Backcountry Skiing News Roundup

Post by blogger | October 26, 2007      

We’re headed down to Denver tomorrow to the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame annual induction Gala. This year’s inductees are the usual mix of industry people and ski racers, a great crowd but no backcountry folk. Oh well, we’ll try to nominate a few ski mountaineers for the next go around. The ski museum still has plates available at the induction Gala, call 970-476-1876 if you want an alternative to Rockies fever. These HOF affairs are always a blast, show up and you meet tons of interesting people who’ve made the world of skiing what it is today, not just in Colorado but around the globe. The silent auction is good too.

Speaking of the globe, mother earth may be acting in the west’s favor in terms of snowpack. According to NOAA, we may be in for another winter like 2005/2006. In case anyone has forgotten, that season the snow piled up here in Colorado like continental drift had moved us to the northwest. That was the winter Chris Davenport nailed mid-winter lines on Colorado fourteeners that were practically miraculous in terms of snow quality and avalanche safety. Get your new boot liners molded and wax your planks. More info.

Think we can get another ski area the size of, loud whisper, VAIL? Near here someone has applied for a Snowcat Skiing permit for an area called Coal Basin. It’s a huge region and possibly one of the better snowmobile accessed zones in Colorado, though it is little known. Upper areas of Coal Basin are not popular as a totally un-mechanized destination as the approach is too long for an easy day of skiing. But I’ve been up there, and tons of gladed and open terrain does indeed exist. The snowpack isn’t half bad either, as this part of central Colorado’s Elk Mountains gets hit first by moisture coming in from the west.

What will be interesting about this, assuming they do the snowcat business, is how they’ll deal with the inevitable locust swarm of sled skiers that are sure to follow. Me included. If they do over-snow roads up there on public land, I’m dropping coin for a new sled just as soon as the ink hits the paper of the special use permit. And if the cuddly lovable USFS decides to take a chunk of public land and virtually sign it over to being another ski resort with restricted use, I’ll use that same money for a loud megaphone and start howling. We shall see.


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15 Responses to “Backcountry Skiing News Roundup”

  1. Rontele October 26th, 2007 3:09 pm


    The google maps image is coming up. I agree with your assessment if the cat skiing goes forward in Coal basin. I certainly would buy a sled immediately, too! I also don’t think there would be much tension between the snowcat operation and sledders. The sledskiers on Buff Pass have come to a de facto peace agreement with the Steamboat Powder Cats and certainly Coal Basin wouldn’t/doesn’t see the same amounts of traffic! Think snow!

  2. BJ Sbarra October 26th, 2007 3:24 pm

    Looks to me like the center of the basin is marked, not the summit of Huntsman’s.

  3. Lou October 26th, 2007 5:27 pm

    BJ, yeah, woops! My web host broke when I was editing the blog post to say something different, and I didn’t catch the way it ended up worded. FYI, Bluehost is definitely not the most reliable hosting out there. I’d like to switch to something better someday, but that’s complicated…

  4. steve romeo October 27th, 2007 8:41 am

    Just last month the forecast for the winter here in the Tetons was for an average snowfall with warmer than normal temps.

    Go figure?!

  5. Lou October 27th, 2007 8:44 am

    Yeah Steve, I sure hope you guys get a huge winter, and that the same one hits us as well!

  6. Tom October 27th, 2007 8:01 pm

    I am not too sure about the agreement between sleds, towers and powdercats on buff. The place is a cluster on a regular basis. Parking is one of the biggest issues because Soda drainage offers great nonmotorized access and that is where you need to park with all the 30 foot enclosed trailers. Powdercats feels that they make the roads so they have first dibs on terrain and I have experienced a number of “situations” between guides and others. (This is from both sides as a skier with powdercats and a tower) And yes…if they get a permit jump on the sleds because the amount of skiing 3 people can yoyo is above and beyond any chairlift.

  7. Njord October 28th, 2007 9:10 am

    If you read the FS’s Land and Resource Plan, you will see that Coal Basin and Huntsman is zoned for mechanized travel already and can be hit with a sled anytime! There are already some roads cut that I explored this summer that leads to some very awesome skiing! It is not zoned for “future ski area” though…

    I doubt there will any very few sled skiers, since only the Carbondale/Glenwood crowd is close and most of us have to work for a living (as opposed the the Aspen/Richmond Ridge crowd)


  8. Tel October 28th, 2007 3:18 pm

    Coal Basin…hmmm. Since I hunt up there I know the only public acces is non-motorized because it crosses private land at the bottom and the signs up there all state this- no motorized access summer or winter. So, while I enjoy a nice ski or snowshoe up there, sleds are not allowed, and I can bet that IF a permit is ever issued, they sure won’t want motorheads in there since they’ll be paying a pretty penny to the landowner(s) at the bottom.

  9. Lou October 28th, 2007 4:38 pm

    My understanding is that you can still get in there via snowmobile somehow if you come from the west, but I could be wrong. Good point, if you can’t get up there the easy way right now, there is no way they’ll open it up. So it’ll probably be another exclusive use of public land with some private mixed in for effect…

  10. J.P. October 29th, 2007 12:06 pm

    Holy smokes… I know this (excellent) blog is for all types of BC skiers, but don’t you think the snowmobile scene is getting out of hand ? You guys are talking as if it was NORMAL to spend weekends skidooing in the mountains… I’m in Canada, and most areas are off-limits to motorized vehicles summer + winter, and that’s the future of skiing, period. We north-americans are the most selfish polluters on the planet – myself included – and we’re transposing all the urban crap in the BC. What a shame…

  11. Njord October 29th, 2007 10:24 pm

    JP: I thought that Canada had 30+ heliski operations (some with over 20 aircraft, which is larger than some nation’s air forces)….

    The lower 48 only has 6 operations (each with only 1 helicopter).

  12. Jon October 30th, 2007 8:27 pm

    Don’t always believe what you read in the papers.

    The Redstone Inn has been pushing for this for years to drum up some winter economy. The area is zoned for winter recreation in the forest plan, however, in order for this “snowcat” idea to come to fruition, the Forest Service needs to evaluate whether or not the area is suitable for this type of operation (which should be occurring this month). Then if they deem the area suitable, they will issue an RFP for interested parties to submit applications and business plans for such an operation. These plans will be evaluated by the FS, and an operator chosen based on providing the most benefit to the public, most safety, most experience, etc.

    The Redstone Inn is not a shoe-inn, by any means. This has to go through public process just like anything else Federal. They are simply the architect of the concept.

    Additionally, Coal Basin is not suited for a snowcat skiing operation. The lower elevations are flat and very heavily treed. The upper elevations are insanely steep and dangerous – off limits to cats AND to skinners trying to pick their way to the top of Huntsman’s. Regardless of experience level, no safety team could guard their guests from danger in the skiable terrain of Coal Basin. It would be like traveling to the sun, and your guide saying “its gonna be a little hot, but you should be fine.”

  13. J.P. November 6th, 2007 6:35 pm

    Njord: I agree with you, and heli-skiing has gotten out of hand as well as snowmobiles, this is mechanized leisure at its worst. And NO I’m not vegan nor do I wear Birkenstocks… Flying in a group to a hut is a different situation (an excellent compromise to me), but yo-yo heliskiing is just another millionnaire’s plaything. BTW most clients in heli-ski ops are from the US, Japan, Germany, etc

  14. Lou November 6th, 2007 6:43 pm

    Good points you guys, but what’s wrong with a few millionaires playing around and keeping a bunch of mountain folk employed? After being in Aspen for years in that situation, I always thought that was a pretty good deal…at least ’till the billionaires pushed out the milllionaires….

  15. Confluence Kid February 10th, 2011 7:40 pm

    Coal Basin now more than ever could give Carbondale a real shot in the arm. We need it. How about revisiting the idea! Someone, how about you Lou?

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