Backcountry group blasts WRNF plan
Vail Pass can look forward to growing conflicts between cross-country skiers, snowshoe enthusiasts and snowmobilers and a significant loss of backcountry ski terrain under the newly revised White River National Forest plan.As currently written, the plan does not adequately monitor and disclose winter recreational conflicts, nor does it explain how conflicts will be managed, the Backcountry Skiers Alliance (BSA) claims in its recently filed appeal of the plan. More restrictions on motorized use are needed, according to the BSA, a group that represents the interests of human-powered winter backcountry users, including skiers, snowshoe enthusiasts, and snowboarders, by advocating for the creation, preservation and management of non-motorized areas on public lands."The levels and location of motorized winter recreation allowed under the Forest Plan will likely cause conflicts with other users," says Kim Hedberg, executive director of the Backcountry Skiers Alliance. "This sets the stage for potentially contentious and problematic winter travel management planning in the coming years."Although the plan sought to improve the capability of the forest to provide diverse, high-quality outdoor recreation opportunities, the BSA charges that the agency apparently only addressed winter non-motorized recreation "as an afterthought, not as a major and important use of the White River Forest, as it should have been."Vail Pass is the poster child for poor forest management, according to the BSA appeal. A collaborative management effort by the multi-party Vail Pass Task Force has met with only partial success. A long list of incident reports compiled by the BSA and submitted to the Forest Service as part of the appeal confirms the ongoing problems and reads like a cross-country skier’s horror story, complete with threats, obscenities and near-collisions."We seek to balance the diverse and often opposing interests of the motorized and non-motorized communities," says Vail Pass Task Force President and Vail Town Council member Chuck Ogilby. "As a result of these many years of commitment to trying to resolve these conflicts and the lessons learned as a result, we must appeal this plan. It does not ensure proper separation of users on Vail Pass," Ogilby adds.Conflicts are also common around backcountry huts and on many other trails, especially in Summit County, according to the BSA appeal.Loss of terrainIn another part of its appeal, the BSA charges that land allocated for lift-served skiing by the revised plan will result in a significant loss of high-quality and easily accessible backcountry ski terrain around all four Summit County resorts, A-Basin, Copper Mountain and Vail-owned Breckenridge and Keystone.The Forest Service plans to include all the areas allocated for lift-served skiing within the resort permit boundaries. As the resorts expand operations into these areas, opportunities for a backcountry experience will be lost, according to the BSA appeal.In a letter to the BSA, attached to the forest plan appeal as an exhibit, long-time Breckenridge backcountry skier and open space advocate Ellen Hollinshead addresses backcountry use on peaks 5 and 6.Hollinshead claims the area is the only zone on the eastern slope of the Tenmile Range that is still "relatively untouched by roads, trails and people." Most other drainages along the range are laced with four-wheel-drive roads and are used heavily both in winter and summer, she says.The ski terrain on peaks 5 and 6 is valuable because it’s accessible, relatively free of avalanche danger and offers an intermediate-level challenge, something that’s not always easy to find in the backcountry, she explains."Leave Peak 5 and 6 wild Let it be the balance for not only the wildlife, but for the locals who need a place of solitude in our crowded backcountry," Hollinshead says in her letter.Other backcountry areas that could be lost to resort expansions include a pair of popular out-of-bounds stashes at Arapahoe Basin that are allocated for lift-served skiing under the revised plan. South-facing Montezuma Bowl has long been popular with backcountry skiers and snowboarders who access the terrain from the ski area and then ski down to the Town of Montezuma. The Beavers, just west of the ski area boundary, is another easily accessible hike-to powder haven that could be managed as part of the ski area in the future, with potential consequences for backcountry skiers.At Keystone, the Backcountry Skiers Alliance says terrain around Independence Mountain is at issue, including a well-used trail that leads to the Hunki-Dori Mine.New allocations for lift-served terrain at Copper could impact backcountry terrain in upper Guller Gulch, used by cross-country skiers headed for Janet’s Cabin. The ski area boundary is very close to the hut, where there is already a significant amount of motorized intrusion, according to the BSA.The group claims the cozy relationship between the Forest Service and the ski industry has worked to the detriment of backcountry skiers, leading to the promotion of resort expansions at the expense of non-motorized backcountry winter recreation.
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