Powder hounds say backcountry deal is crud
November 30, 2005
An effort by powder hounds to gain greater access to slopes on the back of Aspen Mountain this winter has failed.
The U.S. Forest Service rejected an application by a group called Powder to the People for a permit that would have allowed them to use snowmobiles for backcountry skiing on the Difficult Creek side of Richmond Ridge.
Aspen District Ranger Bill Westbrook said in a letter detailing the decision that the agency doesn’t want to issue permits to private clubs. The access issues that have bubbled up periodically over the last several decades will be addressed in a forest travel plan due out in 2006, Westbrook wrote.
The Aspen Skiing Co. has a special-use permit from the Forest Service to operate commercial powder tours on about 800 acres on the Difficult and Little Annie sides of Richmond Ridge.
Powder to the People founder Mike Sladdin said the group sought equal access to those federal lands through its permit application.
“That hopefully would have given us equal stature to the ski company on the whole 800 acres back there,” he said.
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The public has access to all slopes, Forest Service officials insist. It’s snowmobile use that is the issue. The Forest Service has restricted mechanized travel in the area since 1992 but didn’t enforce it until last winter.
Private snowmobiles can use county roads to ski and ride the Little Annie side of the ridge. There is no permanent road on the Difficult Creek side of the ridge so Skico snowcats groom three routes to serve that terrain.
The Skico offered this fall to allow Powder to the People and other members of the public to use one of those three routes.
Sladdin said that’s a step in the right direction, but his group wants unrestricted access.
“We decided to take it because we’re going to take what we can get,” Sladdin said.
The deal gives the public access to between 100 and 200 acres of backcountry terrain in the McFarlane Bowl area. Sladdin characterized most of that area as extreme terrain that’s avalanche prone. The public cannot use snowmobiles to use more intermediate terrain on the Difficult Creek side, he said.
“We live and die for powder, and we might die for it,” he said.
Although different people use different names for the terrain, areas Sladdin referred to as Wine Tree and Ptarmigan remain closed to skiers and riders using snowmobiles. Sladdin said it would be acceptable if Wine Tree or Ptarmigan was available to the public in addition to McFarlane.
Powder to the People may continue to press the issue next year. It has relied on limited, free legal advice up to now. It will hire an attorney if fund raising is successful, Sladdin said.
Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org