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Mountain News

Backcountry fumes and fuming



By Allen Best

MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif. – From Jackson Hole to Aspen’s Richmond Hill to California’s Sierra Nevada, backcountry snowmobilers and skiers are always going at it.

It’s a dispute of horsepower vs. manpower, says Mammoth’s The Sheet.

It’s a noise issue: from the snowmobiles themselves, and in the complaints from skiers and snowshoers. One side spews fumes, the other side fumes.

“They’re noisy, they smell, they track up the powder, and it’s a very different experience,” backcountry skier Forrest McCarthy told the Jackson Hole News & Guide.

Skiers also resent snowmobilers who can access backcountry powder many miles from the road within minutes, then track it up in a few seconds. “What’s taken me two hours to get up, a snowmobiler has gone up in five minutes and it’s ruined,” says Jeramie Prine.

The spotlighted dispute in Wyoming concerns Togwottee Pass, located northeast of Jackson. There, backcountry skiers want to limit areas where snowmobilers are allowed. Snowmobilers think there’s plenty for everybody. “The vast majority of it, skiers don’t go there anyway,” says Jeff Golightly, a lodge manager who conducts snowmobile tours.

In California, snowmobiler Jeremy Stoehr says he can’t figure out the skiers. “We get bad reps as gear heads and fossil-fuel burners, but they’re the ones who always start the confrontations, and it never makes any sense to me. We’ve got 100 horsepower, and they’ve got ski poles. Who’s going to win that one?”

Meanwhile, at Yellowstone National Park, air quality continues to improve after three years of federal limits on snowmobile use, reports the Billings Gazette. Proposed new regulations would continue the temporary restrictions, which require use of the newer, quieter, less polluting four-stroke engines. Last year, more than 13,000 snowmobiles entered the park, along with a record 1,401 snowcoaches.


New gondola at Sun Valley

KETCHUM, Idaho – Although North America’s first destination ski resort community, Ketchum continues to be something less than lively. But, writes Lee Chubb, in a letter published in the Idaho Mountain Express, “It’s worth noting that Ketchum didn’t use to be that way. We once had nightlife on a par with any other ski town you care to name.”

Chubb proposes a “real performing arts hall” as well as an outdoor venue, which he describes as cultural facilities of a world-class resort.

Meanwhile, the Sun Valley ski area, is looking at expanded snowmaking and a new gondola. Wally Huffman, general manager of the Sun Valley Co., said the gondola’s primary purpose is to allow non-skiers to access an on-mountain restaurant called Roundhouse. The gondola would also allow year-round use of the restaurant.