Snowmachiner, skier conflicts on rise

Posted: Friday, February 01, 2002

BOISE, Idaho -- The first snows have recently arrived, but already the parking lot at Mores Creek Summit is full of trucks with empty snowmobile trailers and SUVs with roof racks popped open like clam shells.

The empty vehicles packed into the parking lot and every wide spot on Idaho 21 are testament to the popularity of Mores Creek Summit for winter recreation.

Snowmobiles cruise up a snow-covered road that goes to Pilot Peak and beyond.

Skiers, snowboarders and snowshoers take advantage of the packed snowmobile path as they slog the 2,000-foot climb to the slopes around Pilot Peak.

There awaits deep, light snow where they can carve turns and feel exhilarating ''face shots'' of deep powder.

Snowmobilers covet Pilot Peak for the same reason. Its feather-light powder gives them a chance to open up the throttle and glide weightlessly across fresh snow or ''high mark'' up a steep slope.

Pilot Peak is a rarity in Idaho. It's an 8,000-foot, snow-drenched peak that is within a few miles of a paved road and plowed parking lot. It is also within an hour's drive of Boise and its thousands of winter recreationists.

Neither skiers nor snowmobilers pay for plowing at the Mores Creek Summit parking lot, as is the case at Park-N-Ski areas or designated snowmobile parking lots.

Both skiers and snowmobilers use the lot to access Pilot and nearby Freeman Peak, and terrain has traditionally separated the two uses.

''This has been a mixed-use area for more than 20 years,'' backcountry skier Steve Stuebner of Boise said. ''Over time, skiers have generally used particular areas and snowmobiles used other areas, and the conflicts were minimal.''

But recently that's changed. Snowmobilers are treading in areas that could not be reached a few years ago.

''The advent of the new, high-torque snowmobiles with paddles on the tracks enable those guys to go where they've never gone before,'' Stuebner said. ''They just want to have fun, but the new folks are unwittingly treading into areas that have never seen a snowmobile track.''

Skiers fear snowmobilers could eventually track up all the slopes that are accessible to skiers, which would make the area useless for backcountry skiing.

''A single snowmobile can track up a powder slope in minutes,'' skier Tom Chelstrom of Boise said. ''It takes a group of skiers days to track the same slope.''

Skiers say they are hoping to see some of the slopes around Pilot and Freeman peaks set aside for non-motorized use, but leaving an access road open so snowmobilers can continue to access areas beyond them.

''Since snowmobilers have virtually the entire Boise National Forest to travel anywhere they choose, it seems reasonable to ask their cooperation in staying on trail for a few miles at these areas,'' Chelstrom said.

Snowmobilers say they are willing to cooperate, but don't want to concede areas for the exclusive use of one group.

''The skiers constantly want exclusivity to some area that they don't want to share with us,'' snowmobiler Reggie Sellers said.

He believes that public lands should remain open to all users.

''It's public land, and people should be able to go where they want to go,'' he said. ''We're not trying to make it unpleasant, we're just trying to coexist and have fun. I think we can coexist in harmony if everyone has a little tolerance.''

Snowmobiler Sean Martell of Caldwell believes both groups can, and should, continue to use the area.

''If our community cannot get along and share access then each of us will lose more of our privilege to enjoy our lands,'' Martell said. ''Each group can come up with some pathetic excuse for why areas should be designated, but in the end, we all miss out because of our greed.''

Sellers said skiers use snowmobile tracks as trails to reach prime slopes, but then they don't want snowmobilers on them.

''If we pack a trail, it helps them,'' Sellers said. ''They will use us as a benefit, then they will complain when they see us where they don't want us.''

But skiers say the two uses are not always compatible in the same areas.

''The best analogy is one of smoker and nonsmoker,'' Sally Ferguson of Boise said. ''A nonsmoker will leave the room to get away from a smoker, but never vice versa. The same situation applies to winter sports: skiers leave when snowmobilers are in the area.''

Ferguson is grass roots coordinator for Winter Wildlands Alliance, a Boise-based organization that represents non-motorized users.

She said sometimes separating the two uses is necessary.

''Separate use areas allow a quiet, natural winter experience in the backcountry for skiers, snowboarders and snowshoers,'' she said. ''In our technology-driven world, there is nothing elitist in the need for seeking the peace, quiet and solitude found in the natural world of the backcountry.''

But Sellers pointed out that skiers already have exclusive use of the Banner Ridge area and other Park-N-Ski spots along Idaho 21, which he described as ''prime snowmobile terrain'' they aren't allowed on.

Ray Johnson, president of Nordic Voice, a group that represents backcountry skiers, said high-elevation slopes around Pilot and Freeman peaks are vastly different from the Banner Ridge area.

They offer steeper slopes that attract expert skiers.

''It is world-class skiing up there,'' he said.

Skiers also are only seeking a few small areas of the Boise National Forest, which offers hundreds of miles of groomed snowmobile trails, including 260 miles of trails in the Idaho City area.

''We're quite confident it is less than 1 percent of the territory up there,'' Johnson said.

There is enough terrain for everyone, Johnson said, it's just a matter of agreeing which areas are best suited for each use.

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