Tom Ross: Backcountry crowd knows how to party

Now, if only all that energy could be applied to powder diplomacy


And to think it happened in Steamboat Springs. I went to a party at the Art Depot Center on Saturday night, and I saw a man carrying a cup full of amber beer in the chest flap of his lederhosen. And that's not all I saw.

I saw a woman in a full skirt spinning so fast on the dance floor that her petticoats flew straight out.

I saw another woman in a glamorous dress fall to the dance floor and flop on her back like a fish. And there was absolutely nothing wrong with her -- she was dancing!

I listened to a deejay whose set list alternated among head-banging punk-rock standards, country classics such as Freddy Fender (do you think that's his real name?) and Aretha Franklin's Motown hits.

I guess if you purchase a ticket for a soiree called the Backcountry Ball, you've got to expect the unexpected.

The Backcountry Ball was a benefit to raise funds to support the efforts of the Friends of the Routt Backcountry to preserve areas of the Routt National Forest for nonmotorized recreation. The party was a sellout, and I guess that by putting myself among several hundred granola heads in attendance, I betrayed a certain bias.

What the heck, I'm a Nordic skier, and I don't own a snowmobile. And I'm not going to pretend otherwise. But that doesn't mean I'm anti-snowmobiling. Every time I've driven a snowmobile, I've found it to be exhilarating. And if the day ever arrives, I'd gladly accept a backcountry rescue by snowmobile.

Anyone in Routt County who appreciates powder is aware of the growing tension among hybrids who use snow machines to get to backcountry snowboarding and skiing, Nordic purists, snowmobilers and snowshoe nation.

Among the entire group, skiers and snowshoers probably have the most in common. But when you get right down to it, skiers even bemoan the occasions when nonmotorized showshoers ignore signs asking them to make their fat tracks by clomping along parallel to existing twin ski trails. There's nothing worse than skiing up the hill on the north side of the West Summit and finding the ski tracks have been obliterated by a gaggle of snowshoers. So, if skiers and snowshoers are never quite going to mix, it's a safe bet that snowmobiling and skiing are incompatible.

OK, you already knew that. But I had a great chance to mull all of this over Saturday afternoon during a long skate ski along a snowmobile road on Rabbit Ears Pass. That's right, I went skate skiing on a road being prepped for snowmobiling, and it was a great day. I even waved to the only two snowmobilers I encountered, and they returned the pleasantry. The new recreation boundaries imposed by the U.S. Forest Service (after a seven-year-long public process) are in place on Rabbit Ears and Buffalo passes, and Forest Service personnel will be putting up maps at the trailheads and boundary signs out in the field.

Nobody is really satisfied with where the new boundaries are drawn, and Forest Service personnel inevitably will catch flak as they begin the difficult task of enforcing the boundaries.

Here's the thing. The Hahn's Peak Ranger District's budget for recreation programs isn't growing. It has limited resources to make this work. If it works, it will be because we made it work.

Download a copy of the new boundary maps for Rabbit Ears and Buffalo passes at

Skiers, when traveling in mixed-use areas, make room for passing snowmobiles. On Buffalo Pass, everyone is required to yield the right-of-way to cumbersome snowcats. Area snowmobilers, help educate visitors from the Front Range so they can understand the new boundaries.

And just in case you were wondering, lederhosen are a Bavarian style of leather knickers or shorts, often with suspenders connected by a chest plate that isn't really intended for the transport of malt beverages. But then, anything goes at the Backcountry Ball.


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