Being Polite in the Backcountry

Post by blogger | November 9, 2006      

Update, Nov. 10. Wow, this post lit a firestorm of excellent comments. Instead of bumping it down with today’s blog post I’ll leave it at the top of the page ’till this evening or tomorrow. Thanks everyone for adding to the record, I’d imagine that with things such as human and pet waste the Forest Service will have to weigh in eventually if we can’t control it ourselves. While there is plenty of debatable stuff here, I’d say that feces on the trail is something we can agree should be stopped? Dog owners, do you think you have the right to have your dog squat on the trail and provide us with brown wax? Speak up! I had some experience with this last winter when a crew showed up in Marble, Colorado with three dogs, one that was clearing its lower intestine quite frequently. We were following these guys, and I got out my avalanche shovel twice to clean up their mess. Met them up on the route but didn’t say anything, perhaps I should have, but confrontation like that usually blows the day’s high. Below is original post:

“Arrggg,” you say, “I’m an outlaw and don’t need no stinkin ettykit.” Fine. But for the rest of us, here are some thoughts on backcountry skier’s manners, guest blog from Cory. Idea is to get us thinking. Comments are ON! I’d like to hear some thoughts about all this, especially about people bringing dogs and letting them poo in the middle of the ski runs and skin tracks. I amazes me that someone who’s sensitive to the aesthetic environment as a backcountry skier could let that happen, but I guess if it’s your dog you look at their brown leavings differently than a stranger does. Along these lines, we published a backcountry skier’s code a while back, it’s here if anyone is interested. Following are Cory’s ideas:

1) Only if they get along well with people and other dogs.
2) If they poop or pee on the trail, kick it off to the side.
3) If your dog likes to walk on ski tails, make sure it’s only YOUR ski tails.
4) Take full responsibility for your dog and realize that they have been known to set off and get caught in avalanches.

Breaking trail
1) First and foremost it must be in the safest avalanche route possible.
2) If it’s a high use area stick to the traditional route.
3) If you’re putting in a new route try to avoid places where someone could piece together a few turns. Ski up the side of a field as opposed to stumbling right up the middle.
4) Make each step count. Avoid excessive traversing or downhill skinning if possible.
5) Don’t go too steep. When breaking trail, you often get better traction than when you’re the 4th or 5th person. Going too steep will often find you sliding backward on your second lap.

Dealing with others
1) If someone is skinning up behind you step off the trail to avoid them having to break their pace.
2) (This one is definitely personal opinion) Everyone should use the same trail. Fortunately, skis are large enough to float over boot and snowshoe tracks. By having everyone use the same trail, we avoid disturbing the untracked snow that we are all out there for. (Furthermore, snow travel is like evolution…we only boot hike and snowshoe for so long before we realize there are more efficient ways of doing things.)
3) Be friendly. We are in a sport which generally attracts nice people. Say hi and leave your ego in the car.


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39 Responses to “Being Polite in the Backcountry”

  1. Jon F November 9th, 2006 6:11 pm

    Sounds great Cory. We have had run-ins with over-agressive dogs in the past, and it usually makes for an unpleasant situation between parties, setting a bad mood for evryone involved. Not good.

    I especially agree with setting a perfect pitch on a track: On a medium-grade track, you can easily climb as fast or faster than on a steep one. Your cadence remains higher and legs fresher. Opinion: You shouldn’t be out there grunting straight up hill, staring at your tips, while using all your upper body just to keep from sliding backwards. This is not fun! When I come accross a track like that, I break a new one and take a meandering route where few people will go. Take your time picking a good medium-grade route: it’s better to be looking off at distant peaks than to be struggling and grunting over your tips!

  2. Chris November 9th, 2006 6:11 pm

    Don’t name your dog Avalanche. There is some idiot who skis up at Berthoud Pass with a dog named Avalanche. The dog is not well trained, so it runs off and the owner comes skiing after the dog yelling “Avalanche”

  3. gene November 9th, 2006 9:25 pm

    Good attempt at basic rules, w/ the exception of sharing a skin track & boot pack. I have to imagine that you’ve never tried skinning up a stepped out skin track. From my perspective, there’s not many things more rude than someone that feels the need to walk up a skin track. An exception being someone that walks up the new skin track that was placed right next to the first skin track that was ruined by someone walking up it. Other than that, a good attempt at defining ettykit. Keep it up.

  4. Scott November 9th, 2006 9:49 pm

    Hey Lou
    I just read your backcountry code from the above link and the only (BIG) issue I have with it is that you say the downhill skier/rider has the right of way. I strongly disagree.

    Do you think that this is really a good idea? I mean do we do that on backcountry summer trails? What about when we are in our TAV approaching a trailhead, heck I always thought that the uphill traffic had the right away, since it was alot safer to back our vehicle uphill vs. backing downhill.

    It’s about sharing and respect.

    I disagree with you and say the uphill traveler has the right of way, especially since the uphillers on a trail (hiking/biking/skinning) are working harder then the downhiller, thus why make them break their pace? Honestly, if we want a positive experience for all users when we are backcountry traveling or touring, why not respect the folks who are working harder and give them the opportunity to continue, if they want, vs blasting by them on the way down and barking at them for not stepping to the side to let the downhillers by.

    Just my 2 cents worth

  5. Lou November 10th, 2006 6:59 am

    Scott, that’s a good point. Perhaps trying to state who has the right of way is too simplistic. I’ll look at the code and see if it can be re-phrased.

    Gene, I agree, sharing the skin track with post holers eventually doesn’t work as the track turns into a bunch of stair steps and bomb craters when you’ve got a less dense snowpack such as midwinter Colorado. On the other hand, there seems to be no way to stop this. Everywhere I go that’s popular, the booters use the skin track and wreck it. It’s gotten frustrating but I’m trying to just live with it. One solution might be to set the skin track with low angle switchbacks, that would encourage the booters to go straight up the hill instead of doing endless postholes and wrecking the track. What annoys me most is that we skinners usually are the ones setting the track, and then the people on boots and snowshoes show up and wreck it. Why are they hardly ever there first? Do they set their alarm late and lie in their warm bed secure in the fact that we’re out there breaking trail for them (grin)?

  6. cjw November 10th, 2006 7:19 am

    I’m with Scott, uphill has right of way in every other aspect I’m aware of, specifically mountain biking and driving.

  7. Pete Sowar November 10th, 2006 7:34 am

    If you don’t like the pitch of a skin track set a new one. If someone has postholed a skin track to death, something everybody hates, set a new one.

    If you aren’t the one breaking trail you don’t have the right to bitch about it.

  8. Scott Stolte November 10th, 2006 8:37 am

    I have to chime in on this one as it a source of frustration for many of us in the BC around Jackson, specifically Teton Pass. I don’t care who set the track or how steep/mellow it is, it is always unacceptable to boot pack/post hole it out. Set a new track because someone has “postholed it to death”? I don’t agree with that Pete. It itakes only one bonehead bootpacker to ruin a skin track that could be used by many skinners. If you have to bootpack, fine. Just make your steps next to the skin track. Is it a coincidence that the skin track is there first 99.9% of the time, followed by the late arriving bootpacking crowd? I think not. As my fellow BC companion Carl P. likes to say…”Boot pack in the skin track?? That’s whack!”

  9. Matt Gunn November 10th, 2006 8:39 am

    thanks for this article lou. One thing I think needs a change is hte sharing of the skin track. I think snowshoers, bootpackers and skinners should have their own track. if you show up and your style of track isn’t there I think you shoudl create it, not destroy the work of a person who has put put in a track.

  10. Oliver November 10th, 2006 8:56 am

    2) If they poop or pee on the trail, kick it off to the side????!

    That’s alright if they pee, but for poop take a plastic bag and clean it up!
    I have a dog myself and I hate it when there is poop everywhere.

  11. Carl P November 10th, 2006 8:56 am

    Oh here we go!!! First of all…one of my favorite sayings around here is “Boot pack in the skin track….That’s whack” (a sign posted at the start top of Teton Pass.) I must say that I’m one of the first people to get his panties in a wad about this, but I gotta say after some yoga and therapy I’ve come to deal with the fact that the SIDECOUNTRY is going to be “crowded”, but if you want to find the quiet goods-they are there…these spots might be a little farther off the road, and they might be a little less “classic” (i.e. harder to get to), but they do exist. With guidebook authors shedding light on some of these little gems, snowmachines zooming to the base of distant peaks, and helecopters landing in Wilderness Study plots it may be harder to find these areas, but they do exist.

    Here’s the primary thought: It comes down to expectations. When you expect “a solitude backcountry experience” and you see one other party (and their dogs) you may be bummed, maybe even tainted and bitter, but if you go in with the expectation that this is a popular descent and you will more than likely see people your psychological reaction is much better. My suggestion…FIND A PLACE IN THE BACKCOUNTY that you can call your own….DON’T TELL A SOUL ABOUT IT. When you are feeling like you want an experience that combines skiing and solitude…GO THERE.

    If we keep this ethics crap up, we’ll all be fighting for access to different peak…the snowmachines can go to that mountain, the telemark skiers over there, the snowboarders over on that peak, and ONLY ATer’s allowed on this slope….GET OVER YOURSELVES! Let’s enjoy and be friendly. Find a happy place if neccessary. If you go into the season with rules and expectations you WILL have conflict and bitterness towards other out door users….

  12. Derek November 10th, 2006 10:32 am

    I ski with a dog frequently, he never defecates on a skin track thankfully.

    That said, the boot pack up Glory Bowl on Teton Pass is an absolute mess from not only the dog urine/feces, but human urine. People are too lazy to step off the bootpack to urinate. So they pee right next to it. Gross.

    People need to make an effort to step five or more feet off the established track to urinate. Atleast five feet.

  13. Joel November 10th, 2006 11:34 am

    “Sidecountry” areas like berthoud and teton pass are pretty much a circus. Something nice that I’ve noticed is that once you leave the parking lot and the most popular piste, the circus ceases to exits. Going to circus “sidecountry” areas is fun for me, as long as I maintain an attitude that it is what it is. Live and let people live. Only 2 instances are worth “getting one’s panties in a wad”
    1. when you see some egregious disregard for the sidecountry (ie. someone throwing beer cans on the ground).
    2. when someone bitches at you for trivial issues.

    So what’s trivial and what’s egregious? Seems like it should be pretty cut and dry. Here’s my list:

    egregious- intentionally littering, hiking/skiing/riding above someone on a suspect slope with good potential to bury them with an avalanche.

    trivial – boot/skin track issues and just about anything else.

  14. Scott Stolte November 10th, 2006 11:34 am

    In response to Carl’s last sentence….

    “If you go into the season with rules and expectations you WILL have conflict and bitterness towards other out door users….”

    Maybe, but to me “Ethics” does not equate “rules.”

    BC users have to educate newbies that might not know better, and non-newbies that definitely should. In a very “friendly” way of course. Just because an area is crowded or more “popular” doesn’t mean that certain basic common sense/common courtesy paractices shouldn’t be the norm. Let’s raise the collective bar…..

  15. Carl P November 10th, 2006 12:21 pm

    I appreciate Scott’s comments, but I should mention that there will ALWAYS be issues with “ethics” or “rules” no matter what we do or where we do them….

    whether it be speeding and tailgating on the highway…horsepoop and unaware hikers/bikers/runners (due to i-pods) on a bike path….dog poop and bad skin tracks on popular ascent/descents of ski hills….skiers/riders who ride too fast and don’t give right of way for people downhill

    ….I feel that no matter how much education that we provide and however many “ethics” that we personally practice there will ALWAYS be people (who whether it be out of inconsideration or ignorance or both) who don’t follow OUR code of ethics. This may actually lead to more conflict – “I’m doing the right thing you’re not: you are bad, I am good, I am mad”.

    Don’t get me wrong…I’m for “ethics” on the hill, but 90 times out of 100 you won’t see the person/people/critters performing the “unethical act”. I am also a proponent of education…if you see someone’s dog poohing on Teton Pass…say “could you please clean up your dog’s pooh” – HOWEVER more often than not even if we experience someone violating our code of ethics we do not even say anything. Rather, we just seeth internally.

    Seeing pooh on the trail, having to skin over a pot-holed cover skin track, trying to grunt straight up an poorly planned skin track, and skiing down a great ski run consistantly passing over ski track after skin track – MAKES ME UPSET!

    What I’m offering is the consideration of expecations…if you expect to see dog pooh on the trail on Teton pass and you do then you say “Oh I expected this” and it doesn’t ruin your day! Conflicts for me (internally and verbally) come when people don’t live up to my personal code of ethics….

    We can educate and talk until we are blue in the face…the fact of the matter is….if you are reading the comments on this page you are probably taking these ethics into consideration. The education needs to disseminate to the ones who are following the codes (more than likely they aren’t reading this page). HOW DO WE DO THIS?

  16. Seth F November 10th, 2006 12:36 pm

    A little clarification on what might be meant from the “downhill skier ahving a right of way.” Might it be a carry over from resort skiing and that responsibilty code? In that case, it would have nothing ot do with those skinning up getting out of the way of someone on a descent. I have never had anyone run me over while I was working my way to the summit. That may be due to the fact that my frineds and I actually go to places where there are very few people and don’t follow the crowds. may we all do our best to have a good time out there though and not get our long-johns in a bunch when we see someone else enjoying themselves as they would like to.

  17. Scott Stolte November 10th, 2006 12:38 pm

    Tatoo on the foreheads of newborns.

    There you go, problem solved. HAHA!

    Let it snow! Then we can all keep complaining……

  18. Carl P November 10th, 2006 12:46 pm

    Seth – when I was talking about downhill skiers having the right of way…I lumped this into my general category of people not following a code of ethics in various activities….

    “whether it be speeding and tailgating on the highway…horsepoop and unaware hikers/bikers/runners on a bike path….dog poop and bad skin tracks on popular ascent/descents of ski hills….skiers/riders who ride too fast and don’t give right of way for people downhill”

    I wasn’t necessarily talking about skinning up a slope in the woods and getting taken out by skier/rider in the middle of some sick turns…

    Joel – you might want to this one to your “egregious” list.

  19. Bolton November 10th, 2006 2:13 pm

    That’s a good list, with the exception of sharing a track with snowshoers and booters. All in all, its about common sense and having respect for others.

  20. justin November 10th, 2006 3:20 pm

    I heard the “Boot pack in the skin track….That’s whackâ€? sign was knocked over and peed on, presumably by a bootpacker, last year. Nice. I’m all for educating people, but in my experience, many of the people who are violating my “don’t posthole in the skin track” belief are fully aware that this irks skinners but don’t feel that its a valid point. I’ve witnessed a few heated exchanges regarding this before, and there was an amazingly intelligent discussion using hordes of four letter words on a year or two ago regarding this.

    I’m not sure if I really have a point (do I ever?), but I guess my thought would be to educate newbies and accept that not everyone thinks skin tracks should be off limits to bootpackers. I think its rather rude to take advantage of someone elses hardwork, and in the process make it unusable for others, and it ticks me off. However, it also seems unlikely that everyone feels the same way and that we can expect them to abide by our expectations.

    Carl and Scott, just so you know, everyone else I’ve invited for the yurt trip are extreme bootpackers, and they all have dogs with irritable bowel syndrome.

  21. Dhelihiker November 10th, 2006 3:59 pm

    I have mixed feelings on this subject especially pertaining to dogs. I have friends who love to bring Fido-the back up beacon along for a day of BC. Most of the time its really funny watching them run around and navigate the hills but it has also ruined a day when the pup got cut on an edge from running around our feet while hiking, we had to either carry on and let the dog bleed to death or go back and take him to the vet. It wasn’t an epic powder day so we took him to the vet. As far as the poop, take two steps to the left and go around it, its not a big deal, its organic and probably good for the environment (fertilizer) But boot packing or snowshoeing in a skin track- that’s BS. Take your Bro-deo knuckle dragging friends and go buy some split boards or stay off the trail. I didn’t spend 2 hours cutting my skins to cover every square inch of my skis to have it all undermined by inexperienced BC travelers. Nothing against snowboarders (wink wink). Watch a cool dog rip up Round Top:

  22. Lou November 10th, 2006 4:48 pm

    Hey Scott, good idea!

  23. Tom November 10th, 2006 5:04 pm

    Dhelihiker, I may be a “Bro-deo knuckle dragger” and no doubt in your mind have the intellect of a neanderthal, but in my pre-splitboard days I did have the common sense to make my own snowshoe trail next to the skin track if possible. In fact, in my experience snowshoeing on skin tracks doesn’t really get you much. Of course, this is the real world and MANY, MANY people don’t conduct themselves with much common sense or consideration no matter where you are. Also, last time I checked this was still a free country and the National Forest belongs to all of us. If you don’t like it, I suggest you follow the advice of the other comments and go somewhere else where you can revel in the bliss of being surrounded only by people who think and act exactly like you.

    If you venture into snow-covered backcountry, you should expect to break your own trail. Any work already done by someone else is a bonus. Don’t like the condition or route of the skin track? Sack up and make your own. Too much work for you? Perhaps you need a better conditioning program.

  24. Dhelihiker November 10th, 2006 6:11 pm

    C’mon dont get your panties in a twist, I was only TRYING to be funny, sometimes I fail. I’m sure youv’e seen the gangsta snowboarders (not all snowboarders are bad) at the trail head with no gear all STOKED to build a KICKER and STOMP some PHAT air. Thats who I was talking about, and yes footsteps jack up a skin track.

    As far as me sacking up (ha) Ive yet to have someone pass me on the trail, “too much work” is my middle name. I’m sure the two of us would be great friends, Tools not Toys. Quit being so serious

  25. RobinB November 10th, 2006 7:40 pm

    Seemsd many people are saying “If you don’t like the wrecked skin track – make your own…” Many times I will, but I get really bummed when I see one that I put in ruined! The worst, as somebody said, is when you make a new skin track and then it gets booted as well.

  26. Tom November 10th, 2006 8:24 pm

    You’re right, dude. I’ve been snowboarding a long time (was an east coast ice skier before that) and have put up with a lot of crap from jerks who happened to be on skis acting like I didn’t deserve to be in the same zip code as them. Sometimes I have trouble believing that is all in the past. With that said, the gangsta snowboarders have just as much right to be there as we do. Even the Euros have the right to enjoy our public lands in the same manner as we citizens. That’s what makes America great.

    Maybe one day our paths will cross and we can switch off breaking trail for each other. There’s a good chance you would school me in that regard, but it would be fun nonetheless. 🙂

    P.S. As with everything else in the backcountry, compatibility of shoes vs. skins depends on the snow conditions. I’ve been on trips where I was breaking trail with shoes for my skier buddies and they enjoyed it quite nicely thank you. I’ve also followed skiers in fresh snow and compacted the track better than they left it. Of course, I’ve also seen mangled mine fields that weren’t good for either discipline. These were usually in high traffic areas that hadn’t seen fresh snow in a while. As for bootpackers, I’ve never seen one outside of a designated ski area in CO (okay Loveland Pass, but that doesn’t count). Methinks Teton Pass isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be.

  27. Jon F November 10th, 2006 9:34 pm

    Whew!….it’s pretty obvious that it’s been a while since the last storm.

  28. Steve G November 10th, 2006 10:07 pm

    Well, its been many years since I’ve been in the CO backcountry – never had to deal with such complex issues as the ethics. Just always enjoyed the beauty and company if it was there. The past few years I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy the AK mountians – always seemed to be plenty of snow and great people out enjoying the beauty. Yeah, an occasional bitter dog – human pee – whatever, let the next snow storm take care of it or keep focused on the beautiful surrondings. Hope I have the same experiences here…

  29. Borat November 11th, 2006 9:33 am

    Good etiquettes in mountains is very important. Obvious, women should be use for breaking of the trail, or to carry heavy items. In Kazakhstan, we use prostitutes to clean up waste of dogs on trail.

    Good skiing to all!

  30. Ryan November 11th, 2006 10:30 am

    Unfortunately, I think those that are of the same mind Lou aren’t reading this site. The postholes are rather annoying when you get a good rhythm and then get displaced due to a big hole. Although I have to say it’s less as bad here compared to Snoqualmie Pass are outside of Seattle.

    As for the wild snow dogs and just rowdy dogs in general, I’ve heard a good story from a friend that witnessed a dog harrassing a mtn goat and its baby up at Washington Pass in the Cascades. The goat gored the dog to death and tossed its body quite some ways. My wife and I walked a friend’s dog near Breckenridge, the retreiver wasn’t as “trained” as the owners said. The dog flushed out a moose that proceeded to charge us. We haven’t walked the dog since and if we ever do, I’m feeding it to a cougar.

  31. Lou November 11th, 2006 10:59 am

    Humor works.

  32. Walt November 11th, 2006 12:09 pm

    Throughot human history, man has looked to organizations and institutions (political , religious, financial…) to find comfort in this ocean of chaos. Rules and regulations are for the resorts. Think for your self.
    Lou, love the website!

  33. Rob Lewis November 11th, 2006 1:11 pm

    I hate to beat it to death but the number one rule should be to stay off the skin track if you don’t have skins! Period! I’m trying hard to deal with all the new faces that come around every season, but I can’t deal with thier ignorance.

    I don’t think I have the right to tell people to leave thier pets behind but I don’t think they belong in the backcountry for a number of reasons. Especially in the more popular areas.

  34. Lisa Dawson November 11th, 2006 4:43 pm

    I guess this means I’m not getting a pug for Christmas.

  35. Mark Worley November 12th, 2006 2:08 am

    Pugs are awfully short and have very small feet, hence floatation problems. I suggest a larger breed such as a Husky for a backcountry skiing canine.

  36. Andrew McLean November 12th, 2006 6:42 pm

    The pug is in the mail Lisa. Don’t worry. 🙂 I’ve taken the liberty of naming it “Skinner.”

    I hate it when the skin gets punched out, but the few times I’ve actually caught people doing it red-footed, they have always turned out to be enthuiastic newcomers to the backcountry and I could never bring myself to say anything to them. It’s a good excuse to break a new trail and keep the peace.

    I’ve never seen dog poo directly in a skin track, and if I ever did, I’d just go around it. (spoken from someone who likes to ski with dogs)

  37. Lou November 12th, 2006 7:05 pm

    I have to admit Andrew’s dog Otto was one of the best ski touring companions I’ve ever been out with. At least other than the time I was on a solo mission with him and he went thrashing off on his own and I couldn’t find him. Just what I wanted as a house guest of Andrew — to tell him I lost his best friend. Turned out Otto was back home ahead of me, and had probably stopped along the way to roll in a dead deer or something equally as fine for a canine.

  38. Cory November 13th, 2006 12:16 pm

    Wow! This really did strike a tone with all the Loubies out there. I just want to say that these were just some of my thoughts (and as usual…as soon as you pen them, you find exceptions). Kudos to all for their comments. I especially like the one who pointed out that the readers of this site aren’t the ones who need the et i kit advice.
    P.S. After I got done breaking a skin trail up Marble Peak yesterday, I came back to my car to find a snowshoer/boarder gearing up. After we swapped some beta and he was ready to go, he asked if it was ok if he used the skin track. As you all know by now, this doesn’t bother me anyway, however the fact he asked showed class. Must be a Loubie.

  39. Lou November 13th, 2006 1:43 pm

    Yeah Cory, I’m humbled, your guest blog got what I believe is the most comments of any post we’ve ever done here. Oh well, perhaps I should hire you to do some writing , or at least break trail .

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