing the gates at the same time….
    At the time – I looked high and low for reliable snowpack information – but all i got was vague “somewhat stable” kind of advice, even from the most-official-looking sources. It wasn’t what I was used to.

    Its a party in Niseko – and that is the kind of atmosphere I found in the sidecountry near the resort. It did not make me comfortable, and considering the amount of snow, and the marginal stability I found, it was surprising that there was only one death in the week I was there.
    The crowd was nearly all very-young Australians, mostly male, who seemed to make a habit out of drunkenness and fighting. I was young once too – so I’ll not judge, but I did feel out of place at 40ish and more into books than booze.

    Wildsnow is good enough to share the secret with: (which may not be a secret anymore) Don’t spend your trip in Niseko! I left the party and spent 3 weeks in the central part of the island, and while the resorts tend to be small – I was quite often THE ONLY PERSON SKIING!
    Every day, it would snow 35 cm, I would wake up and walk to the hill…..saying to myself “Its closed. There is nobody there….” Then, a little Japanese lady would come to the window, sell me a ticket, and turn on the lift. When I got off, the guy at the top turned it off again…..repeat all day for a week.
    I have no explanation for this. I don’t speak Japanese, and I didn’t meet anybody who could talk to me. I was there in February….should have been top season….dunno.

    The backcountry was great too – but Hokkaido is much more rural than I imagined and I ended up with some long slogs back to civilization. Due to language difficulties, I couldn’t really read my maps!

    Downsides: 1) I got lonely 2) Most restaurants and hotels were closed. I ate out of a lawsons.

    Totally weird – in a good way.

  31. Lou Dawson 2 May 13th, 2016 7:43 am

    See, regarding USFS, they are bound by law to much of how they allocate their funds, but there is some room in there for adjustments.

    I have to notice, what if their budget gets cut to levels below what they are legally required to spend? That’ll be interesting.

    The following editorial takes a fairly extreme stance on this, and speaks truth regarding firefighting expenses. The part I wonder about and hope is true is that the USFS should simply do everything they can to cheaply expedite primitive style recreation. Everything from basic parking expansion at trailheads to keeping primitive campgrounds open.


    Following is clarification and rebuttal from the Gov.


    One thing I’d like to see is USFS eliminate all paid trail crews in legal Wilderness, and cease all improvements in legal Wilderness (no signs, no bridges, no nothing other than the actual trail cuts). Along with that, they should rule that sanctioned volunteer groups and licensed outfitters can use gas powered chainsaws for trail clearing. This false primitivist construct of somehow thinking that going back a century and requiring trail clearing to be done by hand is an expensive and inefficient joke that’s resulting in our trails being overgrown.

    For those of you who want to dig in, check this White River National Forest annual report. It’s a real eye opener if you’re not aware of the scope of USFS reach.


    links list of reports

  32. Lou Dawson 2 May 13th, 2016 8:13 am

    Cool tales about Japan, thanks Wookie.

  33. Locorider May 3rd, 2018 5:39 am

    Good article.
    Snowboarding is also a wonderful sport. It should not be prohibited, I see it as skiing. The difference is that it is done on a snowboard, but I do not notice any inconvenience. You should invest more in snowboarding to promote it and increase its use.

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