Over in Summit County, Colorado, mountain bikers have woken to the fact that legal wilderness might not be the end-all be-all in land use designations. As many WildSnow readers know, my opinion is we have enough legal wilderness, and need a new style of backcountry land management that mixes more types of recreation while still being conservationist. Is that oxymoronic?
After years of recreating in and observing non-wilderness backcountry (including that with roads), I’m convinced that quite a bit of recreational use (even of the motorized/mechanized variety) can be concurrent with land and wildlife preservation. Making this happen requires public education, rule enforcement — and the will of land managers and the public to make it happen. (What’s more, perhaps we even need a new land management designation, but that’s another subject.)
Doubtless, the Summit County cyclists face a difficult battle. Fighting new wilderness designation is like saying no to fire district tax increases, or disagreeing with a mill levy hike for schools — politically incorrect no matter how you frame it. Indeed, the Summit County government already rubber stamped the new wilderness proposal, apparently with little to no consideration of recreational interests.
How does this relate to backcountry skiing? Simple. You can’t build huts in legal wilderness. More, the larger the wilderness area, the less friendly it is to the most common form of backcountry skiing in the western U.S., that being day trips from trailheads accessed by roads that probe wilderness lands.
In the end, what we all need to realize is that the concept and laws behind legal wilderness have little to no consideration for recreation. To some, that’s the best thing about “big W” Wilderness; that it’s purely intended for preservation — and by default provides a designated area where only muscle powered activity is allowed.
In other words, the term “locking up” is not a disparagement, but rather is exactly what the Wilderness Act intends to accomplish. Sometimes that’s fine. But not always. Thus, the choice to severely limit public land access must be made with care and forethought, not as some kind of rubber-stamp feelgood politically motivated act, as if it has no downside.
Now, check this out. El Nino is baaaaaack. This pesky little ocean current sometimes results in EPIC winters for the mountain states. Since we’re already having epic winters more years than not, I’d say even a little boost by “The Kid” could be simply amazing. Perhaps we should pick up a snow blower while they’re still cheap?
Most of you probably heard that Robert McNamara died. As the architect of the Vietnam war while Secretary of Defense, McNamara was much disparaged. Yet like most human beings he had many sides, one of which was a lover of mountains. As a result, he worked with Fritz Benedict in the founding of the 10th Mountain Division Hut System for backcountry skiing, and funded the first two huts (one of which is built in memory of his wife Margy, thus known as Margy’s Hut).
Lastly, I’d imagine some of you are fans of Grant Gunderson’s photos. I certainly am. Check out this nice little Tim Mutrie vignett of Grant, with an associated gallery of photos to get you stoked for this coming season!
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.