Do You Cut Your Own Ski Runs?


Post by WildSnow.com blogger | August 9, 2007      

Good morning all. Since we had some comments going about the guys who cut their own ski run in Vermont, I swapped things around a bit so your comments had a home. Article about the heinous crime used to be available in Burlington newspaper, link is now broken. Google can probably turn it up.

It is indeed a noble tradition for locals at many ski resorts to remove a tree limb here and there and thus contribute to maintenance of the ski runs. Indeed, some of the older ski mountains in the country have much of this in their roots. Aspen Mountain in Colorado is a good example — is was started and maintained by locals and the sweat of their brows. Presently, ski resorts cut millions of trees with blessing from public officials, and I’m okay with that as I’m aware that trees grow back and the sport of skiing is worth doing some logging.

But what about our public forests we use for backcountry skiing? Nearly everyone agrees that they’re poorly managed. In many areas of the country, public forests have filled with deadfall and in-growth that’s unnatural and while a problem for recreation, can become so dense it’s even a problem for wildlife. Such growth was controlled by periodic fire in olden days, or by heavy logging for mining and commercial timber. Granted, much of the early logging was done in ways that resulted in land scars, but can it be done more sustainably now, and thus help the forests? And how about cutting a few backcountry ski runs? Would that not help the forest and wildlife in many areas?

Comments?



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32 Responses to “Do You Cut Your Own Ski Runs?”

  1. Michael Davis August 8th, 2007 11:45 am

    Lou, not a comment on the glasses, but on the news link about the guys who cut trees on state land. I assume the title of your link is tongue in cheek and you aren’t really advocating breaking the law and destruction of state property. Where there is snow and mountains, there will be some existing lines to ski. These guys should have found their own lines.

  2. Lou August 8th, 2007 3:36 pm

    I just felt there was a certain element of civil disobedience to the thing, so made that comment in jest. If what they’d done was less visible I’d be more serious, but it sounds like they blew it.

  3. laseranimal August 8th, 2007 8:58 pm

    Trimming and glade cutting has had a long and storied history in VT, but it sound’s from reports like these guys may have done SERIOUS damage to one of the best BC spots in the Northeast.

    I get the tongue in cheek though 😉

  4. Randonnee August 9th, 2007 8:39 am

    Some discreetly-made cuts for winter or summer use may look very natural and are not obvious from just a short distance away. Such cuts may not draw any attention at all except by the users.

    It is very interesting to see the posts elsewhere in which moral superiority is claimed by those who also cut unlawfully but with the proper method and discretion! What a hoot! Ironically, the person caught in the act cutting discreetly will likely receive the same punishment as the evil-doer ; ) in the news right now.

    I do not intend to criticise cutting limbs and brush with discretion, I just point out the contradictions that are humorous!

  5. Paul August 9th, 2007 9:19 am

    What about pine beetle kill? Many areas in Colorado are currently being ravaged by those critters and the thinning of beetle kill trees could potentially not only decrease the fire factor but also increase the skiing potential (in resorts and in the BC) It’s a huge undertaking, but what are the thoughts there? It may not be legal, but would it be more accepted if it were to happen?

  6. Mark August 9th, 2007 9:36 am

    While I’m not sure I agree with clear cutting a fairly large ski run where it is likely illegal, I do believe that too many forests have become the victims of poor management. Modern, responsible logging practices can actually enhance the quality of forests, while densely overgrown forests can lead to an overload of fuel which eventually can lead to much larger fires when decades of suppression have been the standard. When you add increasing numbers of people building homes further and further into wooded areas, problems of forest management arise, and sadly they are usually only dealt with as raging fires threaten lives and property.

  7. Joel August 9th, 2007 12:03 pm

    from what I’m told by my east coast friends, cutting your own stashes is fairly common b/c of all the limbs and brush. The difference is that the cutting is usually thinning as opposed to what the two folks who are now in trouble did. Both are probably done illegally, but when you do something egregious and so visible, it tends to attract attention. Sounds like a rookie move to me : )

  8. scott August 9th, 2007 12:49 pm

    While it is technically illegal to cut runs on public land, who cares about taking out a bush to enable that high speed travers out of you favorite stash? I am a big fan of selective pruning/brushing for runs. It seems the environmental damage that arises from the manufacturing of alloys for skis/shovels, the chemicals involved for our high end ski clothes, and the cars we get to the trail head in are more damaging than cutting limbs and brushes. In the San Juans most of the great skiing is near mines, tailing piles, old cabins, etc….
    I hope that Vermont case lets people know that clear cutting a run is not acceptable under any circumstance. Outta sight, outta mind……

  9. thomas August 9th, 2007 2:18 pm

    a few branches and bushes here and there at very specific locations, yes of course, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t. The idiots(IMHO) in VT would have been better served working on their short swing turns and pole plants, but technique and skill aren’t marketed like power tools…ooh well.

  10. ray b. August 9th, 2007 2:55 pm

    i’d discourage cutting, that’s just my opinion. i like it wild. it sure makes it hard, though.

    that said, lou, do you recall that guy who got busted for trying to take a chainsaw up the lift on ajax to maintain his secret stash? a few years ago…was that you? :)~

  11. Steve August 9th, 2007 4:52 pm

    Randonnee brings up the notion of calling the kettle black. I would suggest there is a major difference between thinning a tree line (NOT cutting down any trees that could not be cut with a lopper and only using a hand saw for blow down removal) versus clear cutting a sixty foot wide trail that runs 3/4 of a mile. This is not exactly a moral quandary between various ethical issues. We could argue whether illegal pruning is ethical or not and that might generate some discussion and disagreement but almost everyone can agree that clear cutting a gash into a mountain is not appropriate. I trim but never use more than loppers to cut and hand saw only for blow down. If a tree line requires tree removal via a tool more powerful than a small lopper, the trail maintainer picked a bad line.

  12. Derek August 9th, 2007 7:02 pm

    I have diverted water for better, longer, steeper ice climbs way back when.

  13. Lou August 9th, 2007 10:16 pm

    Ray, that was Tim Mooney. It was a bummer he got in trouble because Aspen Mountain is one big trail cut. There is nothing natural or old growth up there. It was nearly completely denuded in the mining days, and has been heavily gone over by the ski area developers since WWII. On the other hand, it is of course true that if everyone went up there and cut their own ski run it would be ridiculous. On the other hand, I’ve always felt they should cut more smaller hard to find runs and lines. They could easily add 15% to the skiable terrain by doing that. But oh gawd, to cut down a tree, now that is SIN (if you’re human and not an avalanche, anyway…).

  14. ray b. August 10th, 2007 6:31 am

    funny, i can just picture it. i recall the sheriff saying he empathized recalling his own ski bum days. and i’ll give you that, aspen area is THICK, recalling hayden area in particular. peace, enjoy the trade show.

  15. Mark August 10th, 2007 9:59 am

    Chainsaw on the lift? I give the guy a 10 for gumption and a 2 for craftiness.

  16. Randonnee August 10th, 2007 3:04 pm

    But seriously, I am certain that a USFS Official may very well write a pricey Federal Citation for limb cutting, brush cutting, or trail blazing. Some new generation USFS or Club/ Organization environmentalist will find a serious issue with cutting a bush or a limb. An acquaintance here in WA paid a $2200 fine many years ago for a Citation for trail construction and had not cut any trees. Perhaps it had something to do with being caught, then being argumentative, and continuing the argument with a Federal Judge, something like our rights to use public lands etc.

    I guess I would say, the less said the better and do not harbor any delusions, you may get busted when caught. If vegetation dissappears in the Forest and one secretly rides a bike or skis through it, will the USFS hear it (or see it)?

  17. Stewart August 10th, 2007 6:03 pm

    Where I live in British Columbia, Canada, we ski in the trees, and unregulated clearing of ski runs on both the ski hill and in the backcountry is still very much part of the devoted skier’s life. The trees are always growing to reclaim the open spaces, and it’s all that my friends and I can do (we’re professional chainsaw operators) to maintain the lines that we ski. Does anyone really think that clearing a few ski lines is of the slightest significance compared to clearcut logging or the forest cleared for roads, farms, and cities. Some sensible perspective please. I thought we’re all skiers. How about a discussion on what constitutes or how to best go about a cutting a well designed ski line through the trees.

  18. Matt Kinney August 10th, 2007 6:59 pm

    I’ve cut quite a bit by myself. shaving off branches of willow or alder to make passable routes from sea level. Just enough to skin or ski through. I try to minimize having to cut brush by learning the area and how the “woods lay”. Learning the “key” to a forested run is easier than cutting a route in most case. Some of this effort over the years has knocked hours off some routes, which is nice when the daylight is limited.

    In Alaska, on public state lands, you can clearcut a 8′ wide trail anywhere as long as you stack the cut in 8′ lengths along the trail for the public to use as firewood and broadcast all the limbs. No permit required, even if you are from Colorado. This is called a Generally Allowed Use.

  19. Lou August 10th, 2007 9:30 pm

    Matt, that is totally cool, but why am I not surprised! I love Alaska…

  20. Pierce August 13th, 2007 3:41 pm

    Does anyone know what the legality of trimming and pruning is on CO Natl Forest land? I know you can get cutting permits, but that may only be for dead wood. I would love to trim out a few lines but certainly don’t want to spend any time locked up for it. Maybe a cutting permit would be a work-around. I guess it would mostly come down to the unlikely event of getting caught by someone who doesn’t like the idea.

  21. Jay Peak local August 17th, 2007 5:49 am

    Big Jay, where this outrage took place, is a wild place protected for its fragile, high altitude habitat. Winter recreation has its place there, as long as the skiers and riders can respect the ‘Leave No Trace’ backcountry ethic. If you want a nice easy ‘glade’, stay the f-ck in-bounds in the ski area. The official glades at the Jay ski area are trashed from two decades of over eager brushing and cutting, and now the yahoos are doing the same thing out of bounds (go ski the Dip and see how that has been trashed). We’re not talking a snip here and there with the hand pruners, we talking acres at a time with power tools. Cut all the brush and saplings, and what’s left when the big trees die or get blown over? Look at Valhalla, Expo Glade, or Timbuktu and there’s the answer – what’s left are clearings and crappy skiing. Mad River Glen has been closing areas of its woods to allow them to grow back. The state of Vermont and the Green Mountain Club would be totally within their rights to close Big Jay to skiing, if those of us who ski there can’t show we can respect and protect the area.

  22. SKISTRIPER December 30th, 2009 8:15 pm

    VERMONT IN THE YEAR 1900 WAS 80% DEFORESTED DUE TO SHEEP FARMING AND OTHER TYPES OF AGRICULTURE INCLUDING SLASH AND BURN LAND CLEARING. IN THE YEAR 2000 IT WAS 80% FORESTED. MANY TREED PLACES YOU SKI IN VT WERE, IN THE NOT TO ANCIENT PAST, INDEED PASTURES. ALTHOUGH ALMOST NO ONE AGREES WITH HUGE SLASHES CUT AT HIGHER ELEVATIONS, BUT THERE IS A SIGNIFICANT DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THIS ACTIVITY AND TRIMMING BRANCHS AND UNDER GROWTH FOR SKIING IN OUR ABUNDANT AND SELF REGENERATIVE FOREST. THE DISCUSSION OF BACKCOUNTRY SKI LINES SEEMS TO HAVE TAKEN A TURN AGAINST PUBLIC USE OF PUBLIC LANDS. IT SEEMS THE 800 LB. GORILLA IN THIS DISCUSSION IS THE FACT THAT VT SKI AREA CORPORATIONS ,WHICH ARE A GREAT USE OF PUBLIC LAND, HAVE A METHOD OF LEGALLY PROCURING AND CUTTING TRAILS ,EVEN AT HIGHER ELEVATIONS, WHILE THE BACKCOUNTRY SKIING CROWD HAS NO APPARENT METHOD OF GAINING PERMISSION TO DO EVEN THE LEAST BIT OF TRAIL DEVELOPMENT. MAYBE THE STATE AND FEDERAL GOVERNMENTS COULD ADDRESS THE NEEDS OF THIS APPARENTLY GROWING DESIRE TO ACCESS OUR PUBLIC FOREST LANDS . SHOULD OUR PUBLIC LANDS BE AVAILABLE ONLY TO SKI LIFT DEVELOPMENT COMPANIES ? SHOULD THERE BE A METHOD OF ALLOWING BACKCOUNTRY SKIERS ACCESS TO THESE AREAS AS WELL?

  23. SR July 10th, 2013 3:41 pm

    This may be a “tone-deaf” bump on my part, but I’m struck that several of the recent forest fires have impacted backcountry terrain. In some cases these were stand-replacement fires where if conditions support it we may soon get 50 or more years of dense aspens replacing what had been high mixed conifer forests, with obvious changes to ability to negotiate those areas. In some cases fires were milder and among other things did burn up some deadfall along with other fuel, but with some of the existing trees intact. When firefighters work these fires, a decent amount of what they do to try to contain a fire is similar to what skiers do to maintain tree lines. It seems to me that, with some type of guidelines to follow, skiers doing a little discreet snipping here and there is not only not harmful, but also represents a volunteer effort that could benefit everyone. Ongoing informal community maintenance, compensated with recreation, is a lot easier on tax dollars than $15/hr firefighting crews.

  24. Lou Dawson July 10th, 2013 7:34 pm

    As far as I’m concerned, you guys really get it. Politics eventually may respond to public will, but in this issue we are battling a huge population of people who seem to have very little understanding of forestry, who will hike a road or ride a trail that’s been created in the forest and still think that cutting on twig is a sin. It’s just a weird dichotomy… it can be seen in the folks who won’t touch the overgrown jungles around their houses, never clearing defensible space, then acting the victim when their home burns in a wildfire. Lou

  25. JY September 23rd, 2014 1:07 pm

    I live and ski in Vermont and the idiots who hacked the ski resort width trail in Jay are not using the standard practice. There are few people who actually bring cutting tools with them to their ski spot. Most people are just skiing well established and well known backcountry areas. Big Jay is already that area, so those guys were especially stupid.
    When I go camping on state land I start a camp fire… should I be arrested for illegal use of trees?
    When I hike in the summer on rarely used trails and a limb or tree is encroaching on the hiking trail, I cut it. I carry a small (10 inch) folding saw with me every time I go into the woods. I’m sure the town or state forest managers are happy I did it.
    It seems reasonable to trim out some limbs/ shrubs/ saplings to use the forest for recreation.
    I recently saw two hunters on fourwheelers with chainsaws. They were on state land and just clearing an area where they like to hunt… seemed totally reasonable to me.
    It is not just a skier issue, it is a public land use issue. And really, for the most part it isn’t an issue.

  26. Gabe Walker October 13th, 2015 1:22 pm

    I’m an Arborist and Forest Doctor. With that said, my relationship with the woods is just that. I cut super rad trails all over Alaska. some are x country, many are down hill runs. Anywhere from beginner glades to big palisades, I trim em out. The take off on big cliff airs are the most dangerous to cut. I had a car sized rock slough off under me in Valdez one day. My buddies and I dropped it later that winter. it was 20-30ft drop with super deep pow. shred it! so we all get to enjoy this snow forest and the work we’ve done has improved the forest health. Us run trimmers leave a legacy bigger than land ownership, and time is the only thing to test that truth. Keep on rocking in a free world!

  27. Lou Dawson 2 October 13th, 2015 1:26 pm

    Thanks for chiming in Gabe! In our opinion it’s quite appropriate for a lot of trimming and cutting to be done, almost anywhere in North America. Problem is the lack of a management structure for doing so. The situation is a joke. Forests overgrow and burn like a fusion reactor, and you get fined for cutting a few branches. I’m hoping the next generation can change things… Lou

  28. Gabe Walker October 13th, 2015 2:17 pm

    nice, Matt Kinney. I didn’t know I could cut an eight footer leasgally. And to Stewart: A healthy way to thin the forest is highlighted in the ISA arborists guide. Basically, look for trees with disease like fungus and misletow, cut trees with dead tops and poor genetics like forked tops or spiral grain. This gives the other trees more light, food, and water making the healthiest trees even healthier. Cutting full size trees isn’t bad if you know what you are doing. Its proven that watersheds have a more consistent flow from spring to summer if their feeder forests have about 30-40% open canopy. Enough snow will make it to the ground, but enough shade to slow the spring flood! Its all science and its on your I phone. I have to cut monster alders out of the way. I do it with hand saws and chain saws depending where and when. Mosaic patterns = biodiversity!

  29. Gabe Walker October 13th, 2015 2:26 pm

    I agree Lou. My profession is a Wildfire Prevention Officer and fuels specialist. You are proven correct by the Rim Fire in Yosemite Park. The fire was only able to be held where we had done a couple hundred thousand dollars of thinning work. It worked! However, we(country) spent 100 million dollars on trying to stop the rest of it but couldn’t. Point 100million dollars and huge risk did nothing. 100 thousand dollars with less risk saved those sequoia groves, and stopped the fire spread in that small area. As far as my ski trails go, for some us its all about what legacy you leave, and my forests are healthier when im done with them!

  30. Aaron October 13th, 2015 2:29 pm

    Lou, short answer: absolutely we cut ski runs.

    You should check this project out for a serious example of above board cutting:

    http://www.hankinmtn.com/about.html
    http://www.hankinmtn.com/media.html

    There is lots of artificial glading in Canada to support heli ski outfits for tree runs. Even partnerships with logging companies for block design and stocking standards suitable for skiiing.

    Lastly, there may be small scale gladed runs lurking here or there to penetrate nasty thick timber and deadfall access issues…

  31. Lou Dawson 2 October 13th, 2015 3:51 pm

    Canadians are enlightened. Seriously. Lou

  32. XXX_er October 13th, 2015 4:15 pm

    I think perhaps the trees may just blow down in fortuitous paths which coincidentally may also be skiable … but who can say?

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