14er group stands behind ski challenge
DENVER A group trying to protect Colorado’s mightiest peaks from the onslaught of human visits believes Aspenite Chris Davenport’s successful mission to ski the state’s fourteeners helped, rather than hurt, its cause.The Colorado Fourteeners Initiative endorsed Davenport’s effort to ski all 54 of the peaks higher than 14,000 feet within one year, said executive director T.J. Rapoport: “We think what Chris did is an amazing accomplishment.”Davenport will discuss his feat as keynote speaker Friday in Denver at the organization’s biggest fundraiser of the year, Fiesta for the Peaks. CFI expects a full house.The timing couldn’t be better for a lively debate about the condition of the fourteeners and the effects humans have on them. A U.S. Forest Service decision this week prohibits the commercial release of a movie that shows footage of Davenport skiing high peaks within specially designated wilderness areas.A permit was legally required for the filming within wilderness. Davenport and filmmaker Ben Galland didn’t acquire a permit before shooting footage, so the film must be edited. The White River National Forest supervisor’s office ruled that the film about the “ski challenge” didn’t promote wilderness values or ethics.”In order to be beneficial to wilderness, a film must benefit wilderness values, including concepts such as solitude, untrammeled nature and the absence of urbanism,” the supervisor’s office said in a press release. “Additionally, the film poses the serious threat of attracting more individuals to undertake the same dangerous feat as Davenport, leading to increased use in certain wilderness areas.”About 34 of the 54 fourteeners are within wilderness on national forest.Rapoport stressed that CFI is a partner of the Forest Service and that the organization isn’t taking sides by enlisting Davenport as a speaker. CFI simply views Davenport’s quest differently.Davenport followed Leave No Trace principles, Rapoport said. He skinned up and skied down the mountains on snow. There was no risk creating a new social trail across the fragile high-altitude vegetation, as can happen with summer use, he said.Davenport has also taken the opportunity to discuss the pressure the 54 fourteeners face from high use during summers: “Chris is drawing attention to a problem that needs attention,” Rapoport said.About 500,000 people visit the fourteeners annually, almost all of them during summers, according to CFI’s website (www.14ers.org). The mountains are getting trammeled, Rapoport said.CFI’s core mission is to deal with the effects of that heavy use and try to educate people so that they minimize their impacts. The organization raises funds to undertake trail work and recruits summer crews.A typical project is closing braided trails that are susceptible to erosion and create a designated, sustainable route. All the work is planned in cooperation with the Forest Service.Rapoport said the publicity surrounding Davenport’s accomplishment is bound to generate more winter use of the high peaks. The CFI staff already has anecdotal information about people Davenport inspired to ski the peaks themselves.But the number of people in the world with the skills to undertake what Davenport did is small, Rapoport said. Winter use on the fourteeners will have “negligible impact” on the environment because the surface is covered by snow, he said.CFI doesn’t try to keep people off peaks. Instead, it tries to promote safe and environmentally sound use. In the case of wintertime use, the organization will urge adventurers to learn about avalanche danger and educate them about the skills and equipment necessary to visit the peaks.Rapoport said Davenport’s presentation at the fundraiser Friday will feature a slide show with still shots of his adventure. The film cannot be shown.Davenport previously said he disagreed with the Forest Service’s decision but will abide by it. He will edit the film and take out any scenes of him skiing within wilderness.Rapoport said he doesn’t consider the issue over Davenport’s film a controversy. The Forest Service regularly reviews proposals and rejects some, he noted.Rapoport acknowledged the debate has created a buzz among people interested in the fourteeners. CFI typically doesn’t sell out all tickets to Fiesta for the Peaks, which takes place in a venue that holds about 350 people. This might be the year it sells out, Rapoport said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com.
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