Backcountry Skiing News Roundup — More or Less Wilderness?


Post by WildSnow.com blogger | September 17, 2009      
Backcountry Skiing News

Debate is still hot on the “Hidden Gems” wilderness proposal. A lot of people have realized that you can’t mountain bike in legal Wilderness, nor build mountain huts using special use permits, nor in some instances (policy is still being made) put up rock climbs with fixed anchors, nor in many cases have a dog off a leash, nor can you do wildfire mitigation to protect watersheds, and so on.

Mountain bikers in particular are feeling particularly pressed by the Wilderness issue, and many are saying we’ve got enough legal Wilderness in central Colorado and let’s now conserve our backcountry by other, more recreation friendly methods (many methods of which actually do exist, contrary to myth). It’s an interesting debate — and somewhat amusing (though sad) to see wilderness activists attacking bicyclists.

I usually get the impression that when recreation type accidents happen in Europe, people tend to do the finger pointing routine a lot less than we do. That might be the case, but nonetheless those EU folks have got plenty of lawyer action going on regarding a military rafting accident and the death of six soldiers in an avalanche. Involuntary manslaughter charges no less. More here.

One of the weirdest things in skiing is that women are not allowed to compete in Olympic ski jumping. The best theory I’ve heard as to why? Certain men with weak egos are afraid women with wider hips will fly better. Whatever the case, it looks like things might be changing. Petition here.

Wilderness debate in Colorado got me thinking about another thing that you’ll never see in legal wilderness. The “via ferrata” is a system of cables and fixed anchors that’s become incredibly popular in Europe. Though not something we’d want to have gracing every peak, enjoying a good variety of these in the U.S. would be cool. Check this Canadian one out. Perhaps something like this will be invented for skiing avalanche slopes?

South America’s ski season has of course been in full swing. But watch out if you choose to swing a lift chair down there. It’s not exactly like they’ve got safety regulations. More here.

Have a good weekend everyone!



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16 Responses to “Backcountry Skiing News Roundup — More or Less Wilderness?”

  1. dave downing September 17th, 2009 10:24 am

    “…and somewhat amusing (though sad) to see wilderness activists attacking bicyclists.”

    Funny you should say that Lou. Just the other day, a friend and fellow urban, road, mtn, and tall biker got a call from someone with Wilderness Workshop. WW was looking to the Stompaz/Carbondale Creative Cycling Collective to support Hidden Gems. The reason? To get some “urban” bikers to oppose those “Mountain” bikers of the RFMBA. My friend had to inform them that they were barking up the wrong tree. Thanks Wilderness Workshop for trying to create a little infighting in the cycling community!

  2. Lou September 17th, 2009 10:30 am

    That’s really sad Dave, but I’m not surprised. I’m just glad their value system is becoming more obvious. Gad, I wish those guys would just get fanatical about the Wilderness we already have! Ripping the bridge off Conundrum Creek, tearing out all signage, and outlawing grazing. Now that would be a good outlet for their activist energy, and they’d actually create real Wilderness instead of lines on a map that do little more than help with fundraising so they create ever more lines on maps.

  3. Charlie September 17th, 2009 11:02 am

    While I’ve little doubt that via ferratas are fun and enjoyable, I’m glad that there are essentially none here. Bolting and cabling peaks may essentially change the way future generations look at our wild spaces. There are myriad traverses in my home range that would make excellent candidates for such a thing, but it would make my heart sink to hear, “Man, wouldn’t that ridge make for a sweet via ferrata?” instead of, “Wow, wouldn’t you love to traverse that incredible ridge someday?”

  4. Andrew September 17th, 2009 1:29 pm

    Lou,
    Fixed anchors are allowed in wilderness, you just can’t use power drills.

    -Andrew

  5. Lou September 17th, 2009 2:47 pm

    Ok, following link is the WORD on the subject of fixed anchors in legal Wilderness:

    http://www.accessfund.org/atf/cf/%7B1F5726D5-6646-4050-AA6E-C275DF6CA8E3%7D/VT81.pdf

    It appears the USFS is working on a fixed climbing anchor policy for legal Wilderness, and BLM has one. But they’re not usually outright bans as far as I can tell (though BLM does have a ban at Red Rocks), so thanks for the correction.

    That said, just the fact that the feds were talking about banning fixed anchors (and BLM has done it) makes a certain point that’s important to this discussion. Legal Wilderness is and should be managed differently than non-wilderness. Things such as banning fixed climbing anchors make sense when looked at in view of the Wilderness Act. Meaning making ever more land into legal Wilderness will no doubt keep restricting recreation in various ways.

    I’ll change the wording of the post.

    And here is some back story:

    https://www.hcn.org/issues/136/4398

  6. Will Roush September 17th, 2009 5:21 pm

    Just want folks to be clear on a couple of things regarding climbing and wilderness. Not only are existing bolts and fixed anchors legal in designated wilderness. It is perfectly legal to add new bolts and fixed anchors or replace old ones, you just can’t use a power drill to do it. Admittedly, a lot more work but hey that never stopped climbers from setting bolts before power drills and I think in some cases it prevents the grid bolting/ outdoor climbing wall scenario which seems to be more and more common.

    Secondly, the Hidden Gems campaign has worked to make sure the existing and potential climbing up independence is excluded from their proposal. They even agreed to move the boundary back farther than what the USFS had recommended for Wilderness designation.

    Are you sure the BLM bans fixed anchors at Red Rocks? That place is full of bolts and the first and second pull outs are de-facto sport climbing areas- I just can’t imagine there is a ban on bolts there.

    Also Rocky Mountain National Park was just designated in its entirety as a Wilderness Area so there is absolutely no reason that very high quality extensive climbing and wilderness can’t mix. I want to keep climbing and mountain biking but if all we do is demand access access access to every single location, the landscape its going to end up trashed.

    -Will

  7. Lou September 17th, 2009 5:48 pm

    Will, as far as I know, no one is demanding access access access to every single location. You and other Wilderness advocates need to stop pigeon holing us like that, as doing so just creates ill will and serves no purpose for your cause. White River National Forest is about 33% legal Wilderness, and mine and many other folk’s take is that is FINE, no mountain bikes there.

    As for bolting, USFS is still working on their policy for Wilderness. I got the Red Rocks info directly from the Access Fund website, but I suppose it could be out of date or something. Existence of bolts doesn’t mean new bolting isn’t banned, in fact, it could be the reason new bolts are banned!

    Also, if fixed anchors and bolting are not a problem in legal Wilderness, why are folks worrying about moving the boundary back for sport climbing areas? Please explain.

    Lastly, what’s so great about the Hidden Gems folks and their ideas? Why are we supposed to be so thankful and appreciative of them adjusting their maps and rolling back their boundaries? Just because someone comes up with a proposal doesn’t make it some kind of sacrosanct maxim we’re all supposed to shake in our boots about, and bow down when they throw a bone by making a small modification to a map.

  8. Nick September 17th, 2009 6:30 pm

    I rather like the way the Via Ferrata work in the the Brenta Dolomites. They allow some amazing traverses and ascents but none of them go to the summits – the summits are left to the climbers.

  9. Lou September 17th, 2009 6:35 pm

    Nick, that’s pretty cool. I did an easy one over there once, it was great. I was highly impressed with the fun and freedom those things create. It’s kind of counter intuitive if you’ve never done one, but it’s actually less confining at times than doing rope work with a partner. That was my impression, anyway.

  10. Matt Kinney September 17th, 2009 7:04 pm

    It seems to me that bikers and hikers should be together on the issue of wilderness and work to put more wilderness out of reach of combustibles. Roads for 4x and ATV are expensive to manage, maintain, and repair. I bike and hike and enjoy using the same trails. But then I poach on ATV, jeep and old mine trails. NPs and BLM should push harder for non-motorized areas simply because its good for health and the earth in this day and age. To have the govt advocating motorized recreation on public lands seems wierd considering our dependency on foreign oil, global warming and the highest obesity rates in the modern world.

    I find the concept of hauling a battery powered drill up a rock wall a bit weird. I also like floppy heel skiing on petroleum based p-tex. Go figure.

  11. Dana September 17th, 2009 11:35 pm

    RE: Via Ferrata
    I spent quite a bit of time on via ferrate in Italy and it’s fun and yeah, it’s pretty easy, even the harder ones. You get up high and you’re relatively safe (but the little VF screamer-type device and don’t go Eastern Euro with only cordelette and a prayer). But here’s the thing to remember about VF in Italy; it’s historical and to some degree traditional. Via ferrate were put there in order to facilitate troop movements. Many of them have been there for ages and it feels truly cool to move in the same footsteps that many of those old Italian troops did, imagining what they must have gone through to get there. Interesting stuff. However, my girlfriend and I then went over to Switzerland, to Zermatt, and happened to do one there. It was a new one, purpose-built for the sake of tourists. It was weird in that it felt artificial and didn’t go anywhere of any use or interest. It just existed.

    So for the VF advocates in the States and elsewhere, I guess I’d say think differently. Things like via cordata, which are essentially via ferrata with a removable rope that has to be lead out much like a regular climb, are gaining in popularity in France. Plus, via cordata takes a little bit of guts (you still have to gun the rope out somehow) and requires guides, in some cases, keeping under-worked American guides busier.

    Bottom line is that via ferrate are cool, but maybe not what we need on all our cliffs and ridges. Go to Italy and check ’em out there.

    As for Wilderness with a capital W: When motorized doesn’t equal mechanized and when cows get the boot from high alpine watersheds, I can see myself getting more excited about them. Until then…not too sure.

  12. Cory September 18th, 2009 12:55 pm

    “You and other Wilderness advocates need to stop pigeon holing us like that…”
    Lou-
    Just curious…why it is bothering you now that one group is “pigeon holing”. I read through that last thread about wilderness and it seems to have its fair share of this sort of thing going on.

  13. Lou September 18th, 2009 1:45 pm

    Two wrongs don’t make a right. If I or anyone makes the mistake of pigeon holing or generalizing, then that’s not the best way to go — and it doesn’t make it right nor ok. Or are you saying that anything Wildsnow commenters do is right? Please clarify.

  14. Cory September 18th, 2009 2:27 pm

    Just wondering. Generally it has been a fun and enlightening discussion to follow. I definitely wouldn’t say anything anybody does is “right” (geez…talk about a generalization…or lack thereof).

  15. Lou September 18th, 2009 2:44 pm

    Yeah, I’d say we’ve held the level of discourse up pretty high for such a hot button issue.

    And now that the back patting is over… :devil:

  16. Lou September 21st, 2009 9:12 am

    I’ve been talking to some rock climbers about this issue.

    Yes, climbers frequently like legal Wilderness, SO LONG as it doesn’t affect their crags and routes.

    Well climbers, Hidden Gems and other legal Wilderness additions do affect your rock climbing areas. For example, if an area in Wilderness becomes popular it can easily be shut down because of so called “resource damage” due to un-approved trails or drilling bolts. What’s more, the USFS and Wilderness advocates woke up a long time ago to the fact that rock climbing involves drilling holes in a natural resource. You can bet your hammer and star drill that this practice will eventually be regulated, and probably heavily regulated. And, in legal Wilderness, will it even be allowed? I really don’t see why. I mean, you can’t even ride a bicycle in legal Wilderness. Why should you be allowed to go around drilling holes in rocks?

    And again, before I get pigeon holed as some kind of land raper: I’m for conservation, I just think it can be done in a more recreation friendly manner than by using the sledgehammer land management approach of Federal Wilderness designation.

    Mark my words :angel:

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