Remember those pesky things called snowmobiles? If anything, the backcountry skiing community has a love-hate relationship with “sleds.” We love the access snowmobiles provide, and (though it is often a dark secret) many of us love the ride. But we hate it when snowmobiles bogart our pow stashes. Thing is, current USFS rules allow “over snow vehicles” (OSVs) to pretty much go where they want on non-Wilderness land. More, because the USFS has trouble with law enforcement, sleds continue to race over legal Wilderness in many places across the U.S.
Thus, conservation groups under the umbrella of Winter Wildlands Alliance have run a long lasting battle to legally exclude snowmobiles from public land. Now they’re ramping it up with a petition drive and scheduled meetings with the USFS to ask them to change their OSV rules.
While one has to wonder how the USFS is going to enforce ever more closures when they can’t even keep sleds out of the Wilderness, it is true that in some places we need some separation of uses so muscle powered “quiet” recreationists have accessible places to recreate. (legal Wilderness provides that if snowmobilers obey rules, but much of our Wilderness land has poor winter access, and most backcountry skiers like convenient trailhead access.)
That said, we need to truly be careful about dividing the pie, as he who divides traditionally gets last pick of the shares and may end up with the smallest pie slice. More, do we want the backcountry overrun with the law-enforcement personnel who become necessary as we make more and more rules? But at the same time, sure, we do need places other than legal Wilderness where we can backcountry ski without snowmobiles playing in the vicinity.
In my view, this whole issue is an ongoing dilemma with solutions that might be tougher than just drawing lines on a map. Your thoughts as winter closes in?
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.