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  • Writer's pictureMichael Graw

5 Ways the Backcountry Community Can Help Cascade Backcountry Alliance

TLDR:

  1. Respect the rules wherever you go skiing

  2. Be a good ambassador for the backcountry community

  3. Reduce crowding by exploring less popular areas

  4. Buy uphill travel and Sno-Park passes

  5. Stay informed about the latest access issues


Female backcountry skier with mountains in background
Photo credit: Kyle McCrohan

The Cascade Backcountry Alliance is an advocacy group by and for the winter recreation community. We rely on a team of volunteers to track the latest challenges to recreation access, collaborate with land managers, and develop solutions for maintaining and expanding winter backcountry access across Washington.


However, there’s only so much we can do on our own. It takes the collective effort of the backcountry community to protect access to the places we love and expand our future access.


We’re asked all the time by fellow backcountry users what they can do to help the Cascade Backcountry Alliance. So today, we’re sharing the top 5 ways that the community can support our mission and become advocates for winter recreation in Washington.


1. Respect the Rules

We know as well as anyone that road closures, parking restrictions, and limitations on uphill travel at ski resorts make it harder to access the backcountry and enjoy the outdoors. However, ignoring the rules or trying to skirt around them is harmful to the long-term success of our community.


We can’t stress enough how important it is for backcountry users to follow all access rules, whether you agree with them or not. If there’s a road closure, don’t try to go around it. If a ski area requires an uphill pass, buy a pass or explore other options. If a trailhead is closed, respect the closure and ski, ride, or snowshoe elsewhere.


The best path forward for the backcountry community lies in building constructive partnerships with land managers. Land managers are much more likely to listen to our concerns if we’re respectful, and much more likely to shut down all backcountry access if we’re not.


Being able to show that we’re willing to follow regulations also puts us in a better position to advocate for more backcountry-friendly rules in the future. We need a seat at the table to help develop regulations that allow for more skiing, riding, and snowshoeing access. That seat will only be offered if land managers believe we’re acting in good faith as a community.


In addition, many access limitations are due to safety concerns. As an example, take Mount Rainier National Park, where the road to Paradise is closed on weekdays for the entire winter season.


The park service can’t simply leave the road ungated if there are no resources available to plow the road. If the snow line is halfway up the road, there’s nowhere for cars to safely turn around. If there’s an unexpected snowstorm while people are out skiing or snowshoeing at Paradise, they could be stuck for days.


Land managers don’t always communicate these concerns or the rationale behind rules to the backcountry community. However, disagreeing with or not understanding a rule isn’t a justification to not follow it.


2. Be a Good Ambassador

Every time you go out touring or snowshoeing, you’re representing the backcountry community. So, it’s important to put your best foot forward to give our community the positive image it deserves.


It doesn’t take much to be a good ambassador. If you see a snowmobiler, give them a friendly wave. If you’re starting your tour or hike from a ski area parking lot, be nice to the lot attendants. When posting online, be respectful. Remember that conversations online can quickly make their way to the ears of land managers.


These small measures can have a big impact on the way other stakeholders view the backcountry community and their willingness to work with us on access issues.


3. Spread Out

Part of the reason that backcountry access is growing increasingly contentious is that there are more backcountry users than ever. That puts a lot of pressure on popular trailheads and ski resort parking lots.


At ski resorts in particular, parking is a limited resource—a resource that resorts would like to reserve for paying downhill users. In the past, when there were only a few backcountry users each day, resorts were less likely to care about the parking spaces they took up. However, when there are hundreds of backcountry users at Stevens Pass, Snoqualmie, and Heather Meadows on a sunny weekend, that can become a problem for ski resort operations.


We’re working with ski resorts and land managers to find long-term solutions to this problem. In the meantime, a good way to reduce pressure on ski resort parking lots and other popular winter trailheads is to spread out.


There are dozens of underutilized Sno-Parks in the Cascades that provide winter backcountry access. There are also many hikes and ski tours that aren’t done frequently simply because they’re less well-known and less popularized online.


Guidebooks can be a great resource for finding new areas to ski or snowshoe. We’re also working on our own guide to lesser-known but very worthwhile snowshoe hikes. Next time you head into the mountains, consider checking out a new area instead of heading to one of the ski resort parking lots on a busy day.


4. Demonstrate Value

One of the best ways that the backcountry community can expand access in the future is to flex our economic muscle. Backcountry skiing, riding, and snowshoeing are increasingly popular, and land managers will be much more enthusiastic about working with the community if there are economic benefits to doing so.


Ski resorts, for example, may be more willing to allow uphill travel on groomed and avalanche-controlled trails if uphill users pay for access. If there’s strong demand for uphill passes, resorts could ultimately allow uphill travel on more trails and build more amenities specific to uphill and backcountry users.


That’s why we’re optimistic about Snoqualmie’s new uphill travel pass. We know that this pass requires users to pay for access that was previously free. However, the uphill pass model is significantly better than the resort banning access altogether and could lead to increased access for uphill travel in the future.


You can also support the Sno-Park program by buying an annual Sno-Park pass. A pass is required if you want to park at a Sno-Park trailhead. However, it’s worth considering a pass even if you just use the trailhead bathrooms or check groomer reports to get an idea of conditions after a storm. The program is funded entirely by pass sales, so buying a pass directly benefits the maintenance of existing Sno-Parks and the opening of new sites for winter recreation.


5. Stay Informed

Last but not least, stay up to date on the latest backcountry access issues. We depend on the community to let us know where access could be improved and when changing regulations restricts backcountry access. We also rely on community feedback to determine what projects to prioritize.


In the future, we may also ask the backcountry community to take a more active role in helping us advocate for access. You can sign your name on a petition, write to your representatives, and speak up when the Forest Service and other land managers have public comment periods.


Reading our blog and following us on social media are great ways to show your support for Cascade Backcountry Alliance and stay informed. You can also join our mailing list to get the latest updates on our access projects delivered straight to your inbox.


Working Together to Improve Backcountry Access

Every backcountry skier, rider, and snowshoer has an important role to play in helping promote our community and advocate for backcountry access.


When you’re out in the mountains, follow the rules, be positive, and consider exploring new areas to reduce crowding. Check out our blog to stay informed about the latest efforts to improve winter recreation in Washington.


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