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Schroder
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PostWed Dec 09, 2020 6:55 am 
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Article in the Times
A pandemic winter foretells a backcountry skiing boom, but it’s not a sport to take lightly

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Snowsports Industries America, the winter sports industry’s trade group, estimates there were 1.357 million backcountry skiers and riders during the 2019-20 season in what has become the fastest-growing segment of the ski industry. If sales figures from local ski shops are any indication, those numbers are expected to balloon in the Cascades this winter.

I predict some difficult rescues this winter
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MangyMarmot
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PostWed Dec 09, 2020 7:41 am 
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The ski resorts have done such a crappy job managing problems like parking and overcrowding. Now throw in reservations and closed lodges, no wonder people are fed up and going elsewhere.
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trestle
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PostWed Dec 09, 2020 8:45 am 
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To properly decrease the hordes, they need to ban fat skis and go back to skinny skis with lots of camber.  lol.gif  clown.gif

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"Life favors the prepared." - Edna Mode
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altasnob
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PostWed Dec 09, 2020 8:46 am 
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The vast majority of backcountry skiers in Washington are parking in the same parking lot as lift-served skiers (Baker, Stevens, Alpental, and Crystal) so they aren't really going elsewhere. And you can't blame them because other than Paradise, there is no easy access to a high elevation parking lot in Western Washington without a ski area there.
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altasnob
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PostWed Dec 09, 2020 9:33 am 
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The conflict between ski resorts/lift served skiers and backcountry skiers in Washington is only going to get worse as population here increases. In the 1960s, when the idea of leasing Forest Service land to private ski resorts was invented, there was no such thing as backcountry skiing (or at least it was very, very, limited in the US). Some of Washington's ski resorts are responsible for plowing the parking lot and roads (like Crystal plowing Crystal Boulevard) and as they see more and more backcountry skiers parking in these parking lots, the resorts have developed an entitlement to the public land. The owner of Baker is always musing about a fee non-resort riders must pay to park in the lot (even though Baker is on public land and WSDOT maintains the road to Baker). Alpental no longer allows non-lift skiers to park in lot 4, even though that lot is the closest to where all the non-lift skiers are heading (Source Lake, Snow Lake, ect.)

To exasperate things, access to high country parking lots in the winter has gotten worse, not better. It seems the road to Paradise and Hurricane Ridge is closed much more often today than in the past. Ruby Mountain, on Ross Lake, has become a popular ski location due to a plethora of online TRs and the realization it is just as close to Seattle as Paradise. But now WSDOT gates the road at Colonial Creek eliminating this as a skiing option.

And the ski resorts have strayed from their modest roots and merged with other resorts to become publicly traded global companies. The business model is no longer a few ski lifts and a unassuming lodge but a Disneyland atmosphere with a shopping mall and golf course at the base (Whistler, Vail, ect).

When Washington ski areas Forest Service Special Use Permits are next set to be renewed I would like to see backcountry skiers and snowshoers unite and voice their concerns. They have just as much right to the National Forest lands as lift served skiers and the Forest Service should ensure they are able to park in these parking lots and use their public land.
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slabbyd
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PostWed Dec 09, 2020 9:51 am 
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altasnob wrote:
When Washington ski areas Forest Service Special Use Permits are next set to be renewed I would like to see backcountry skiers and snowshoers unite and voice their concerns. They have just as much right to the National Forest lands as lift served skiers and the Forest Service should ensure they are able to park in these parking lots and use their public land.

My understanding is that the Mt Baker Ski Area has a fairly restrictive permit due to the fact that this was a popular winter recreation site long before the ski area was built.   Add in the fact that WSDOT plows a significant part of the parking at Heather Meadows and that other organizations (Mountaineers) apparently contributed to the expansion of the "back lot", means the ski area has been unable to restrict access so far.

Prior to the season they were claiming the backlot would be reserved for pass/ticket holders only but that message has been dropped and parking is once again a free-for-all.

Apparently (and this is all third hand info so take it for what its worth) the FS is agreeable with charging everyone for parking if the ski area wants to go that route.   Personally anything that encourages carpooling or reduces visitation makes a ton of sense considering how swamped that area has become.
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dixon
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PostThu Dec 10, 2020 1:09 pm 
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Schroder wrote:
I predict some difficult rescues this winter

Chatted with the owners of a local gear store and they were also worried about this. Seeing folks come into the store dropping $3-4k on a BC setup having never skied before. He said they're doing their best to educate but short of refusing to sell the gear not much they can do. A lot of folks apparently think that the new airbag backpacks are a failsafe against any avy danger, almost like an airbag in a vehicle means they can drive fast and dangerously. Bizarre times, i guess we will know in a few months.
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Schroder
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PostThu Dec 10, 2020 2:38 pm 
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altasnob wrote:
When Washington ski areas Forest Service Special Use Permits are next set to be renewed I would like to see backcountry skiers and snowshoers unite and voice their concerns. They have just as much right to the National Forest lands as lift served skiers and the Forest Service should ensure they are able to park in these parking lots and use their public land.

I've never seen anyone turned away from parking at either Stevens or Snoqualmie based on whether they had a ski pass or not, since no one checks that. I've parked at both areas frequently to head into backcountry. Sharing the in-area ski slopes is another matter and they have every right to keep people out based on safety.
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Randito
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PostThu Dec 10, 2020 3:24 pm 
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I ponder whether the number of "snowsport related" emergency room visits will actually go down this season,  the number of visits from newbie backcountry traveler will certainly go up,  but I think that might that be less than the reduction of injuries on lift served slopes due to the lesser number of folks and reduced crowding.    Within my own circle of skiing friends and family there have been two ER visits over the decades,  one was from a family member being struck by someone that chose to jump over a blind rollover, launching right next to the "no jumping" sign.

In terms of the "third rail" issue of snow sports,  parking.   I think the COVID restrictions that limit how many tickets and seasons passes are being sold is easing the parking crunch.   Last January and February there were several times when Crystal and Stevens had to turn away guests because parking lots were full.   Now with requiring advance reservations at Crystal it seems unlikely that Lot-F will ever be overflowing,   though the lack of carpooling will likley double the number of cars per person on the hill.

Alpental has adjusted their parking policy to require displaying a seasons pass for access to their upper lots.   I think the main effect of this will be to shift the "brown klister" zone a half a mile down the hill, will furballs making most of their deposits either on the road or on the groomed slopes around the loading zone of Debbie's and Sessel.
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kiliki
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PostThu Dec 10, 2020 3:57 pm 
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Randito wrote:
I ponder whether the number of "snowsport related" emergency room visits will actually go down this season,  the number of visits from newbie backcountry traveler will certainly go up,  but I think that might that be less than the reduction of injuries on lift served slopes due to the lesser number of folks and reduced crowding.    Within my own circle of skiing friends and family there have been two ER visits over the decades,  one was from a family member being struck by someone that chose to jump over a blind rollover, launching right next to the "no jumping" sign.

I only have one day at Crystal so far but there was a noticeably higher caliber of skier than usual. Between the fact that most people skiing have a pass, that you need to snag a reservation, and be able to follow rules, I think many of the more casual (less good) skiers are shut out, or at least can't ski as often. (Not that a good skier won't tear an ACL and need help, but I think you might be right about less accidents/reckless skiing.)

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When Washington ski areas Forest Service Special Use Permits are next set to be renewed I would like to see backcountry skiers and snowshoers unite and voice their concerns. They have just as much right to the National Forest lands as lift served skiers and the Forest Service should ensure they are able to park in these parking lots and use their public land.

Don't get me wrong--I don't want to see paid parking, and I don't like that a large corporation owns my home mountain. But if Crystal is doing the maintenance and plowing of the lots there, and presumably built them too (?)...DO others have a "right" to free parking there? Do we need to distinguish between facilities that are built and maintained with our tax dollars, and those that aren't, if we expect to use them? Or maybe they all are to some extent.
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altasnob
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PostThu Dec 10, 2020 3:58 pm 
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Lot 4 at Alpental - Passholders Only

"For the 20/21 winter season we are piloting a new passholder only program for Lot 4 at Alpental. The uppermost parking lot at Alpental will be for passholders only this winter. Passholders should be prepared to show their season pass as they approach the upper lots - only one pass required per vehicle. All non-ski area guests and backcountry travelers must park in the Lower Lot, the first parking lot on the left at the Alpental 'Welcome' sign."
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altasnob
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PostThu Dec 10, 2020 4:08 pm 
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Ski areas may build and maintain parking lots, and even plow access roads (like Crystal Boulevard). But the roads leading to these ski areas are maintained by tax dollars. The ski areas also presumably make a profit from leasing public land so it is not too much to require ski areas to accommodate all members of the public to the best of their ability, and not just accommodate paying customers. The Special Use Permit does not grant ski areas exclusive use of the National Forest Land.
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jinx'sboy
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PostThu Dec 10, 2020 5:13 pm 
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dixon wrote:
Chatted with the owners of a local gear store and they were also worried about this. Seeing folks come into the store dropping $3-4k on a BC setup having never skied before.

I had the same experience - talking to a friend who is a store owner in the Methow.  He said he’s had “several” families come - some from out of town - and get all kitted up; track or skate skis/boots, downhill skis/boots and backcountry skis/boots, plus clothing - dropping $6K+ in some cases without batting an eye.
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Randito
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PostThu Dec 10, 2020 5:19 pm 
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In Oregon, many areas require a Sno-Park permit for all vehicles -- including lift served skiers and their sno-park permits are only $25 vs Washington's which are $80 (The $40 permit covers so few sno-parks it's pretty much useless IMHO)

These seems like a sensible way to equitably distribute the cost of parking lot snow removal among all users.

Washington's system of having the WSDOT plow the roads to places like Crystal and Mt Baker is financed by the sales tax revenue from lift ticket, season's pass, beer and other sales activity from the lift served area.     

So that also makes some sense -- but it religates granola powered skiers to a sort of second class status.   

As limited parking has become more of an issue in recent years -- I've found that arriving at the parking lot an hour and a half before the lifts start spinning to be pretty effective.    This also facilitates avoiding HWY-2-Hell coming home from Stevens -- If you can leave the parking lot before 4:00 you have better odds of NOT doing the bumper to bumper crawl from Zeke's to Taco Time.
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jinx'sboy
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PostThu Dec 10, 2020 5:28 pm 
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altasnob wrote:
The Special Use Permit does not grant ski areas exclusive use of the National Forest Land.

That is true.  Ski areas do not enjoy exclusive use.

But, besides that provision, which is in the standard ‘boilerplate’ Special Use Permit used for Ski Areas, there is also another standard one.  It says - paraphrasing here - “public use allowed by the Forest Service shall not materially interfere with the uses allowed under the terms of this permit”.   Yes, it is kinda weasel-worded like that...

It is, I think, how we get to a place where ski areas can try to prohibit non-lift skiing in the boundaries of their permit areas.

Also, I recall most of the NW ski areas went through Permit renewal in a cycle around the late 1990’s.  The small area I dealt with did.  Areas were/are on differing term lengths, depending on their size, the state and size of their Master Plans.  And the demands of their financiers - some banks/creditors demanded a tenure length that matched the duration of any loans.  So, Permit lengths ranged from 20 to 30 years.  A 40 year tenure was possible in some special circumstances.
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