Over 60 attendees from joined Winter Wildlands Alliance for a busy but fun Grassroots Conference in Golden, CO in late June. Participants came to learn about the Over-Snow Vehicle Rule, Forest Service winter travel management planning, grassroots organizing, SnowSchool, and efforts to define a set of ethics for the backcountry ski and snowboard community.

The conference kicked off with an evening keynote by noted backcountry ski guide Donny Roth, who shared his thoughts on why it’s important to protect the winter backcountry, much as a gardener cares for their own backyard. Then, the following morning, we learned how winter recreation advocates can use the Over-Snow Vehicle Rule to get involved in determining how their backcountry playgrounds are managed. Leslie Weldon, Deputy Chief of the Forest Service called on skiers to help the Forest Service identify the places that matter to us and stressed the importance of public participation in the winter travel management process. Participants then heard from a number of speakers who described in detail what exactly the Over-Snow Vehicle Rule is and how winter travel planning works.

Just over the hill from Golden, the White River National Forest has already gone through winter travel management planning and several people who were involved in this process – from Forest Service staff to skiers to conservation advocates – were on hand to share their experiences and lessons learned. In addition, conference attendees learned about working with diverse stakeholders and collaborative decision-making from representatives of the Vail Pass Task Force. This multi-stakeholder group has been coming up with collaborative solutions for managing the popular Vail Pass Winter Recreation Area for over 20 years.

We also invited representatives from the snowmobiling community – leaders from the Idaho, Colorado, and California state snowmobile associations – to come to the conference and share their thoughts on winter travel planning. In their presentation leaders from the Idaho, Colorado, and California state snowmobile associations discussed how the snowmobile community contributes both money and volunteer labor to maintain the groomed trail network and stressed that snowmobilers go into the backcountry for many of the same reasons that skiers do – for adventure, solitude, and family fun. We all recognize the value of collaboration and it’s clear that there’s quite a bit of agreement between Winter Wildlands Alliance and the state snowmobile associations when it comes to how to best engage in winter travel planning. It is our hope that these discussions with snowmobilers at the Grassroots Conference, including with representatives from the American Council of Snowmobile Associations,  opened the door to more conversations, and collaboration, to ensure that winter travel planning brings balance to the backcountry in a way that provides high quality recreation opportunities for all user groups.

On the last day of the conference we shifted our focus from policy and travel management to look more at grassroots organizing and the broader issues that affect the winter recreation community. Former WWA board member Reid Haughey started the day off with donuts and a presentation on the roles and responsibilities of non-profit boards. We then heard from a panel representing three different organizations with different approaches to grassroots organizing and learned how to use everything from social media to good old fashioned ski trips to engage our community.

Winter Wildlands Alliance’s very own Cailin O’Brien-Feeney brought the day back to winter travel planning with his presentation on Best Management Practices for over-snow vehicle management. He then teamed up with Brian Smith from Adventure Projects to present the internet’s newest ski beta sharing sensation – Powder Project. Powder Project is more than just a cool site for getting information on where to ski – data collected from the website will help Winter Wildlands Alliance and our partners identify and advocate for protecting important backcountry ski terrain.

We wrapped up the conference with an engaging discussion on backcountry ethics. The Utah Avalanche Center’s Drew Hardesty shared the UAC’s newest video promoting conscientious backcountry behavior and made the case for why the backcountry community would benefit from a defined set of ethics for how to behave when we’re out playing in the powder. Ned Houston, from the Vermont Backcountry Alliance, followed up by sharing the set of ethics that the Vermont Backcountry Alliance developed this past winter to promote community and protect access for backcountry skiing in Vermont. Black Diamond’s creative director, Alex Hamlin, joined the conversation to talk about why this idea of backcountry ethics is something that matters to the outdoor gear industry and how Black Diamond is helping to move the conversation forward.

In between presentations the room was abuzz with conversation as conference participants got to know each other, shared stories and information about the issues they’re working on at home, and made plans for future collaboration. It was tough to have to cut these great conversations short at the end of every break but nobody wanted to miss out on any of the excellent presentations either!

Winter Wildlands Alliance is absolutely thrilled with the turnout, quality of presentations, and interest of participants at this most recent Grassroots Conference. The conference educated and inspired attendees to be leaders in winter travel planning efforts on their local National Forests and we look forward to working with everybody to bring balance and certainty to the winter backcountry.