Winter Wildlands Alliance HQ, Boise, Idaho

Winter Wildlands Alliance staff and Board of Directors convened at headquarters in Boise early in June for our annual summer board meeting, highway cleanup and whitewater session. We’re dialing in a new strategic plan and it’s always inspiring to gather together and talk about WWA’s future and the opportunities and challenges ahead.

And speaking of the future, we’re excited to welcome our new Backcountry Film Festival Manager, Melinda Quick! She’ll be starting July 16. Stay tuned for more on Melinda and her plans for the upcoming festival season.

Farm Bill and the Roadless Rule

On June 21, the House passed its version of the 2018 Farm Bill. The bill contains two attacks on the Roadless Rule: 1) a loophole that would allow logging and roadbuilding in about 10 million acres of roadless areas; and 2) an exemption from the Rule for Alaska’s national forests.

In addition to targeting the Roadless Rule, it also contains several attacks on bedrock environmental laws including the Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and the National Forest Management Act. Taken together, the provisions in the House bill would essentially exempt everything the Forest Service does in the forest management space from environmental review to public input.

Meanwhile, the Senate will likely vote on its version of a farm bill this week. Right now the Senate version doesn’t include the scary forestry provisions that the House version contains, and we are cautiously optimistic that the Senate will keep those provisions out of its bill.

Early next week, please contact your Senators to support the Senate’s effort to produce a bipartisan farm bill by including a federal forestry title focused on conservation, collaboration, and other bipartisan policies. There will likely be a Conference Committee the following week to reconcile the two versions of the bill and get it signed into law in August.

Winter Travel Planning

It wouldn’t be a Winter Wildlands Alliance policy update without talking about winter travel planning. We submitted comments on the Tahoe draft EIS on May 25th (you can read our comments here). WWA worked closely with our two local grassroots groups – Snowlands Network and Tahoe Backcountry Alliance – to draft these comments, which generally support the Forest Service’s proposed action with a few key modifications to protect super-important backcountry ski zones for non-motorized recreation.

Human-powered on the Eldorado NF. Photo by Erik Bennett

Now, our attention has turned to the Eldorado winter travel plan.

The Eldorado National Forest, just south of the Tahoe NF, published its draft EIS on June 22. Comments are due August 6. We’re just starting to dig into the draft plan, but so far it’s not looking good. Unlike the Tahoe, which analyzed a wide range of alternatives and had a pretty decent DEIS overall, 3 out of 4 of the Eldorado’s alternatives are basically the status quo with minor differences.

The one exception is the alternative that we developed (Alternative 3), which focuses OSV use in areas that receive consistent snowfall, where there is existing OSV infrastructure (trails and staging areas), and where it doesn’t conflict with non-motorized recreation.

Once we finish reviewing the Eldorado DEIS we’ll post information on how to comment as well as our analysis and suggested talking points on our website here.

Recent stewardship efforts in the Boise National Forest have bought together volunteers to help care for the places we play.

The Backcountry Film Festival is a collaboration of filmmakers, corporate partners, athletes and environmental grassroots leaders dedicated to gathering and engaging the backcountry community. Submit film for this year’s festival by Sept. 1st!

Montana skiers! Tell Congressman Gianaforte to withdraw H.R. 5148 and H.R. 5149

Congressman Gianaforte’s two WSA bills are scheduled for a hearing in the House Natural Resources Committee tomorrow. Combined, these bills would strip conservation protections from more than 800,000 acres of public lands and are opposed by a majority of Montanans. That’s right, despite the fact that a recent University of Montana poll showed that a whopping 81% of Montanans oppose these bills, Gianaforte is moving to advance both of them.

Gianaforte’s bills, along with companion legislation introduced by Senator Daines, would eliminate conservation protection for 29 Wilderness Study Areas in Montana. This would be the largest loss of protected land in Montana’s history. Given how strongly Montanans support protecting public lands, it should come as no surprise that these bills were drafted without any public meetings or other opportunities for the public to provide their input. Included in Gianaforte’s bills are the West Pioneer, Bitterroot, Sapphire, Judith, and Big Snowy Mountains WSAs on Forest Service lands as well as every BLM WSA in the state, including the Centennial Mountains WSA. Those who have stayed at the Hellroaring Hut near Mt. Jefferson can attest to the quality of skiing within this WSA.

The Centennial Mountatins WSA is one of the few small winter non-motorized areas in the Centennials but it’s only non-motorized because it’s a WSA. Gianaforte’s legislation would open this area to snowmobiles, completely changing the ski (and hut) experience.

Words and images by WWA Ambassador Brody Leven.

JUNE 18 2018 — Breathing a sigh of relief after visiting the beautifully strange country of Georgia, a puzzle piece between Azerbaijan, the Black Sea, and Russia. In a little over three weeks, I was able to make the first ascent and descent (on skis) of the SW Couloir (16030 ft) on Shkhara West (C) (16,627 ft), a subpeak of the country’s highest peak, Shkhara (F) (17,037 ft).

Image courtesy American Alpine Club.

 

It is a giant and striking couloir that I spotted from satellite imagery last year, then learned had been attempted twice before. Jason Thompson (@jason_n_thompson) had put in two very worthy efforts in 2008—when he and a strong team skied from about 2/3 of the way up the couloir—and again in 2015, when it was totally out of condition. He was generous with beta and wished us luck. I scoured any @americanalpine American Alpine Journal articles that might have offered a glimpse into the couloir, landscape, or hint of possibility.

Lost luggage, rockfall, avalanches, warm temperatures, rain, hail, sleet, grauple, and fog kept our attempts at bay until the eleventh hour, when it popped out of the clouds, and I saw it through binoculars for the first time. I was able to climb and ski the line the day before we were scheduled to ski off the glacier and start making our way back to civilization.

 

This one attempt proved successful, though I ended up solo after my partner, Mary McIntyre, decided to turn around halfway up the couloir, near the technical crux. I only measured the steepness once, a reasonable 53°. The most surprising and difficult part of the line was when I found the isothermic manky snow of 2AM had somehow transformed to ice in the afternoon sun (a weird version of radiation recrystallization?), making the bottom half of the route extremely icy and dangerous.