Ski group hopes to ease powder huff | AspenTimes.com

Ski group hopes to ease powder huff

A group fighting the Aspen Skiing Co. for easier access to premium powder stashes hopes to convince the Pitkin County commissioners Sept. 13 to intervene on its behalf.A loose coalition of backcountry skiers and riders called Powder to the People is trying to get the U.S. Forest Service to lift restrictions that prevent them from using snowmobiles to make laps on powder-filled slopes on the Difficult Creek side of Richmond Ridge.The Forest Service prohibited everyone but Aspen Powder Tours from using mechanized equipment last year on that east side of the ridge. The powder guide service, which is owned by the Aspen Skiing Co., has a special-use permit to operate on the back of Aspen Mountain, outside the ski area boundary.For years, backcountry adventurers and Aspen Powder Tours have lived by unwritten rules to share the powder playgrounds. The company uses its snowcats on three groomed routes; the rest of the terrain is preserved for skiing. The vast majority of powder hounds who ventured into the area ran their snowmobiles on the routes established by the snowcats.The peaceful coexistence disappeared last winter. The Forest Service stationed a ranger on the ridge to prevent anyone but Aspen Powder Tours from using machines on the east side of Richmond Ridge. Restrictions on mechanized travel have existed since 1992 but not enforced until last season.Mike Sladdin, founder of Powder to the People, said the rule prevents the public from using 400 acres of public lands.Aspen District Ranger Bill Westbrook said the public land remains open. Skiers and riders can continue using the slope on the east side of the ridge as long as they skin back up.”If the general public gets out there and skis the heck out of it and walks back up, Powder Tours is out of luck,” he said.The public was also allowed to use snowmobiles on the county roads on the west side of Richmond Ridge to make laps in powder there.Sladdin and others believe the Forest Service is enforcing the restrictions because of pressure from the Skico. He claimed that if the company was willing to compromise with Powder to the People, the group’s members would share the powder and even police the unwritten rules that preserve it.”Hopefully we’ll be more advocates for the Ski Company than adversaries,” Sladdin said.Westbrook said he hopes the Skico and Powder to the People negotiate a settlement to their differences. For now, he views it as his duty to uphold a 1992 Forest Service decision to regulate motorized travel in the area.”It’s truly a motorized travel management issue,” Westbrook said.He said the Skico offered to allow backcountry skiers to use snowmobiles on its snowcat route into the McFarlane Bowl area, but not two other snowcat routes on the east side of the ridge. The group rejected the offer, Westbrook said. It contends it is entitled to broader access.Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle said the company is willing to continue talks. He was unfamiliar with details of the issue and couldn’t comment further. Other company officials closer to the issue weren’t available for comment.Further complicating the debate is the work on a comprehensive Travel Management Plan for the entire White River National Forest. That plan will dictate if motorized travel is allowed, and what type, in places like the back of Aspen Mountain. It won’t be completed for about two years.Westbrook expressed hope that the Skico and Powder to the People could negotiate a settlement that would guide travel management policies for that area.Sladdin said he hopes the county commissioners help find a “Band-Aid” to the situation that everybody can live with this winter. In the long term, he said, it’s in the Skico’s best interest to work with Powder to the People rather than alienate them and set up a confrontation in the Travel Management Plan.His group offers details of its position at powdertothepeople.org.The county commissioners are scheduled to hold an annual meeting with Westbrook at 4 p.m. Tuesday. The situation on the back of Aspen Mountain is among the topics.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com

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