Snowmobiles, skiers clash in Castle Creek | AspenTimes.com
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Snowmobiles, skiers clash in Castle Creek

Jeremy Heiman

Snowmobiles roaring through the pristine upper Castle Creek Valleyhave backcountry skiers who have used the area for decades fedup.Both Pitkin County and the U.S. Forest Service have received complaintsabout snowmobile use in the area, where, until recently, backcountryskiers enjoyed essentially a silent and exhaust-free winter recreationhaven.Snowmobiling has been under study by a group of citizens and officialsworking on a management plan for the Richmond Hill area and upperCastle Creek. As a result of that process, snowmobile use on RichmondHill, on the back of Aspen Mountain, has been somewhat curtailedthis winter by the elimination of some snowmobile parking on topof the mountain. Apparently, the move has driven some snowmobilers – and skiersand snowboarders who use the machines to reach powder stashes- into the Castle Creek Valley, south of Aspen.Doug Bitterman, maintenance manager for Ashcroft Ski Touring,said he has seen snowmobiling in the upper Castle Creek Valleyjump significantly in just a few years.”This one group of guys started coming up here last year,” hesaid. “Since then snowmobile use is up 300 or 400 percent,” heestimated. In the past, recreational snowmobilers ventured into the areaperhaps once a month, he said. Now, it’s a daily occurrence.Bitterman said Ashcroft Ski Touring receives a lot of complaintsabout snowmobile use in the area, and refers them all to the ForestService.Snowmobile use is changing the experience of backcountry skiingin the area, he said. Bitterman said he’s heard tales about backcountryskiers who take a three-hour uphill trek to reach good powder,only to have a snowmobile roar up beside them with a snowboarderon board.Snowmobilers, Bitterman said, have been packing the snow on thePearl Pass road after every snowstorm this winter, creating anawkward luge run for skiers coming down the road carrying backpacks.”Snowmobile use trashes the skiing for people coming down fromthe huts,” he said, referring to three ski-in cabins located neartimberline on the road.Snowmobiling is legal on the road to Pearl Pass, a county road.But it’s illegal to leave the road to either side, said Andy Steeleof the Forest Service. To the right of the road lies the Maroon Bells-Snowmass WildernessArea, where all mechanized activity is prohibited. And a roughlytriangular area from Ashcroft to Pearl Pass to Taylor Pass isdesignated by the Forest Service as “Travel Management Zone A.”It is also closed to snowmobiles.But some snowmobilers are either ignorant of the prohibition orignoring it. “I know for a fact that some of those guys have beenriding in the wilderness,” Bitterman said.Steele said his office responded March 2 to a complaint of individualsoperating a commercial snowmobile service into Montezuma Basinoff Pearl Pass road near the huts. Instead, Forest Service officersfound a group of locals maintaining a camp where they accessedpowder skiing with snowmobiles.”They were very cooperative and they said they didn’t know theywere doing anything wrong,” Steele said.On Feb. 6 and 7, Steele received a complaint from skiers at theTagert and Green-Wilson huts about two different groups of peopleusing snowmobiles to repeatedly ski and board slopes in the area.One group was reportedly snowmobiling in the wilderness area andthe other was hauling people up to ski the open areas behind thecabins. No one was apprehended after those reports, he said.Technical advances in snowmobile technology have been a majorfactor in the rapid increase of snowmobile incursions into theCastle Creek Valley, Steele said. Modern snowmobiles can travelin deep powder, where before they would bog down and get stuck.A policy on snowmobile use in the Pearl Pass area is definitelyin order, Steele said.”The Forest Service’s recommendation is to work with the countyto limit use of the road in the winter,” he said.Valley resident Lynne Mace agrees that a snowmobile policy isneeded. Noting that snowmobile manufacturers have created morecapable machines without attempting to improve their exhaust emissions,Mace contends snowmobiles are inappropriate in the Castle Creekarea. “That’s just not what it’s all about up there,” she said.


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