Overnight the U.S. Department of Interior made a policy pivot, with many in the backcountry community amending spring plans. “On the advice of the Mechanical Advantage Advisory Committee (MAAC), moving forward, all AT or “Tech” bindings are banned from National Parks. We realize this may disrupt and disappoint a marginal user group, but we must remain consistent in defining certain types of outdoor equipment.”
Tyler Cherry, Press Secretary for the Interior, explained that the MAAC had consulted with an MIT based advisory panel specializing in mountain bikes in wilderness areas. They find “Tech” bindings consistent with the definition of mechanical.
The 1964 Wilderness Act allows some activities in the wilderness: they include camping, snowshoeing, paddling, hiking, and trail running, among others. Motors or anything considered motorized is not allowed. Further, mechanized activities are banned, and bikes are considered mechanized. In the case of AT backcountry skiers, the interpretation of mechanized is due to the spring-activated closure systems in tech binding toe pieces.
For now, the National Parks have made a unilateral decision and are awaiting pending legislation to move through Congress. Under the auspices of the Department of Agriculture, Forest Service wilderness areas have yet to ban AT setups. But according to a Forest Service administrator contacted by WildSnow and speaking off the record, a ban is imminent.
The behind-the-scenes moving and shaking when it comes to the MAAC’s interpretation lead back to the offices of Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri. These two states are not backcountry skiing/riding hotbeds. Nonetheless, during their time attending college (Hawley-Stanford, Cruz-Princeton), they knew several members of the outing clubs at their respective schools that participated in backcountry skiing. Hawley and Cruz issued a joint statement claiming these students were not rule followers and were known to use cannabis on occasion.
NPR reports that Cruz has received significant campaign contributions from an OHV lobby pushing for ATVs to be granted a waiver for wilderness access. Recently, Cruz was in Bozeman, Montana, attending an OHV rally where he openly stated, “ATVs are neither motorized nor mechanized in the true sense of the word. And if freedom were a three-letter word followed by a two-syllable word, it would be ATV-Access. And access now.”
Video footage and audio of Cruz becoming unglued at the Bozeman airport also reveal another twist—he had an altercation with a visiting backcountry skier in the ticketing line. The skier is said to have overpacked his bag by two pounds. (He should have had lighter skis and counted grams.) He then delayed the line’s progression as he moved items around to repack.
Cruz then verbally abused a security agent at the airport. He was worried about making a flight back to D.C. for a confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee hearing for Ketanji Brown Jackson.
WildSnow will update this story as information becomes available.
While most of the WildSnow backcountry skiing blog posts are best attributed to a single author, some work well as done by the group.