News from Pearl Basin — Mini Golf and Illegal Sledders

Post by blogger | April 21, 2010      

A beautiful creation known as the Ridge of Gendarmes forms the southeast ridge of 14,265 foot Castle Peak, between Crested Butte and Aspen near here in Colorado. Louie and I hit a nice bit of mini golf there a few days ago. On better snow years the smaller couloirs fill in, as they are now we felt they were too full of rockfall potential and ice to make for good skiing, so we stuck with a more open line. The day was beautiful, with a cold morning keeping the snow from slushing out and the snirt layers still covered by recent snowfalls. But the snirt is appearing quickly so get the goods while you can if you’re in this area.

Skiing Pearl Basin

Louie on the descent. We were planning on multiple laps but we were both tired from previous day's workouts. So we re-skinned once just to get a better line down to where we'd parked our snowmobile on the Pearl Pass road. Click image to enlarge.

Ridge of gendarmes route

Our route. The smaller couloirs fill in during better snow years. Click image to enlarge.

Pearl Basin sunrise, Colorado backcountry skiing.

Sunrise over Mace Peak, Pearl Basin, Colorado. Click image to enlarge.

Only bummer of the day was seeing three snowboarder/snowmobilers riding in the legal Wilderness we were respecting and enjoying under human power. Sure makes the concept of Wilderness a joke, doesn’t it? Weird we have our group here in central Colorado pushing for ever more legal Wilderness (the Hidden Gems campaign), and what much of what we have already designated as legal Wilderness is freely used for illegal snowmobiling, and thus Wilderness in name only. Seems like the Wilderness advocates should spend some time supporting the USFS on enforcement of existing Wilderness laws, instead of their seemingly endless yammering about designating new acreage. In other words, are the Wilderness advocates really doing what they do to preserve Wilderness values? Or are they just pushing for new Wilderness as some sort of exercise in touchy feelie feel-good volunteerism while providing ways for politicians to look good? I really do think that is an open question.

Illegal snowmobiler

I had to rack out my zoom to get this photo of one illegal sledder who was blatantly riding in legal Wilderness, so sorry about the lack of detail caused by my camera. Never got close enough for an ID so we could make an actionable report to the Forest Service.

Your take? (Please don’t leave any comments about damaging personal property.)


Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


60 Responses to “News from Pearl Basin — Mini Golf and Illegal Sledders”

  1. Douglas Kraus April 21st, 2010 8:31 am

    I think people who choose to snowboard and poach wilderness are giving snowmobilers a bad name ; )

  2. Lou April 21st, 2010 8:39 am


  3. Snorky April 21st, 2010 9:55 am


    You are an enigma wrapped in a parka. Thanks for respecting the Wilderness boundary on one hand. On the other hand, you wrote: “Sure makes the concept of Wilderness a joke, doesn’t it?”

    Did you at any point exceed the speed limit on your drive up to Castle Peak? Kind of makes speed limits a joke, doesn’t it?

    Seems like the Access advocates should spend some time supporting the police on enforcement of existing traffic laws, instead of their seemingly endless yammering about maintaining unpoliceable minor 4wd routes.

    Laws are deterrents. They are not programmed into people’s neural networks. Does the lack of enforcement honestly justify the lack of the law? Even when unpoliced, they will reduce certain behaviors. You, for example, stopped sledding at the Wilderness boundary, despite the absence of a ranger. Why?

  4. Njord April 21st, 2010 10:04 am

    Or are they just pushing for new Wilderness as some sort of exercise in touchy feelie feel-good volunteerism while providing ways for politicians to look good?

    Sounds about right for Carbondale…

  5. JonnyB April 21st, 2010 10:06 am

    Can you explain the term mini-golf. I’m hearing it a lot lately but not quite sure what we are exactly talking about. Thanks for keeping me up to speed.

  6. Lou April 21st, 2010 10:21 am

    Snork, Around here, police have pretty much quit enforcing the pot laws, especially in the Aspen area. Those folks who advocate for the legalization of pot definitely consider that as one point in their favor. So yeah, lack of enforcement can justify getting rid of a law.

    As to your question of why I don’t sled in legal Wilderness, I’m happy to repeat what I’ve written about a thousand times. I believe a certain amount of legal Wilderness is a good thing to have here in Colorado, and I respect the lands designated as such and the laws thereof. That being said, I’m not some kind of mindless robot who drives the exact speed limit, never addresses my mail wrong, or any other of the myriad things we do in daily life that probably break some law on the books some where. So my reasons for obeying a law I have issues with (and yes I have issues with the current interpretation of the Wilderness Act) are complex, not something I can give a quick answer to…

    The rule of law is a thing of government, done by humans, and is thus imperfect. Unless a person exists in a bathtub of warm water, they are going to have to make choices about obeying the rule of law to the letter, or stretching things a certain amount according to their own interpretation or even according to their ethics. What’s more, millions of lawyers exist because the law is not always easy to figure out, or obey, or even to agree on between two or more people. The Wilderness Act is actually a pretty good example of one such law.

    Thus, I don’t have a simple answer of why I’d not make that little extra throttle assisted access probe into legal Wilderness when no one was looking. I guess main reason is that, again, I do value having a certain amount of land that’s designated for non-motorized recreation, and in the instance described in this blog post, obeying the Wilderness law is my way of supporting that.

  7. Lou April 21st, 2010 10:38 am

    Mini golf simply means not going for the king lines, but rather just picking cool stuff and going after it, no matter how big or small. It’s an attitude as much as anything. I’ve also heard the term used more to relate to playing around with terrain features rather than having a summit or route goal.

  8. Snorky April 21st, 2010 10:55 am


    Cheers. Made ya think for a minute. It’s complicated stuff.

  9. Lou April 21st, 2010 11:11 am

    So, you “made” me think for a “minute?” What is that supposed to mean?

  10. Snorky April 21st, 2010 11:20 am

    You wrote a thoughtful, multi-paragraph response. As in “not something I can give a quick answer to…”

  11. OMR April 21st, 2010 11:34 am

    So Snorky, all laws are equal? Yeah, I drove 5mph over the limit during the morning comute, think I’ll now go rip doughnuts in the lawn of the local elementary school with my F350. It’s all the same, right?

  12. Fred Marmsater April 21st, 2010 11:53 am

    Hi Lou – interesting post. Every spring over the last few years I have seen tracks or encountered sleds in the legal wilderness up in Pearl Basin. I agree – enforcement is key.

    Which begs the question – did you report this incident? A few photos and a report to the FS law enforcement usually does the trick. Here is the number to the White River NFS office 970-945-2521, ask for the law enforcement officer. Thanks!

    I have some questions about your stance on wilderness. Since you promote sleds on public lands and generally oppose the concept of wilderness (at least expansions) it seems that you often report on skiing in wilderness, Pearl Basin, Marble area, Sopris etc. Why? Would you ski there if it was not wilderness – which today means it would be hit by sledders on a regular basis. Try touring for a few days on Vail pass, or machine gun ridge etc. I think one of the main reasons that the Elks are so special is that they are in fact partially protected with wilderness status. While not perfect regulations it sure is better than anything else.

  13. Snorky April 21st, 2010 12:12 pm


    Snorky answer: Yeehaw! It’s public land! Besides, do you honestly think I would send my kids to a socialist institution like pubilc school? Public land = My land.

    Seriously though, I was just making a counterpoint. Clearly all laws are not equivalent. And laws are no substitute for mindfulness. That’s why most of us only speed a little bit. I was trying to understand if Lou’s respect for the W. boundary comes out of compliance with the Law, or out of compliance with a moral. What keeps any of us from stealing when there is no chance of getting caught? I’m not certain. Reminds me of Ethics class in college.

  14. Lou April 21st, 2010 12:14 pm

    Fred, I’ve reported before and nothing ever came of it when I didn’t have a good ID. So I figured I’d put my energy into blogging about it instead. But I’ll give those guys a call anyway. Sigh.

    As for your question, sure, I’d ski where it’s not Wilderness and if I shared it with some sledders then so be it. Did that on Red Mountain Pass a few years ago. Didn’t see it as any big deal. But we’ve got so much legal Wilderness ski terrain in this state it’s ridiculous, so to whine about sharing some non-wilderness with sledders to me misses the point. Access is the key, not making ever more more more legal Wilderness that blocks out all sorts of legitimate recreation.

    If only a tiny fraction of the energy and money exerted to creating new Wilderness was put towards creating access to existing Wilderness for human powered recreation, the problem could be easily solved. Instead, everyone gloms on to Vail Pass? In the face of reality, the amount of public non-motorized land we have, that is just a ridiculous state of affairs.

    You seem to have the impression that all I do is ski in the Elks. Sure, I ski there a lot, but I’ve been known to get around…and anyone who is ok with the crowds of ski tourers in Europe, not to mention the web of cable over there, can certainly deal with some snowmobiles (grin).

  15. Lee April 21st, 2010 12:43 pm

    Slightly off topic but what are those little things sticking up on top of Louie’s ski tails in the third photo down? Are those skis radio-controlled!

  16. Lou April 21st, 2010 12:56 pm

    Oh, those are the ends of his rat tail skin tail fix system…

  17. Frank K April 21st, 2010 1:37 pm

    How obvious is the boundary there, Lou? If I’m not mistaken, the boundary is more or less the Pearl Pass rd., which I would assume is largely buried, and therefore hard to determine. Not condoning anything, but I do think the boundaries can be tough in some circumstances when they don’t follow ridges or other obvious features, since many times the boundaries follow an obvious summertime (but not wintertime) feature, like a road or trail.

    That said, when I can’t tell I’d rather stop well short of the boundary rather than go 10′ over it, just to avoid adding any fuel to the fire of the anti-sled crowd.

  18. Randonnee April 21st, 2010 3:22 pm

    Please report unlawful snowmobile riding into Wilderness or Closed Areas. Please advocate for USFS Management of snowmobile/ skier use conflicts. This is something that I am working on, actually just before I posted this. USFS is required by Law to control snowmobile use as it is required to control other ORV use. But somehow USFS largely gave itself a pass on designating/ managing most of snowmobile use and even on enforcement of Wilderness in winter! Emails of quality composition to USFS Forest Supervisors may be helpful. One particularly sporting method to illustrate the problem is to go on Snowest Forum and ask riders there to obey the Law. At least we should let violators know that there are other folks around, and that we do see them and report. Thanks.

  19. Lou April 21st, 2010 3:36 pm

    Frank, I’d agree that one of the biggest problems with this deal is the weird Wilderness boundaries, many of which are not even surveyed and in many cases could be adjusted to your own requirements by a few hundred yards and you’d win in court if you got a ticket, as there is no way the USFS could prove beyond doubt you were actually in Wilderness. These guys, however, we’re a quarter to a half mile from the road. Also, as we all perhaps know from high school civics, ignorance of the law is absolutely no excuse.

    These days, it is trivial to use a GPS, know exactly where you are, and know if you’re for sure violating a Wilderness boundary on your snowmobile. Thus, I would give no one a pass, least of all myself.

    I do acknowldege that everyone makes mistakes, but these guys were not only sledding way away from the road, but they were high marking the big bowl on the northerly side of east Pearl mountain. They were outlaws, pure and simple.

    BTW, I forgot there was another reason I’m so adamant about enforcing the motorized ban in Wilderness. Here it is. I believe the only way the general public is going to really realized the extreme type of land designation that legal Wilderness is, is if the laws are enforced. Otherwise the more apathetic segment of the population just sits on their hands as more and more land is designated at Wilderness, since they can go there and do their mechanized recreation anyway. If they get ticketed, some become activists. I’ve seen a direct correlation around here of more enforcement = more activism from the mechanized recreation segment. That includes mountain bikers. So not only do I like enforcing existing Wilderness because it’s Wilderness, but I also like the way it drives the point home about how extreme and restrictive legal Wilderness is to recreation.

  20. Lou April 21st, 2010 3:46 pm

    P.S., I called the USFS about this today but so far have just left voice mail. A lot of good that’s going to do me if I try to use my satphone if I’m standing there in Pearl Basin watching a crime in progress.

  21. Lou April 21st, 2010 3:55 pm

    Snork, for some reason your comment was in my spam box, sorry about that.

  22. jason April 21st, 2010 5:45 pm

    off-topic to most of the replies…

    speaking of the ‘snirt,’ where would be a good place to find how bad it is in the san juans? it seems like it would be worse there then in the elks, but it’d be helpful to find out what i can before i blindly leave town…


  23. Mark W April 21st, 2010 7:16 pm

    I don’t snowmobile, but If I were a snowmobiler who followed the rules, the cheaters would make me angry in the same way cyclists who ignore traffic laws anger me. I bike to work year-round and follow the rules of the road. My impression is that cyclists flout the laws because there is ABSOLUTELY no enforcement. They have every incentive to do whatever they like on the roads. Sledders who ignore Wilderness boundaries face nearly no enforcement as well, and therefore do as they wish. Enforcement would help. Clamp down. Issue citations. Yeah, I know, legions of Wilderness rangers scoping for cheaters likely won’t happen as there is no funding for such things.

  24. John Gloor April 21st, 2010 7:16 pm

    I would not be upset if a sledder went 50′ off the official road to avoid an un-managable side hill or some obstacle in the roadway. I am sure others here would be bothered by that . Being just on one side or the other of some imaginary line doesn’t seem like a huge offense to me. I think there should be a small gray area unless people want to put up an ugly fence. The blatant poaching has to stop though. I once turned in a hunter who was miles in on singletrack on his ATV. It is not the same as a wilderness violation, but the Forest service did nothing, even with the written down reg number. They said it was too hard to enforce!

    On Teton AT they had a write up about similar recent transgressions up in Wyoming. The sleds involved had no obvious registration numbers, so I was impossible to identify the violators. As a sled user for access, people often say to me that we need to police ourselves better. If this was possible, I would do it. It is hard to have a sit down talk with someone zipping by on a machine, and I do not hang out with real slednecks. The only thing they will listen to is their pocket book. I think the first time offense is up to $750 or so. If we had a few more of those tickets being written, I guarantee violations would go down. For the most part a small percentage of riders are doing all the poaching. It should not be too difficult to catch them at the trail head where there vehicle is.

    I think I share Lou’s views . I absolutely love the wilderness areas we have in the Elks and the White River National Forest as a whole, and I spend time in them whenever I can. However, I think there needs to be a blend of usage. In Pitkin county, I think the national forest is 33% wilderness and the proposal is to increase it to 46%. I have lived in Pitkin county for 43 years, and I have a pretty good feel of the allowed usages here. Can anyone tell me where there is one mile of legal single track open to dirt bike riding in this county on Forest service land? There is NONE! Not one mile. This is why I personally oppose the Hidden Gems. I feel in this very environmentally aware area, we have a type of “tyranny of the majority” dictating very strict land usages, such as closing trails to other users. I really fear that Congress will pass the Hidden Gems despite a lot of local opposition. It is the feel good thing to do in Washington.

    I just read my response, and it kind of rambles, but I’m posting it as it is. Cheers

  25. RandoSwede April 21st, 2010 7:43 pm

    Are you really saying that you like the concept of wilderness ares so it can/will be violated by certain users who in turn become activists fighting further wilderness designation because it is so restrictive. Please help me understand that logic.

  26. Lou April 21st, 2010 7:47 pm

    Thanks John, I’d agree that in some situations a liberal interpretation of the road ROW is only fair, as those cherry stemmed roads such as Pearl Pass road are mapped that way for a reason, so people can use them. As they are mapped, the ROW is quite wide, and like I said, not really surveyed or marked on the ground. And yeah, if you’re there it’s pretty obvious if a sledder is just using the road, or if they’re poaching. Totally totally obvious.

    And yes, while the USFS does do some enforcement, it’s really mostly a somewhat futile exercise due to the small staff. They’ve got like one or two law enforcement guys covering a huge area with multiple regulations that get broken constantly. Just the unimproved camping and squatting are a nightmare to control. I’ve had some encounters with USFS folks empowered to write tickets, and they’re nice and actually quite reasonable, but it’s a miracle to see them.

    Louie volunteered one summer, and the guys he worked with spent hours if not days just trying to get people to leash their dogs. If they can’t even get people to leash their dogs, how in the world are they going to enforce snowmobile regulations in the middle of winter? Really a bad situation. Making laws you can’t enforce somehow seems at least problematic and unwise, at least to my way of thinking…

  27. Lou April 21st, 2010 7:54 pm

    Rando, please don’t put words in my mouth. It appears you are trying to force me into your own mold.

    All I said, to re-state, was that one reason I like to see the Wilderness laws enforced is because doing so makes all this real and indeed may inspire folks to become recreation advocate activists.

    I don’t see what’s so hard to understand about that point of view.

    Look at the reverse. If they made pot illegal BUT from the start of making the law never or hardly ever enforced the law, do you think there would be such a strong movement to legalize it? Sure, a few people would probably fight for legalization based on ethics and their view of right and wrong (or their desire to get stoned and not experience any paranoia about imaginary busts), but legalization most certainly would not have become the strong movement that it is today if it wasn’t for all the years of people going to jail for one joint, and that sort of thing.

    You guys are sure asking me a lot of questions. How about you state your own opinion? Do we have enough Wilderness? If not, how much more do we need. As for snowmobiles, how should the USFS stop the poaching in legal Wilderness? Should mountain bikes be allowed in all Wilderness? Some Wilderness? Should people be allowed in Wilderness, or should it be a human free game preserve?

    Pray tell.

  28. omr April 21st, 2010 8:25 pm

    Snork, et al, I’m all about access to public lands, I just don’t make excuses that time and distance will keep me out. And don’t get me wrong, I’ll even use a machine if need be, legally of course, but access is an evolutionary beast: start ‘machining’ now and in 40 years you’ll have trams and lift lines. Just look at the Cottonwood Canyons.

    As for your comment on socialism, I pay big time for health insuarance, yet never see a doctor, a huge beneift of human powered skiing. Basically, my premiums are paying for someone elses doc visits and pills – socialized medicine in the most basic sense. The Fox Stooges are about 50 years too late with that argument. So, I’ll keep hiking for turns for no other reason than to avoid the saw-bones. Move those joints, stay away from snowmachines, else you’ll lose mobility at an early age.

  29. Randonnee April 21st, 2010 8:56 pm

    Enough Wilderness. We have fantastic Wilderness preserves here in WA, but enough. USFS anyway is fully aware of the snowmobile highways through the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and announces that it cannot enforce to stop snowmobile Wilderness trespass anyway. Some of the same areas have a long list of special rules in the summer, Permits required, etc, but are snowmobile speedways in winter.

    Here in WA outside of Wilderness we have few non-motorized designated areas for winter recreation. We have thick forests here, so open terrain is not so common, and it is somewhat rare or less common to have open terrain that has not resulted from avalanche activity. Snowmobiles and skiers are after the same open snow-covered terrain. Before the recent advances in snowmobile technology, fewer non-Wilderness areas were tracked by snowmobiles. Lately, it is becoming apparent that skiers have lost out, many non-Wilderness areas are tracked quickly now by snowmobiles- and including areas recently previously untouched by snowmobiles. USFS non-Wilderness Lands here are defacto motorized playgrounds generally.

    USFS Management of these incompatible uses is sorely needed.

  30. John Gloor April 21st, 2010 9:05 pm

    I am perfectly happy with the allowed usages in wilderness, with one exception. I cannot fathom why a paraglider cannot launch from a remote wilderness peak. They hike the peak like a climber and have absolutely no impact on the peak for their descent. Their gear is about as mechanical as my shoes, and even less so than my ski boots. I condone poaching by paragliders. Even kayaking and canoeing are legal. as a kayaker, I know I leave a lot of plastic in the manky creeks I boat and we cut out a lot of logs.

    I oppose attempts to allow mountain bikes in wilderness. I would hate to have people bombing down trails like the one to Snowmass Lake, but I would do it if it were legal. I know, I am a self serving hypocrite. A few hours of hike-a-bike to the top of Buckskin pass would be rewarded with an awesome descent with today’s bikes. Bikes do not belong in wilderness in my opinion. My biker friends are gonna hate me for advocating that.

    I think the ticket amount for wilderness violations should be split by the ticketing officer and the Forest Service, and the gov’t still pays them to patrol the backcountry. It would pay its way and be a huge incentive. Just like the lift operators who get to keep the fine for ski pass violators. Two tickets a week would match their salary, tax free. I’d quit my job for such an opportunity!

    There should be no more wilderness in the White River National Forest. I am less versed in other forests since I use them less. I do support the nature conservancy and similar groups and I think we need more protected lands in other states which do not have the huge areas of wilderness like Colorado has. How much wilderness is in Iowa/North Dakota/Indiana? I would support the idea of buying people off of their land (voluntarily of course) and establishing large grassland preserves in more populated lands like the midwest. Everyone has their price, and I would like to see the wilderness advocates be willing to pay, instead of take.

    Say NO to the Hidden Gems proposal.

  31. Eric April 21st, 2010 10:07 pm

    Also looking for information on Snirt in the San Jauns. The La Sals in SE Utah got hit pretty good thus ruining what was looking to be a promising corn season.

  32. John Gloor April 21st, 2010 10:23 pm

    I would also be interested to hear about the snirt in the La Sal mountains. I have always wanted to ski one day and bike the next out of Moab.

  33. RandoSwede April 22nd, 2010 1:43 am

    Not trying to put words in your mouth. I didn’t understand your point. I support Wilderness and believe that it should be enforced (more). What gets me is that folks that poach wilderness do so, out of disregard of the established law. In the process thumbing their noses and creating bad feelings among user groups. BTW, I have a snowmobile, a dirt bike and a mountain bike I just don’t feel that limited by wilderness here in MT. Focusing on what is being taken away or what you are being denied doesn’t seem like a good way to go through life.

  34. Lou April 22nd, 2010 6:53 am

    Swede, I’d agree that focusing on the negative is not the way to go through life. Don’t know if you were writing about me in particular, but as you might notice from my blog, I don’t exactly focus on negative stuff day in and day out… But life isn’t perfect so one does have to deal with imperfection sometimes, and sometimes I write about that pesky imperfect stuff.

  35. adam olson April 22nd, 2010 7:22 am

    Thank you Lou nipping in the bud the vandalism issue. I had my sled parked along the road near the Pearl Pass turn off all weekend while we toured around the zone and “mini golfed”. Everyone was respectful of my personal property.

    John Gloor- Iowa has a very large Wilderness Designation along the Mississippi River. Ironically you can take your houseboat or jetski wherever you want within the wilderness, legally.

    From Pearl Basin all one can see is wilderness. As I sat atop West Pearl Sunday I pondered the amount of wilderness I was looking at, I wondered how much is enough? If wilderness advocates were really there for the trees they would realize machines will be needed to keep our precious resources healthy. The Hidden Gemmers seem to be motivated by creating history and not saving the woods. This is unfortunate. If the Hidden Gems proposal passes kiss the trees good-bye! What a shame to handcuff future generations.

  36. jerimy April 22nd, 2010 7:43 am

    Here is a map of the legal Wilderness in the US.

    To address John’s comment about the lack of W in the plains states, there are other ways to protect wildlife and land besides being designated W. Compare the number of wildlife refuges in ND as compared to CO.

    Or Grassland

  37. RandoSwede April 22nd, 2010 8:46 am

    Your blog is definitely not negative, Lou. I was referring to the negative disposition of always feeling limited or denied by Wilderness or anything in life, really.

  38. Matt Kinney April 22nd, 2010 9:10 am

    Happy Earth Day!

    Seems like an appropriate thread to remind us about that and endorse
    carbon-free recreation on public lands. Do your part today if not everyday.

    Cheers and …..skins!!!


  39. Snorky April 22nd, 2010 9:38 am

    Thanks for the explanation as to why my comment didn’t appear. I thought I was being singled out! Wonder why it ended up in the spam box. Nice discussion here with minimal aggression.

    The general sentiment in this forum seems to be ” I support wilderness values, but I reject the creation of new Wilderness, as there are other ways to conserve land that don’t compromise my access and convenience.”

    My personal take is closer to: “I support public access, but I reject the development of motorized access to roadless areas, as there are other ways to get there that don’t compromise the challenge of wildness.”

  40. Lou April 22nd, 2010 9:49 am

    Thanks for your take Snork. As for the spam, I’ve got a lot of complex stuff going on because I get attacked bigtime, so I usually have no idea why I get a false positive. One thing though, any comment with more than one link gets boxed for moderation. And we have lots of stop words as well.

  41. Lou April 22nd, 2010 9:54 am

    Good point there Matt!

  42. mike April 22nd, 2010 10:32 am

    I’ve always said that mountain bikes should be allowed anywhere that giant post holing horses are allowed, though the two don’t coexist very well due to the fact that the horses destroy trails. In the wind rivers you’ll see four guys on horses with six pack animals..And trails made of pulverized horse dung. I just rode the Red Cliffs trail In So. Utah….one of my long time favorites…It’s been taken over by the horse people, and ruined for biking. I’ll never ride it again. Also equestrian types should be required to lift their horses over all stream crossings and mud holes. I think some wilderness could be opened for mtn. biking and closed to horses.

  43. Brad April 22nd, 2010 10:46 am

    Hi Lou,

    I enjoy your blog, but have some issues with your comments re: wilderness and advocates. You have a good point that enforcement of existing laws is critical, and it seems that the organized groups are not doing that. You make a very good point that resources might be better expended on encourage enforcement.

    I work for environmental organizations, and you are probably right. I think the reason is part ignorance — many of those people do not get into to backcountry in winter and are likely unaware of the scope of the issue. Make of that what you will, but personally I don’t think choice of recreation should be a litmus test for understanding the value of wilderness.

    If you would have stopped there, you would have a very good and incisive critique of the wilderness movement. But when you move into questioning the motivations of the organizations, I think you damage your argument. I have been in this industry for only 8 years, but I can tell you that there is no motivation that has to do with some sort of soft, touchy-feely ideology, or a thoughtless desire to make people feel good.

    Non profit political advocacy is thankless, exhausting, under paid work. And, because so many people actually want to do it, the jobs can be quite competitive. I’ve worked with many Harvard, Yale, etc grads, and known many people leave this work for very lucrative, high-powered private sector careers. I’ve worked with senior management from decent-sized businesses who changed careers to work in my field. I figure I could easy double my salary with no increase in work load if I changed careers.

    I choose this work and am happy with it. I’m not looking for sympathy. But understand that the vast, vast majority of people who do political environmental advocacy are smart, dedicated people who have spent time critically thinking about their work and it’s effectiveness. You might question our conclusions, but painting us as unthinking “touchy-feely” people or tools of politicians is completely off base. It is an ad homien attack that destroys what would be a good point and the start of some conversation (that might even result in more attention being paid to enforcement, a positive outcome).

  44. Lou April 22nd, 2010 10:58 am

    Brad, I’d agree that was an ad homien that I did. But, I also know lots of people in the environmental advocacy industry. I agree they are sincere, but often find that in my opinion their views are indeed based more on philosophy and outright fantasy than a basis in realities of what it really takes to do effective conservation in the mountain west.

    As for making financial sacrifices and such, really, does that prove anything? Lots of us have made financial sacrifices for various causes, or to have a career, or perhaps even support a parent or child. That just makes us human, not some sort of knights in shining armor.

  45. Snorky April 22nd, 2010 1:16 pm


    You seem to discredit people whose “views are indeed based more on philosophy and outright fantasy than a basis in realities”.

    So, I am to assume that you are an atheist? Because you have described billions of religious people here.

    Merely playing devil’s advocate again (pun intended).

    I also know lots of people in the blogging industry. I agree they are sincere, but often find that in my opinion their views are indeed based more on philosophy and outright fantasy than a basis in realities of what it really takes to do effective conversation in the mountain west.

  46. Frank K April 22nd, 2010 1:20 pm

    For those of you against Hidden Gems, I hope you’ve sent Jared Polis an email and asked him not to sponsor the bill. I did earlier this week.

    Lou, as for your broad question of what your reader’s vision of wilderness might be, here’s mine. I’d like to see the Wilderness areas we currently have made more Wild. That means no cows, no horses, no signs, and even eliminating existing trails wherever feasible. All too often Wilderness areas are different than the surrounding FS land in name and name alone.

    Then I want Wilderness Lite, too. Somewhere people can ride a mountain bike and paraglide, but are also protected from logging and mining.

    I don’t know why I took the time to write that out, since the ranchers and equestrians would never allow true wilderness, but hey, that’s my dream.

  47. Lou April 22nd, 2010 1:35 pm

    What Frank said.

  48. Snorky April 22nd, 2010 1:36 pm

    Frank K,

    So you’d support Hidden Gems if it was a “Wilderness Lite” proposal?

    I agree with your sentiment. Pristine core wilderness surrounded by buffer of accessible wildlands. But how we will ever agree on the way to achieve this? On one hand, the OHV lobby will never accept any form of land protection. On the other, the environmental orgs will not accept changes to the language in the Wilderness Act. It’s quite depressing really.

  49. Lou April 22nd, 2010 1:45 pm

    I’ve stated many times here that I thought we needed and would support another type of land conservation designation, that was more friendly to recreation, inclusive, and accommodating of recreation diversity. I’d support such a thing. And we actually already have something like it, they’re called National Recreation Areas or something like that…

  50. Snorky April 22nd, 2010 2:03 pm

    Must be better than National Recreation Area, which is usually applied to large, man-made bodies of water. For example, Glen Canyon is an NRA. Highways, bridges, marinas, dam/reservoir, etc. Very little conservation occurring in NRAs.

  51. J-Man April 23rd, 2010 7:01 am

    Update on San Juan Snirt-We have had our share of snirt in the Juans. In the last month, we have skied everything from epic powder, ice and splitter snirt. The last few storms have blown fresh snow on top of the snirt, but as always this is the weak layer. Still plenty of snow to get out on..going to attempt the OB Couloir this weekend.

  52. jason April 23rd, 2010 10:47 am

    thanks for the beta, J-Man

  53. Frank K April 23rd, 2010 3:39 pm

    Snorky- “So you’d support Hidden Gems if it was a “Wilderness Lite” proposal?”

    There might be a couple of things here and there that I’d have a problem with, but more or less, yes, I would support a wilderness lite Hidden Gems. In fact, that is exactly what I suggested to Rep. Polis- that he show some leadership and support a more inclusive way of protecting federal lands.

  54. Jon April 25th, 2010 9:42 pm

    Here is a video of a couple guys who got slapped a $500 fine each as a result of this YouTube video at the top of Mt. Timpanogos, UT. (I know their cousin)

    I ride where I’m supposed to but I have to say this is pretty impressive. Here is a shot of the west face to give you an idea.

    Also, since this thing says to speak my mind, a little off-topic rant…

    Someday I might be as cool as all of you people here. For now I am too short on time and too out of shape to do laps like y’all. I’ve done it a few times, and spent one winter learning to telemark but now I’m too afraid of avalanches (I have a family to take care of, otherwise…) to do much. Snowmobiles are fun in the flats and gentle slope angles so I’m having fun with that for now. I’d ask for tips on dealing with that, but I’m sure there is no silver bullet.

  55. SteveG April 26th, 2010 8:19 am

    Jon – I feel your angst. I only discovered the joy of alpine touring last year. While family obligations don’t hold me back, the fact that I’ll be paying for my senior discounted season pass this year with the proceeds of my first Soc.Sec. check is a limiting factor. I’ll take what I can and enjoy the exploits of others. As for the avy fear, had that too, but it seems to ease with education and good partners to trust. There is a wide spectrum in the adventure of skis+snow+mountains

  56. skibrendan April 27th, 2010 10:19 am

    I agree that much of the pushing for Hidden Gems is political… Although I support conservation, I have noticed for example that much of the “open space” here in Summit County is designed more as a buffer around wealthy homes than as a true preservation measure.
    The Elk and Gore Ranges are true wilderness. I fear that some of these areas with all their roads don’t really qualify as such. Also, although I support restrictions on motorized use, I think that it would be possible to do these lands some real good by enforcing current laws on motorized use as well as creating new, well measured restrictions which would not have to be absolute.
    Again, I do support preservation of true wilderness areas. However, does closing a road that has been there for decades really make the area wilderness when it has already been heavily mined… or does this really just create political gains which ignore groups like the disabled and elderly who have used these roads respectfully for generations to get some peace and quiet?
    All this is open for debate but I just wanted to share some thoughts. Perhaps erring on the side of preservation is the right path…???

  57. Jim April 27th, 2010 12:29 pm

    Just back from Valdez AK. They held the Mountain Man snow machine hill climbing contest in Thompson Pass. There were at least 1000 or more machines and 3 times that many people all over the pass in RV’s. Its a whole different mentality. The machines are over 1000 cc and can go over 100mph and fly thru the air, go straight up over 40 degrees. They are way way more of them than us skinners 100 to 1 or more. Its big business. We need to stick together and fight this somehow if we want to preserve some quiet areas. Its legal there, but still, its fighting to protect a way of life.

  58. Canadian Party Pooper April 27th, 2010 7:05 pm

    Canadian Party Pooper says: Geez you guys are so unbelievably politicized in the U.S. !! Wilderness should be WILD by default ! It is most definitely a privilege to access the mountains on a 4WD or a skidoo, not a god given right. It’s noisy, pollutes, wastes tons of resources just to manufacture the d*mn machines, and we already do enough damage just driving to the mountains… Plus you need a huge pick-up to haul your whole kit. I tell ya, it’s totally and perversely against the spirit of alpine touring, on top of being reserved for the wealthy. Plus, you selfishly ruin the peace and quiet of a whole lot of people by trying to access the very same peace and quiet.

  59. Adam R April 28th, 2010 9:32 am

    The ironic thing is that the most hardcore environmentalists are the urban liberal elitists, drinking their soy-milk lattes down in Denver and telling everyone to take mass transit and ride bikes and eat vegan. They refuse to even consider that there are other people that live a different lifestyle than they do. If they had their way, they would make the entire mountains Wilderness because they don’t even use the land anyways, just to be confident that no other human can enjoy them either.

    People like Lou (and myself) certainly advocate using a snowmobile to access the Wilderness on a legal road (Pearl Pass road). However, every Wilderness does not have the luxury of Pearl Pass road. If it were up to the environmentalists, they wouldn’t allow any roads in Wilderness. So this means it is up to us common-sense recreationalists to not only fight for wilderness, but also fight against the extreme environmentalists that wish to restrict our access completely.

  60. Great Day July 29th, 2010 12:21 pm

    What is wrong with you wankers? Splitting hairs about how someone got there, bikes ok/not ok, partagliders ok, snomobiles bad? The only way that is ok with you is the way you did it.

    If you are hiking and you hear a motorcycle or see a mountain bike and your imagined, false “wilderness experience’ is ruined, that is your problem. Live and let live and enjoy your time in the backcountry. Lets keep the laws off of how we all enjoy our public lands

  Your Comments

  Recent Posts

Facebook Twitter Email Instagram Youtube

WildSnow Twitter Feed


  • Blogroll & Links

  • Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information & opinion website. Lou's passion for the past 50 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about ski touring and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free ski touring news and information here.

    All material on this website is copyrighted, the name WildSnow is trademarked, permission required for reproduction (electronic or otherwise) and display on other websites. PLEASE SEE OUR COPYRIGHT and TRADEMARK INFORMATION.

    We include "affiliate sales" links with most of our blog posts. This means we receive a percentage of a sale if you click over from our site (at no cost to you). None of our affiliate commission links are direct relationships with specific gear companies or shopping carts, instead we remain removed by using a third party who manages all our affiliate sales and relationships. We also sell display "banner" advertising, in this case our relationships are closer to the companies who advertise, but our display advertising income is carefully separated financially and editorially from our blog content, over which we always maintain 100% editorial control -- we make this clear during every advertising deal we work out. Please also notice we do the occasional "sponsored" post, these are under similar financial arrangements as our banner advertising, only the banner or other type of reference to a company are included in the blog post, simply to show they provided financial support to and provide them with advertising in return. Unlike most other "sponsored content" you find on the internet, our sponsored posts are entirely under our editorial control and created by WildSnow specific writers.See our full disclosures here.

    Backcountry skiing is dangerous. You may be killed or severely injured if you do any form of ski mountaineering, skimo randonnee and randonnée skiing. The information and news on this website is intended only as general information. Due to human error and passing time, the information, text and images contained within this website may be inaccurate, false, or out-of-date. By using, reading or viewing the information provided on this website, you agree to absolve the owners of Wild Snow as well as content contributors of any liability for injuries or losses incurred while using such information. Furthermore, you agree to use any of this website's information, maps, photos, or binding mounting instructions templates at your own risk, and waive Wild Snow owners and contributors of liability for use of said items for ski touring or any other use.

    Switch To Mobile Version