By JAY HAGENBUCH
I am writing in complete opposition to opening up more of the valley’s Nordic trails to dogs.
I love my three dogs and often enjoy skiing with them. However, they can be a hazard and should be allowed on very limited sections of our Nordic ski trails.
Dogs should be under voice control on the trails, and they rarely are. Even though many dogs on the bike trail during the warmer months are on leashes, it is extremely rare to see any leashes on the Nordic trails. This is a problem as the movement of free-running dogs is unpredictable, and they can suddenly and unexpectedly move directly into the path of skiers, causing injury to the skiers, the dogs or both. This would be particularly the case on fast, steep and curving sections of the trails where there is limited forward visibility and where dogs are not currently allowed.
Even though few dog owners seem to admit this of their own dogs, “other people’s dogs” can sometimes be aggressive. They can fight with other dogs and can bark at, menace and occasionally bite skiers. Whenever something like this happen, dog owners almost invariably say that such and such has never happened before. And, in their minds, this simple statement seems to completely absolve them of all responsibility. I have a woman friend who was bitten on the trail last year, and, incredibly enough, the owner’s response was to angrily question what she had done to make his dog act in this supposedly unusual way.
Sun Valley is justifiably known for having some of the best-groomed Nordic trails in North America. Paw prints, hikers’ footprints, snowshoe tracks and snowmobiles can chew up and seriously degrade the trails. That’s one of the reasons why hikers, snowshoers and snowmobiles are banned from the trails, and it’s a good reason for limiting dog access as well.
Despite dog owners’ initial and perhaps best intentions to clean up after their dogs, very few end up wanting to carry a plastic bag or bags of dog poop inside their form-fitting ski jackets. Often, if they are used, poop-filled plastic bags are left by the side of the trails, presumably with the idea that some BCRD employee has the responsibility to collect and remove them.
Let’s now turn to Lake Creek, which is the home of the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation’s race programs for its various teams—Devo (ages 7-10), Prep (ages 11-13), Competition (ages 14-18) and Gold (which consists of post-high school and often world-class athletes). The idea at Lake Creek is to have a race arena with steep and challenging terrain, on which even the youngest athletes can learn to ski fast. Does it make sense to allow dogs into the mix at Lake Creek?
From a Nordic standpoint, we are best known for the Boulder Mountain Tour, which runs the length of the Harriman Trail from Galena to the SNRA headquarters. Many local and visiting skiers are moving very fast when training on the trails for the BMT. It’s one thing to have dogs on flat sections of the trail with great forward visibility, but it’s quite another to have them running free on the technical and steep sections found on the northern two-thirds of the trail, where they can cause serious accidents. Why does the Sun Valley Co. not allow dogs, hikers or snowshoers on its Nordic trails or on the alpine runs on Dollar Mountain or Bald Mountain? Because accidents will inevitably happen.
The recent Mountain Express poll, despite following two published opinions that advocated more trail use by dogs, showed a strong 2-to-1 majority in favor of leaving trail access as it is. Skiing on our wonderful trails is not a right but a privilege that we all enjoy and pay for. There are commonsense rules in place that should be observed by everyone. Just as the ski patrol lifts the passes of reckless skiers on Baldy, I would hope that the BCRD would suspend the season passes of repeat violators of clear, long-standing and sensible rules limiting dog access to only specified sections of our Nordic trails.
Let’s keep the access for dogs on our Nordic ski trails simply as it is.
Jay Hagenbuch lives north of Ketchum.