Cascade Backcountry Alliance – Washington State Snowsports Access Advocacy

Post by blogger | December 22, 2017      
Backcountry ski touring news.

Backcountry ski touring news.

Washington state has incredible skiing, and is blessed with some great ski terrain. However, much of our terrain is quite inaccessible. In comparison to many other mountain regions, we have relatively few snow recreation access points during a normal winter. With few exceptions, our access points are mostly restricted to major highway passes and roads that lead to ski areas. Most summer access roads are not plowed to any significant degree in winter, and many that are naturally snow-free are gated well below snowline, often into late spring.

(This post sponsored by our publishing partner Cripple Creek Backcountry.)

We do have a relatively large population in Washington (at least compared to places such as Montana or Wyoming), with large urban centers near the mountains. However, compared to some of the other mountainous regions, we currently have a relatively small population of skiers and other winter recreationalists. (I did research that.) Even with that being the case, our lack of access results in increasingly crowded backcountry skiing zones where users end up being concentrated. I’ve certainly noticed this in the time that I have lived here, and many others have as well, especially those that have been here longer than I.

Thankfully, in Washington we have no shortage of ski terrain, only a shortage of accessible ski terrain. I believe we could change this by opening up a few more areas to winter human-powered access. Throughout the state, there are quite a few candidates. In my opinion, even creating or improving one more winter trailhead would dramatically increase our options.

I’ve idly had these thoughts for years, as have many others, I’m sure. However, a group of backcountry users are now doing something about it. Enter the Cascade Backcountry Alliance. (CBA) Washington’s very own winter recreation access advocacy group. The group, started this year, has interesting goals.

The mission:
The Cascade Backcountry Alliance works to ensure winter access for backcountry recreational users across Washington state. CBA seeks to foster a community voice and mountain culture for skiers, splitboarders, and other snow travelers in order to preserve access to trailheads, distribute the impact of different user groups, and preserve the backcountry experience of freedom and exploration.

The CBA is just getting started, and has some lofty goals. To begin, they are focusing on improving the parking options for backcountry travelers on Snoqualmie Pass (a much more accessible goal than convincing the powers that be to snowplow an entire backcountry road).

Here’s a condensed list of other possible goals that are published on the CBA website (see their website for detail):

Mt. Baker region:
— Try to funnel uphill traffic into safer travel routes via signs and education.
— Improve parking and access along the 542 corridor. Current priorities are the Twin Lakes/Winchester Mountain Lookout road and the Skyline divide road.

North Cascades National Park region:
— Ensuring gates are not kept locked for arbitrary reasons when access is reasonable.
— Advocate for expanded plowing operations on key access roads such as the Cascade River Road.
— Provide better conditions reports on existing roads and snowmobile access points.

Stevens pass region:
— Ally ourselves with the resort as much as possible as they look for more parking solutions.
— Work with DOT to ensure cars can park without being towed at Jim Hill, Rock Mountain, and other backcountry trailheads. Clarify safe parking locations.
— Advocate for expanded plowing at as many trailheads as possible.
— Encourage the expansion of ride-sharing options to this area.

Snoqualmie pass region:
— Additional parking at the PCT trailhead.
— A designated dog-walking area in the valley.
— Continued grooming of a specific resort exit/downhill traffic lane.
— A marked and maintained snowshoe trail to Source Lake for all foot traffic, or the popularization of the summer trail route for snowshoers.
— A skintrack or uptrack route from lot 4, hopefully with limited snowshoe traffic

Mt. Rainier National Park region:
— Establish the importance of winter access to the park.
— Ensure that conflict between rangers and backcountry users is minimized, and continue to advocate for the plowing and maintenance of the road to Paradise.
— Work to guarantee that gates are not kept locked for arbitrary reasons when access is reasonable.
— Help the park communicate clearly about what roads and facilities are open.

This is an exhaustive list with tons of grand ideas — some controversial — although in my opinion any of these would certainly improve winter recreation in Washington. Readers, your opinions?


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12 Responses to “Cascade Backcountry Alliance – Washington State Snowsports Access Advocacy”

  1. Rick December 22nd, 2017 10:47 am

    Who’s ‘Louie Dawson 3’ ?!? There’re now 3 of them ?


  2. Lou Dawson 2 December 22nd, 2017 10:51 am

    Rick, There were at one time 3, Grandpa passed away many years ago… we add the number to keep it clear when it’s myself (Lou elder) or my son. I know it looks a little odd, but we’ve not figured out a better way to do it. This is actually an internal editing name we use for Louie and I made a mistake of not switching the author name on this post to the plain “Louie,” I fixed that, glad you caught it. Thanks. Lou

  3. Joe John December 22nd, 2017 11:38 am

    Hopefully #4 will come along and keep it going. ?

  4. Webbed Toes December 22nd, 2017 12:42 pm

    Ok so back to the content of the post . . .
    Washington state doesn’t have the wealth of old mining/logging roads compared to say Colorado, but there are a bunch of areas that are fairly inaccessable unless you have a sled or time to do big sloggy approaches and overnight trips. Extending the plowing farther out would definitely help!

    One problem in the PNW is all the excessively thick trees and especially alder-willow jungle at lower elevations that needs ALOT of snow to make it skiable. With all the historic and continuing logging in this area, i’ve always thought touring areas similar to the Hankin-Evellyn operation in BC would work well here. Not neccesarilly a lodge, just using the logging ops to optimze the ski touring in certain areas. In the Stevens pass area, the Yodelin and Jim Hill/Arrowhead are prime examples and there are many others.

  5. Louis Dawson December 22nd, 2017 1:11 pm

    That Hankin-Evellyn area is very interesting, hadn’t heard about it before. There’s lots of history with mountain bikers using logging areas, in partnership with logging companies. Tokul and Galbraith in Washington are prime examples. I wonder if something similar could be used in Washington for a backcountry skiing area. One area that could be a candidate for skiing would be the Twin Sisters range, near Mt. Baker. The range is surrounded by an active logging operation, that has gated roads that reach fairly high elevations. Currently the roads are gated fairly low, and access requires a long bike ride.

  6. Hairymountainbeast December 22nd, 2017 3:03 pm

    I’d also love to see (year round) access to the twin sisters area in Washington. I’ve had some if my best adventures up there. There’s a lot of interesting terrain up there.
    Good to know there’s a group working on access issues up here in our corner of the world!

  7. XXX_er December 22nd, 2017 7:15 pm

    The Hankin Evellynn area was cut by paid fallers or wild fire crews, the stems were cut bucked & left on the ground, I’m pretty sure they didnt get any $ for the timber

    a ski bud of mine put it all together getting the government, the local stakeholders on board and finding the funding ect

  8. Webbed Toes December 24th, 2017 12:48 am

    What i mostly meant was that a Hankin-Evellyn style operation could easily be put into activation in places where logging has or will soon happen. Logging cut blocks in Washington are some of the better places to ski tour on elevated hazard days. If logging is slated to happen in a specific area anyway it could be planned in a somewhat more vertically oriented manner and have the end result of be a nice gladed below treeline area while also possibly opening up access to some more alpine areas.
    A Hankin Evellyn style joint with designated uphill and downhill routes and a daylodge or even a yurt/cabin or five for overnight stays isn’t at all neccessary. The concept seems excellent to me though. The old Yodelin lodge that Stevens Pass uses for employee housing is a pretty perfect example of a good (albeit mellow) location. The area above Lake Wenatchee and small burg of Plain Wa have tons of potential too.

  9. XXX_er December 25th, 2017 12:14 am

    It would be good to have someone do all the cutting for free

    The Hamlin Evelyn project was 1000 hrs a year of voly coordination work for 5 years and cost upwards of 800,000 $

    so it was a lot of vision and a lot of effort

  10. Jason D December 26th, 2017 9:23 pm

    Great idea, would love to get involved with this.

    There’s certainly potential in terms of plowing certain trailheads.

    If the group is serious about allying with Stevens, finding ways to reduce the number of vehicles parked at the summit, Yodelin and even the nordic center on peak days should be their goal. Adding parking is probably a non-starter.

    I think there’s a huge amount of potential if the group can find solutions that address the concerns of bc users as well as the WSDOT, FS, NPS, ski areas, etc.

  11. Cascade Backcountry Alliance December 26th, 2017 10:15 pm

    Hi All,

    Thanks for the comments and interest. We would love to be involved in a big Hankin-Evelyn style project if we saw such an opportunity. Right now we are just trying to get some of these entities like the FS etc. to acknowledge we exist and push on them a little bit about our goals. We are also trying to get bc travelers to acknowledge our shared interests as a community (even if your interest is seeing no one all day).

    Regarding Stevens Pass specifically: We have started talking to the resort but we have been hesitant to put forth any policy proposals here because the parking issue has been hashed to death. Something that would help is having a better relationship with the DOT so that there is less ambiguity about parking at other touring areas along hwy 2. Also,more carpooling would obviously be better but that is a big fish to fry. In general our Stevens projects have taken a backseat because we have other projects in Snoqualmie and Crystal that are pressing and we can get some traction. We are of course trying to take on as much as we can with very limited resources.

    Happy to answer any other questions either here or you can contact us by email (see website) if you have a more private concern.


  12. Tom December 27th, 2017 9:14 am

    Heya Conrad,
    Let me know if I can be of help with Steven’s. Backcountry skiers may not be a major revenue source, but at least Steven’s doesn’t have a draconian uphill travel policy and even non ticket-buyers buy food or beer at the hill.
    I was up in Smithers, BC a year ago (nearest town to Hankin-Evellyn’s) and talked to a few people who shared that the biggest motivation for the backcountry ski area was the extremely limited access due to BTL being totally unnavigable from crazy thick brush. Treeline is low there, but 2,000′ or more above any road access (exception being the access from Shames ski area, over by Terrace BC), so without a sled there really weren’t options. The Cascades aren’t in nearly as dire an access situation, although it sure would be welcome to add options, minimize the chokepoints.

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