Sharing the backcountry | SierraSun.com
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Sharing the backcountry

Joanna Hartman
Sierra Sun
Dan Thrift/Sun News ServiceA snowmobiler hits powder in the Sierra. Skiers and snowmobilers in the Truckee-Tahoe area recreate in some of the same backcountry but are learning to share the wilderness.
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Despite an outcry from some quarters to ban snowmobiles from public lands in the Tahoe area, U.S. Forest Service officials in North Tahoe say they are not considering further restrictions on use of the machines.

Currently, snowmobiles are not allowed in specific areas of the backcountry below Castle Peak or on the south side of Mount Rose Highway in Tahoe Meadows. But Nevada City-based Snowlands Network has conducted petition drives asking the Forest Service to close other public lands to snowmobiles, including the Martis Peak area east of Brockway Summit.

And despite numerous complaints about snowmobile noise and scores of snowmobiles trespassing into the closed area in the Tahoe Meadows, the Carson Ranger District of the Forest Service plans to keep its current snowmobile boundaries.

“We have had numerous, numerous, numerous trespass issues with snowmobiles in the Tahoe Meadows, especially along the southern boundary,” said Lindsay Pulliam, representative for the Carson Ranger District. “We can only sign it and patrol it so much.”

Snowmobilers and skiers have historically had a contentious relationship in the backcountry, including areas around Mount Rose, Brockway Summit and Castle Peak. However, the two recreational groups share the backcountry better than one might think.

“Both groups view their recreational choice quite passionately. They both go out with their friends to enjoy the outdoors. Both groups relish the scenery and solitude. They both use the convenient locations available to them,” said snowmobiler Greg McKay in an e-mail interview with the Sierra Sun.

Skiers, snowshoers and boarders have the most freedom to access terrain because they are not limited by where they can go. The choices range from Granite Chief Wilderness, Desolation Wilderness and Mount Rose Wilderness areas, as well as various California and Nevada state parks, with no interference from snowmobilers, McKay said.

Snowmobilers, however, are not permitted in certain areas such as designated wilderness. Wayne Fischer, an avid snowmobiler and president of North Tahoe Snow Travelers, said area designations for specific recreation prevent user conflict, but that terrain restrictions affecting only snowmobilers are unfair.

“The problem is non-motorized people can come into an area and yell ‘Conflict!’ … the laws of the land are biased in one way,” Fischer said.

“I think conflict occurs when skiers and snowmobilers meet in an area at the same time,” said Don Fyfe, Alpenglow owner and backcountry enthusiast. “There are those who are courteous and those who are not.”

Athletes report little user conflict in some recreation areas, while other high-profile areas are known to have problems, including off the Mount Rose Highway.

“Tahoe Meadows has been a lightning rod issue for several years,” said Ellen Lapham, president of Snowlands Network.

Snowmobiles are permitted on just one side of the highway, but have been spotted in the non-motorized areas, according to non-motorized users.

“When you have a closure there are always problems. People say ‘I just want to go there and that’s that,'” said Bob Moore with the Truckee Ranger District of the Forest Service.

Moore said the occasional intruders in the non-motorized areas get a misdemeanor ticket nearing $300 if they get caught.

Many skiers and boarders simply avoid the places where snowmobilers are known to be less respectful.

“You make the active decision to not go where they are … it’s noisy and you get run over,” said Brendan Madigan, a backcountry skier. “I don’t have a problem with it, as long as they stay where they’re supposed to.”

Others skiers find it frustrating that the machines can go faster and farther in less time and for less energy.

“One snowmobile can eat up to 10 times the amount of snow in the same time 10 skiers can,” Fyfe said.

Marshall Evans, a snowboarder, snowmobiler and tour guide for Lake Tahoe Snowmobile Tours, said that while some skiers do complain about the noise and smell of the machines, those same skiers benefit from the company’s trail grooming. Evans said he rarely sees skiers on his guided tours but would be respectful nonetheless.

“We share the road with everyone,” Evans said. “For the most part everyone tries to get along.”

For a number of athletes the worlds of skiing and snowmobiling are united ” some skiers use snowmobiles to reach terrain that would otherwise be too far. And many snowmobilers were skiers and boarders themselves.

“The vast majority of snowmobilers and [cross country] skiers accept each other. There are a percentage of those on both sides that do not tolerate each other well,” McKay said.

If everyone accessing the backcountry is alert and aware, problems between recreational groups can be avoided, said backcountry skier Tim Snyder.

“There’s enough room for all of us to enjoy the backcountry,” Snyder said.


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