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Grassroots skier activism needed

Bob Berwyn

A sure way to tell that skiers are suffering the dog days of summer is to scan ski-related chat rooms on the Internet. Aside from a few threads on a terrain park session at Mount Hood or the odd image of a bikini-clad Hawaiian Tropic beauty, the desultory exchanges at Powdermag.com deal with mundane topics that don’t live up to the colorful screen names of the regulars, including characters like meatdrink9, Huckamaster, Altagirl, PhUnk and Geronimo.Recently, one of the most exciting discussions was on the relative merits of gondolas versus trams, along the lines of, &quotEverything you always wanted to know about uphill conveyances but were afraid to ask.” Turns out, there are some specific mechanical criteria having to do with haul ropes and other fascinating technical trivia that determine whether you are in a gondola or a tram. In the end, common sense prevailed as one participant commented that the type of lift isn’t as important as where it takes you.There was one other thread that caught my eye. Someone wanted to know, &quotWho is the IMBA or the Surfrider of the ski world?&quot IMBA is a successful Boulder-based mountain bike group focusing on access and sustainability issues, and the Surfrider Foundation has blended savvy legal tactics with grassroots activism to advocate for access and clean water.Participants discussed the pros and cons of several groups, including the Backcountry Skiers Alliance and the Snowrider Project, an offshoot of the aforementioned Surfrider group.The Backcountry Skiers Alliance is a great group, but is narrowly focused on issues relating to motorized versus non-motorized use. The Ski Area Citizens Coalition also comes to mind. They’ve done a good job of highlighting environmental issues associated with base area development and resort expansion, but they are advocates for the environment, not for the sport, and their hardcore, nature-first approach has alienated some potential allies.The Surfrider Foundation has done a better job on this front, successfully melding environmental concerns with the interests of its surfing members. It would seem that the Snowrider Project could achieve some of the same synergy, but so far, efforts have been small-scale and regional.So what can we do to ensure the long-term sustainability of our sport without waiting for some national group to do the work for us? The Surfrider Foundation is successful partly because it works on a community-based grassroots model, with local chapters providing the building blocks for a group that now lobbies at the federal level, promoting a coastal ecosystem protection act. Wouldn’t it be something if lift-served skiers, backcountry rats, snowboarders and other mountaineer types could all come together to push for a Mountain Ecosystem Protection Act?The first step is to get involved at a very local level. Find a few buddies who care about the local hill as much as you do and make a list of issues. Then go to your local Forest Service office and find out who the snow ranger is and set up an appointment. Establish a dialogue with the responsible officials. Offer to organize volunteers to help clean trash off the mountain in the spring. Try to develop lines of communication with resort officials.If your ski area operates on public land, then most of the records and documents are public. Winter operating plans describe how the ski area runs during the season, including a section on boundary management that should interest backcountry skiers. Summer plans show the work that is to be done during the off-season, including erosion control and re-vegetation, and master plans give an idea of what the area is considering in the future.Most of all, don’t be afraid to educate yourself and get personally involved the future of the sport depends on it.


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