An open letter to snowsports industries, snow recreationists

A letter from our Executive Director, Todd Walton

Winter Wildlands Alliance represents backcountry skiers, snowboarders, snowshoers and other human-powered enthusiasts’ interest to protect and preserve the places we recreate and hold sacred.

As the temperature began to fall, we started to ask ourselves how we can take care of each other this winter, and how we can continue to love the backcountry without loving it into oblivion.

We know this is going to be a busy season in the backcountry. For one, the top growth category for ski and ride over the past several years has been backcountry gear, and sales have only accelerated since pandemic lockdowns began. Once backcountry gear started to fly off of shelves in March 2020, we began seeing bigger crowds at all of our favorite backcountry trailheads, parking lots and access points.

We’re already seeing retailers from New England to California rack up backcountry gear sales, including snowshoes, XC skis and accessories. Add to that a need for social distancing and a series of new reservation systems for season pass holders, and we’re certain that crowding will be an issue this winter.

So why is this a problem, beyond making it harder to find untracked pow?

Based on what we saw last season, especially at trailheads in the west, we will be dealing with trash, human waste (if you can believe it) and parking overflowing onto busy roads and private land.

Add to that a whole new crop of first-timers with little or no snow safety experience, and the risk of human-triggered avalanches will more than likely increase this year with a potential for higher fatality rates, especially in closer proximity to population centers.

This year, protecting the places we play will be even more important than ever. Being informed and keeping our winter wilderness as pristine as possible plays a big part in protecting our environment, keeping our resources clean and enhancing the experience for everyone. Because of this, we’re asking all trail users to do what they can to help the cause.

First, understand that access to — and use of — public lands varies from place to place. Do your homework and learn as much as possible about an area before you head into the backcountry. This includes where to access it legally and safely, knowing the terrain so you don’t get in over your head, checking avalanche forecasts for your location and understanding what types of users are going to be out there with you. A little respect for where you’re going, how safe it may (or may not) be, and other trail users will go a long way.

Mountain towns are appreciative of tourism and we want to keep it that way, so it’s best to make sure you are being a good guest. A little consideration goes a long way. Also understand that hospitals and health care resources in smaller towns can be easily overwhelmed, so play it smart and play it safe.

We’ve all heard the terms “front country” and “side country.” And while these are convenient ways to describe where you might be skiing, it’s best to think of all of these areas as backcountry. As such, we ask that you act responsibly and always “Ski Kind” and practice avalanche safety.

If you are planning to gain access to the wilderness through a managed ski area, please keep in mind that resorts all have their own policies when it comes to skinning and hiking for turns. Please check with resorts to understand how they manage these activities and follow any rules they have in place. This goes for parking, too. Space can be limited, so know the guidelines for where you’re going and take advantage of shuttle services when you can.

This year is going to be an interesting one in the backcountry, to say the least. If we all do our part to be informed, be aware, and Ski Kind, we can all have a steep, deep, and safe winter season.

Pray for snow and Ski Kind!