Skiers want backcountry access, not lifts
SUMMIT COUNTY ” The proposal to build chairlifts in Arapahoe Basin’s Montezuma Bowl could spur a wider discussion about access to National Forest backcountry areas adjacent to ski resorts.
“We’d like to start a dialogue with the community about … starting to re-open more access,” said Rick Newton, a U.S. Forest ranger in Dillon.
“But there’s a lot of baggage associated with that,” he added, referring to a deadly 1987 avalanche on Peak 7 in Breckenridge that prompted the current policy, which strictly limits access ” more so than in other parts of Colorado and around the West.
Forest Service policy requires the agency to provide “reasonable access” to national forest lands adjacent to developed ski areas. But that phrase is open to considerable interpretation.
The ski areas around Aspen, for example, provide liberal access to the backcountry. In Summit County, by contrast, three of the four ski areas are almost completely surrounded by closed territory.
Several long-time Arapahoe Basin skiers and snowboarders want fewer restrictions. Summit resident Billy Anthony said the civil liberties of backcountry skiers are being taken away. Anthony wants local resorts to look at Jackson Hole’s access policy as a potent model, he said.
And while the U.S. takes pride in a philosophy of personal freedom, he feels more freer to ski in Europe, where he can go almost anywhere at his own risk, he Anthony said.
Anthony said he wants a more direct path into the “Steep Gullies,” a notoriously avalanche-prone area just west of Arapahoe Basin, while Bob Mayer, another local backcountry enthusiast, said the ski area should create a way for backcountry travelers to return to the parking area.
Though they want access, backcountry skiers like Anthony said don’t want lifts.
“We’ll be losing one of our really good backcountry access areas,” Anthony said. “There’s a lot of people that don’t want to see that lift go in.”
Forest Service rangers said it’s hard to compare Summit County with Jackson Hole, given the extremely high density of skiers at local resorts. That factor alone makes boundary management a much more challenging issue.
Arapahoe Basin’s general manager, Alan Henceroth, said the ski area needs to carefully manage access with an eye toward public safety.
“We want to make sure that no one gets into the backcountry by mistake … and that they know the difference,” between the backcountry and designated in-bounds terrain, Henceroth said.