Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Sidecountry skiing proposal modified

‘High-use’ areas removed from outfitters’ application


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

Skiers protective of out-of-bounds powder have until Jan. 17 to comment on a proposal that would allow three local outfitters to conduct ski tours in Bald Mountain's "sidecountry."

Sun Valley Heli Ski Guides, Sun Valley Trekking and Sawtooth Mountain Guides applied in November for a U.S. Forest Service permit to conduct ski tours that begin on the Bald Mountain lifts and inbounds runs before clients and guides duck the rope and take off for the out-of-bounds area.

The application is for permission to ski in much of Baldy's sidecountry, including the Bassett Gulch area on the north side of the mountain, the Lime Kiln area on the southwest side into Greenhorn Gulch, and on the out-of-bounds Warm Springs "run" popularly known as Scorpion.

The original proposal, however, has been modified since the application two months ago, removing certain areas from the proposed permit. Several tracts considered "high-use" areas, such as much of the area burned by the 2007 Castle Rock Fire near Warm Springs, have been removed from the application.

Joe St. Onge, co-owner of Sun Valley Trekking, said last month that the area popularly known as The Burn was simply too risky to use for guided ski touring.

Turkey Bowl, southeast of Seattle Ridge, and an area of Greenhorn Gulch frequented by snowmobile users have also been removed from the permit application. Joe Miczulski, winter sports specialist for the Ketchum Ranger District, said the area west of Guyer Ridge has also been removed from the proposal.

While the original proposal would have allowed guides to take clients out for 600 total user days per season, that amount has been reduced to 66 user days per outfitter, for a total of 198 per season.

Miczulski said the changes were mostly made before a December public meeting on the sidecountry issue, in response to one-on-one conversations that the outfitters had with concerned parties.

Those informal comments won't be used in the Forest Service's decision-making process, Miczulski said, but the agency will take into consideration the approximately 70 written comments submitted so far.

The Forest Service has received about 30 comments since the public meeting last month, and Miczulski said he's not sure what the current pro-to-con ratio is, though it was roughly 2-to-1 in favor of the proposal prior to the meeting.

Miczulski also said he isn't sure whether the amended proposal will satisfy public concerns so far.

Though popular areas have been removed from the proposal and the number of users has been reduced, members of the public at the December meeting seemed mostly concerned about losing "first tracks" in the sidecountry, especially on powder days.

"This is Sun Valley," said Hailey resident Bill Gehrke. "This is not a powder place. We farm it, we take care of it, and to give it up to you guys—I don't want to stop going out there because of a few guides who want to ski off Baldy."

Mark Baumgardner, spokesman for Sun Valley Heli Ski Guides, said it's unlikely the outfitters would nab first tracks, as so much skier evaluation must take place before outfitters take clients out of bounds.

The public has until Jan. 17 to comment on the proposal, which is available on www.fs.fed.us/r4/sawtooth. Written comments should be sent to Ketchum Ranger District, Box 2356, Ketchum, ID 83340, Attn: Joe Miczulski, or to comments-intermtn-sawtooth-ketchum@fs.fed.us.

Miczulski said the extension of the comment period could result in a later decision than expected.

"We were hoping for a January decision, but we received quite a few comments," he said. "We'll have to analyze all of those before we make a decision."

A decision is anticipated by February.

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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