Highmarking results in snowmachine ban on Hatcher Pass slopes

Posted: Friday, November 24, 2000

WASILLA (AP) -- The state Department of Natural Resources has set aside a 950-acre area on the Palmer side of Hatcher Pass for backcountry skiing and snowboarding and has closed the area to snowmachines.

Conflicts among users have escalated and safety has become a concern, said Rick Thompson, a spokesman for the agency.

''It's not a new closure,'' Thompson said. ''This is just implementing the old management plan.''

A plan written in the 1980s earmarked the area surrounding the ''$1,000 Run'' on the north side of Bald Mountain Ridge as a backcountry ski area, but it didn't specifically close the area to snowmachining. That area of mostly steep slopes had been open to all users.

Snowmachiners aren't expected to be happy with the closure.

''It's a terrific area, and this is going to severely hamper the type of snowmachining where you can take your kids and run for a few hours,'' said Kevin Hite, president of the Alaska State Snowmobile Association. ''This is going to force snowmachiners further into the park.''

Kathy Wells, a backcountry skier from Palmer, is one of the people who asked the state Division of Parks to clarify the rules. Wells said she quit going to that area after snowmachiners started highmarking on the slopes above her.

''I've been skiing there 20 years,'' she told the Anchorage Daily News. ''I was one of the people who helped form the Hatcher Pass management plan. We set that whole area aside for telemarking, never dreaming that we would have to say the area was closed to snowmachines.''

It wasn't an issue back then, Thompson said, because no one believed snowmachines could climb the steep slopes.

''The management plan for Hatcher Pass is clear in its intent,'' Thompson said. ''Because the technology for highmarking did not exist 10 years ago when the plan was written, no one thought it necessary to close this traditional ski area to snowmobiling when snowmobiles could not go there.''

These days, snowmachines with paddle tracks for fast hill climbing jostle with skiers and snowboarders. And sometimes, Thompson said, snowmachiners ride to the top of the mountain, put their machines in neutral and push them down the hill, riderless. Then they ski or snowboard down.

Snowmachining remains open in a corridor of the closed area, on a market and groomed trail from the Fishhook and Gold Mint parking lots over the pass to the Willow Creek drainage, where snowmobiling is encouraged.

Snowmachining also is open above the Fishhook parking lot on Marmot Mountain on the east side of Hatcher Pass as well as in many other areas, Thompson said.

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