County refuses to dive into backcountry powder fight
The Aspen Skiing Co. maintained the upper hand Tuesday in a dispute with powderhounds over access to winter stashes on the back of Aspen Mountain.The backcountry skiers, who formed a citizens group called Powder to the People, failed to coax the Pitkin County Commissioners into the fray.”Our hands are really tied because we don’t control the national forest,” said commissioners Chairwoman Patti Kay-Clapper.She and the other commissioners urged the powder hounds to negotiate a deal with the Skico.Powder to the People founder Mike Sladdin said that hasn’t worked so far. The Skico paid the Forest Service’s expense last winter of having a ranger patrol Richmond Ridge and prevent snowmobiles from using three routes carved into the snow on the east of the ridge by the powder tour’s snowcats.Motorized use has been banned except on public roads in the Richmond Ridge area since 1992, according to the Forest Service. Last year the agency enforced the ban. Skiers aren’t prevented from using the same slopes as the Skico’s customers.”They can ski where they want. It’s the use of the vehicles [that’s prohibited],” said Aspen District Ranger Bill Westbrook.When the dispute over powder erupted last year “we went back to past decisions and enforced them,” Westbrook told the commissioners. That decision helps prevent snowmobiles from chewing up all the powder and ruining the experience for all skiers and riders.The powderhounds claim the enforcement unfairly prevents them from using public lands – and keeps them off premium backcountry areas like Loushin’s, McFarland’s, Prudence, Wine Tree and others. They want the ability to use snowmobiles to make laps on the backcountry slopes where the Skico takes its powder tour customers.Aspen Mountain Manager Steve Sewell said a compromise is attainable to provide backcountry skiers with access but preserve portions of the backcountry slopes for its paying powder tour customers. He said Aspen Mountain Powder Tours typically takes 1,200 to 1,700 skiers and riders back there per season.Sewell said the Skico is willing to allow snowmobile use on one of its three snowcat roads. It would provide access to the Loushin’s and McFarland’s areas.Sladdin said powderhounds made the ultimate compromise last winter by allowing themselves to be shut out of the area. He said compromise isn’t acceptable when the issue is access to public lands.”We have the right to be on it – all of it,” he said.Sladdin said Powder to the People will consider going over Westbrook’s head to try to get someone of higher rank in the Forest Service to rule on the issue. Westbrook said he is simply relying on decisions that were made before he became the head official in Aspen. He noted that a Travel Management Plan for the entire White River National Forest is being drafted and should be released next spring. That document will define what trails, roads and land areas are open to which uses. It will settle the Richmond Ridge fight – but not this winter.Westbrook said if Powder to the People and the Skico can reach a compromise, he would honor it for 2005-06.Sewell said he was willing to talk with Powder to the People, and after the meeting with the commissioners he and Sladdin were discussing issues. For now, the Skico makes the powder rules.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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