Mountain Town News: Group seeks to end wilderness bike ban |

Mountain Town News: Group seeks to end wilderness bike ban

A four-legged puck thief makes an appearance at the Pabst Colorado Pond Hockey Tournament in Silverthorne on Friday.
Bill Linfield / special to the daily |

KETCHUM, Idaho — The Sustainable Trails Coalition wants to amend the Wilderness Act of 1964 to allow mountain bikes and, as needed for trail construction and maintenance of trails, chainsaws and wheelbarrows. None are allowed because of the 1964 law’s ban on mechanized and motorized access.

Group representatives tell the Idaho Mountain Express they have raised about 80 percent of the $125,000 needed to hire a Washington D.C. lobbyist. And it has a name for its proposed law, the Human Powered Wildlands Travel Management Act.

But while the group has John Bliss, the president of the International Mountain Bicycling Association, on its board of directors, it does not have the IMBA’s support. A spokesman said the IMBA is concerned that efforts to amend the Wilderness Act would disrupt the “slow, steady successes” achieved with public lands managers, who do not seem to favor laws excluding bicycles from designated wilderness.

“Snowball’s chance,” said one commentator on the newspaper’s website, noting that the group hadn’t even secured a congressional sponsor.

Snow-bike rider first in Colorado to die in slide

BUENA VISTA, Colo. – The first ever avalanche death of a motorized snow-bike rider occurred in Colorado, and it was probably just the second in the United States.

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center said the slide was too small to knock over a shed or a tree, but it had enough force to bury the 58-year-old victim under about six feet of snow. The slide occurred near the summit of Cottonwood Pass, located between Buena Vista and Crested Butte in central Colorado.

A snow bike is an off-road motorcycle that can be converted to travel on snow by replacing the rear wheel with a narrow, snowmobile-like track and putting a ski on the front. Last year, says The Denver Post, Polaris Industries — the maker of snowmobiles — purchased Idaho’s Timbersled, a market leader in the blossoming industry.

The first snow-bike avalanche death occurred in Montana in 2012. Brock Bolin, who has a dealership in Kalispell, told the Post that he has sold more than 120 Timbersled snow-bike conversion kits in recent years. He said the bikes can traverse steep slopes that would be difficult for a snowmobiler.

“That poses a concern for me as a retailer knowing that a person who might be more of a dirt biker without much snowmobile experience can walk into the shop, buy this thing and get onto crazy avalanche slopes in less than 20 minutes,” Bolin said.

The Colorado avalanche occurred on a 36-degree slope. Experts say the slopes with the greatest potential to slide are those of 30 to 45 degrees.

Bicycling to the crest of the Great Divide

WINTER PARK, Colo. – The sky was blue and the snow firm on the January day that Chad Gibbons did what few, if none had done before: Setting out from Winter Park, elevation 9,000 feet, he pedaled his way 10 miles on an old railroad grade that had been groomed for snowmobiles to Rollins Pass.

From Rollins Pass, elevation 11,676 feet, there’s much to see: Winter Park, of course, but on the other side the university town of Boulder, sitting at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, and the Great Plains stretching out to Nebraska and Kansas.

Bennett was at Sun Valley when it was a new resort

KETCHUM, Idaho – Another of the 10th Mountain vets has passed. Nelson Bennett was 101 when he died recently and was, according to the Idaho Mountain Express, a ski legend and early innovator.

Bennett had raced for the University of New Hampshire Ski Team before graduating in 1940. That was just four years after North America’s first deliberately designed destination ski resort, Sun Valley, opened for business. He arrived there and was soon appointed head of the ski patrol.

The Express explains that Bennett invented a rescue toboggan that was compact enough to fit into a backpack; the same style of device is still used today. He also helped create an early prototype of today’s sophisticated trail groomers.

In 1942, he joined the new 10th Mountain Division, which trained in Washington and Colorado before the soldiers were deployed to Italy. After the war, he returned to Sun Valley and was a stunt double for a handful of films, most notably the 1958 movie, “Lucy Goes to Sun Valley,” with Lucille Ball. Later, he managed the White Pass Ski Area near Yakima, Washington, until his retirement in 1986.

Idling cars and busy people at Sundance

PARK CITY, Utah – Was it forgetfulness — or a matter of having too much money to be bothered with the details of life?

In Park City during the Sundance Film Festival, somebody left a car running for over two hours. There are laws in Utah against leaving a running car unattended, and Park City has a law against idling. The driver, who pleaded forgetfulness, was slapped with a citation for the former.

Park City also had helicopter commuters for a while during Sundance. Two companies ran helicopter shuttles, one of them operated by Uber, between Salt Lake and Park City, although local officials eventually shut down the operations, because of concerns about safety.

The lesson drawn by The Park Record: “People are willing to pay almost anything to get to Park City.”

Park City is darned happy to have them, too. Sundance founder Robert Redford wondered aloud whether the film festival he created several decades ago had become just too big for one 10-day stretch. Diane Foster, the city manager, responded that the city government is fully aware of the impact of Sundance — and they’re happy to have the problem.

For very good skiers & very deep pockets

SILVERTON, Colo. – Great skier? Wealthy? Vacationing in Aspen? Then you just might want to check out Silverton Mountain Ski Area. It is, says the Aspen Daily News the only ski area in the lower 48 states that offers single heli-skiing drops, with more than 22,000 acres available in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado.

This doesn’t come cheap: a single drop is $179, and a full-day package of six costs $999. If you’ve got that kind of money, you can replace the four-hour drive from Aspen to Silverton with a chartered flight to Telluride, where a waiting helicopter will whisk you to the untouched powder 10 or 20 miles away.

But what about that creek flowing at the base of the Silverton Mountain Ski Area? Last summer, it spurted pumpkin-colored water for about three days when water in the Gold King Mine broke free. The photographs of the yucky looking Animas River downstream at Durango were spread across the country.

Several abandoned mines near the Silverton Mountain Ski Area have pollution problems that have long needed to be addressed. The Durango Herald reports that local communities are now working hard to meet a deadline to propose a Superfund site. A listing would allow for an influx of federal dollars to begin long-term restoration efforts, including a permanent treatment facility.

The Environmental Protection Agency now reports that the three-day case of mining diarrhea put 880,000 pounds of metals into the Animas among the three million gallons of orange sludge. It possibly contained cadmium, copper, lead and other metals.

Downstream in New Mexico the Navajo Nation continues to protest the mess. Colorado officials are working to bring federal resources to the table, but Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper admitted that it could have been worse. “The consequences were not as dire as many of us first thought,” he told the Herald.

Steamboat sends 3 patrollers to China

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. – Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. has sent three of its veteran ski patrollers to China for two weeks to share expertise. Steamboat Today reports that the company views the trip as an opportunity to help develop a new overseas market.

Pointing to the 2022 Winter Games, which will be hosted by Beijing, the company’s Katie Brown said that it all adds up to “an emerging international market with significant importance.”

The patrollers were scheduled to visit a cat-skiing operation called Heavenly Lake near the North Korean border, the Thaiwoo Resort that will host the Olympics and a third resort in Beijing.

Meanwhile, back in Steamboat, Intrawest, the owner of the ski company, has announced plans to build a mountain coaster and a mini-golf course, both on private land at the ski area.

Intrawest officials say that the Steamboat area has 30,000 to 40,000 visitors during peak summer weekends, a number comparable to winter weekends. That represents an obvious opportunity to generate revenue for the company.

Puddles in Lake Tahoe, a sign of what’s to come

LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Puddles were predicted at Lake Tahoe this week, with 59 degrees forecast for Tuesday. If that materialized, it beat the old record of 55 degrees — set just four years before.

Yep, it’s getting warmer — and it will get warmer yet. The Lake Tahoe News reports that Tahoe and adjoining areas can expect to see increases of up to 5 degrees in temperatures by the end of this century as rain more frequently replaces snow.

The study also found that the frequency of floods will increase and so will their intensity, by as much as 20 percent.

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