Backcountry Skiing News Roundup

Post by blogger | July 19, 2011      

Dog days of summer are here in Colorado — temps in the high 90s here in the old coal mining town. Thing is, as far as my “skin index” can tell it used to be hotter here in the summer. Despite global warming, the last time I hooked up my window AC unit was at least five years ago. Don’t ask me why, except it is climate change of course (and so is my latest headache.) If anyone has any data on how hot this summer has been worldwide, let me know in the comments, as I had a link here that I thought showed the picture but it was for two summers ago. As for our Colorado winters, if anything I’ve been hoping that global warming would make them warmer (more and denser snow), but everything I can find seems to indicate there hasn’t been much if any change even though they seem warmer (wishful thinking?).

In Colorado climbing news, the usual and always amazingly voluminous crowds are topping our 14,000 foot peaks. Numbers like that, you get accidents. A few weeks ago things got bad and sad, with four climbers reaching their demise. Then, this past Sunday, a man died from a heart attack while nearly on the summit of 14er Quandary Peak. They got the rescue helicopter there in European time (about 1/2 hour after a 911 call), but CPR was unsuccessful. One recent save on 14er El Diente is worth noting as it was instigated by a SPOT satellite messenger. While reports still dribble in testifying as to the unreliability of SPOT, a regular string of successful rescues shows they work.

Resort town exceptionalism (do we need a category?) is disturbing. What is it that makes tourist villages think they’ve got some kind of superior role in things such as energy politics, recreation policy or economic vision? Witness, you see weird tangents such as this guy in Jackson thinking they can replace their formerly robust construction industry by morphing to some kind of “Silicon Valley of the Environment.” In the aforelinked article, writer Jonathan Schechter claims that “that no other place on Earth has Jackson Hole’s public lands and conservation legacy, and few have our combination of wealth, intellect and sensibilities.” Last time I looked, Rekyjavik, Iceland was doing pretty well in most of those departments as were a number of other green places. In terms of intellect, it doesn’t take much googling to find that the towns with the most brain power are college bergs such as Cambridge. As for sensibility? I’m not sure what region or city should take the prize on that, perhaps an Antarctic penguin rookery?

Lest we go too negative, good to see resort areas that used to depend on construction for their economy trying to create something different so the folks who have put down roots can stick around. Main question with that is what else (that exists now) could employ so many people, with varied skills, for such high wages? Places like Jackson and Crested Butte are expensive. Everything has to be trucked in on two-lane roads, development land is limited so supply/demand drives real estate prices up, the middle class in such areas are used to quite a nice lifestyle with commodious recreation, good schools and a service oriented government that is well funded and even employs a hefty portion of the middle class itself. Will be interesting to watch it play out.

What kind of winter are they having down under? After a slow start, sounds like this might be a good year for a September springtime visit. Snow report.

Folks sometimes rue our lack of backcountry land. Yet when people go missing out there and require a search, the true vastness of our wildlands becomes clear. Search for a skier who went missing in Montana brings the point home. More here.

Land use ramifications of the Endangered Species Act trigger our radar like we’re Alaskan NORAD blipping a missile headed south. We like animals as much as the next guy, but we’re also sensitive to how the “Act” can be used as a tool to force certain types of land use (mainly, limiting human recreation). In Montana, they’re getting closer to listing wolverine. Problem is, it appears no one knows how many of the elusive beast there ever were, and whether they are diminishing in numbers in any critical way. Nonetheless, in an obvious application of the doctrine of “preemptive caution,” Montana residents may soon find their recreation access curtailed because wolverines live there. This will be super interesting to watch. More here.


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19 Responses to “Backcountry Skiing News Roundup”

  1. naginalf July 19th, 2011 9:17 am

    Ironically enough, increased coal use in China and the US has actually caused global temps to come DOWN in the last ten or so years due to the shear amount of sulfer particles which reflect the sun. I’m not advocating for more coal use here, please don’t rip my head off, lol. Just fyi. So yes, it has been cooler than it was in the 90’s.

  2. Frank K July 19th, 2011 10:41 am

    I don’t know if Crested Butte really deserves the “expensive” moniker right now, Lou. 2 bank-owned units in my condo building are listed under $80k, there are plenty of places where you can’t find a 2bed/2bath for that.

  3. Matt Kinney July 19th, 2011 10:52 am

    Meanwhile on the fuzzy, greenie, whacko front comes another good reason to ski….carbon-free “from the trailhead”. ( Actually, seeing sea otters swimming in crude oil was convincing enough for me in March 1989.)

    Polar bear cubs dying as swims get longer (7-17-11)

  4. Lou July 19th, 2011 11:02 am

    Nag, so if we convert to hydro/nuke/wind/solar that’ll actually increase global warming?

  5. Lou July 19th, 2011 11:06 am

    Frank, I hear you, but what I’m talking about is the overall cost of living in “end of road” places.

  6. Patrick July 19th, 2011 12:33 pm

    I’ve seen 2 wolverines in MT in the last three years. One was alive, one had died along a trail of apparently natural causes. I was fortunate to see this rare creature once, and didn’t expect to see another one, alive or dead, ever again. But I guess I hang out in good habitat for them a lot : ). Incredible animals.

  7. Jack July 19th, 2011 1:40 pm


    We have a similiar situ here in Vermont with the lowly mudpuppy (giant salamander). Long story short – Vermont Fish & Wildlife has been posioning the streams here in Vermont to kill lampreys (with much approval from the hook and bullet crowd) which feed on the prized salmon and lake trout in our great lake champlain. Downside is that the poison kills the mudpuppies. Most people probably don’t give a hoot about the mudpuppy (I’ve always been a salemander kinda guy since discovering them in brooks as a kid) but who we are to start playing God? Anyway, if the science isn’t all there yet, shouldn’t we perhaps error on the side of caution?

  8. Lou July 19th, 2011 1:57 pm

    Jack, that’s known in the environmental trade as “preemptive caution.” It’s valid to a degree, but if you take it to the nth degree it leads to us all having to kill ourselves, as it should even apply to bacteria, mold, and any other living organism that could possibly be compromised by human existence.

    More, any evolutionary biologist can tell you the the whole process involves species becoming extinct, so to some unknown degree extinction is natural.

    It’s enough to make your mind explode!

    My take is that some species simply can’t co-exist with mankind in some places, and either have to go extinct or at least remain extirpated while existing in other locales. On the other hand, some species can be success stories in terms of preventing extinction and co-existing. Former take is non-PC blasphemy, of course.

  9. SB July 19th, 2011 4:34 pm


    We can always emit sulfur dioxide particles directly into the ionoshpere to cool down the earth on purpose.

    Global climate engineering is our next big growth industry 😯

  10. SB July 19th, 2011 4:43 pm

    One more twisted thought (can’t help myself).

    Many species are highly successful at coexistence with us. So to take Lou’s take to its logical conclusion, we’ll have a world full of people, cockroaches, rats, and bed bugs.

    Just hope that the bees make it.

  11. Lou July 19th, 2011 6:33 pm


  12. Peter A July 19th, 2011 10:02 pm

    Lou, it looks to me like your link to “proof” of the cool July temperatures is a July, 2009 post.

  13. Lou July 19th, 2011 10:32 pm

    he he, I found a couple but probably linked to the wrong one… or perhaps I’m delusional, wouldn’t be the first time… apologies if I got webified in the browser frenzy! I’ll edit. If anyone has any links for how warm or cold this summer has been worldwide, please fire away.

  14. Frame July 20th, 2011 5:32 am

    Not quite the link you were after Lou, but this one discusses recent reports that a drop of in sun spots may lead to cooler temperatures, a la the little ice age. Volcano ash gets a mention too.

  15. Lou July 20th, 2011 6:56 am

    When one considers how many factors influence our climate, one has to wonder how it all holds together in the range that supports life… pray for snow, or pray for an ice age?

  16. stevenjo July 20th, 2011 10:38 am

    Speaking very very generally, a few studies published in recent years looking at snowpack trends (usually snow water equivalent or snow covered area) indicate that – on average, meaning not looking at a single bumper or dismal year – western snow pack has been declining. Again, this requires the normal caveats of particular mountain ranges, reference years, etc., which I will spare everyone, but the general conclusion holds true across a number of analyses for weather/snotel/snowcore/treering data of years past.

    That said, I don’t know of any studies that have looked at how the water content/p unit volume has changed, if at all, but it could certainly be an interesting study. I’m happy to pass on the papers if you’re interested. A note of caution is that they also include model projections of future snowpack under various temperature regimes that are no particularly uplifting.

  17. SB July 20th, 2011 11:52 am


    I think the way that any system holds together is through negative feedback. That is to say, when the climate gets warmer, it must cause things to happen which make it get cooler and vice versa (basically warmth causes the cooldown). There are known mechanisms that cause negative feedback and known mechanisms that incorporate positive feedback. There are also many mechanisms which are not well understood. In control system theory, the aggregate feedback (known as the transfer function) would have to be negative in order for the system to be stable. If it were positive, we would rail into very high temps or very low temps.

    The big fear is that we inadvertently do something that changes this transfer function in a way that makes the system unstable (positive). Since we don’t understand the system well, we could easily do this without meaning to. This would be a worst case scenario.

    We may not even need to make the system unstable to cause damage, since we could simply change the equilibrium point to a non-so-desirable range. This is one reason why the planet wide changes that we have been making for the last 150 years (and to a lesser extent since the advent of agriculture) are freaking many people out because we ultimately don’t know what the consequences will be and of all the possible outcomes, many of them that people can imagine are very negative.

  18. Kelly July 20th, 2011 4:02 pm

    According the Rutgers Univ. Global Snow Lab, northern hemisphere winter snow extent trend (since 1967) is going up, spring is down. Sure seems that way here in the PNW, except recent spring-summer snowfall amounts here in the PNW has been excellent!

  19. Mark W July 23rd, 2011 9:44 pm

    Thought I saw a wolverine in RMNP three springs ago, but immediately convinced myself it was a beefy marmot. A little over a year ago there was one photographed in RMNP, so they are around, albeit in likely very miniscule numbers.

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