Mark Hartless: Both sides are wrong


In 2005, the U.S. Forest Service implemented a Winter Travel Management Plan for the Rabbit Ears/Buffalo Pass areas. The plan closed a large portion of the area to snowmobiles. As an avid snowmobiler, I made the mistake of participating in that planning process.

Since then, snowmobile use has increased, and parking has become scarce. Many snowmobilers argue that expanded parking is the solution to this perceived problem. The fact is that access via parking is not the solution; it often is the problem.

Any rancher understands that cattle cannot indefinitely be introduced into an area without the eventual destruction of the very resource that led him to that area in the first place. Ditto for snowmobilers. While the terrain on Rabbit Ears and Buffalo Pass might seem vast, those who know the area well and recreate there often acutely are aware of its limited “carrying capacity.”

When it comes to snowmobiling, the Rabbit Ears/Buffalo Pass areas are nearing the point of being “overgrazed.” Sure, another 10,000 sledders could be squeezed into the area, but the quality experience would be destroyed completely for those already there and for newcomers, as well.

Parking is a solution only if accompanied by more riding area. Until more terrain becomes available, there should be no expansion of parking. Nor should any new trails be built, marked or groomed.

If “overgrazing” is the problem in motorized areas, the opposite is true for nonmotorized areas. That area is underutilized extremely by the very folks who fought to take it from snowmobilers. Most of the terrain closed to snowmobilers eight years ago still is unused. At least half that ground should be re-opened to snowmobilers until the remaining half is better utilized.

Adding insult to this injury, many nonmotorized advocates still continue to promote wilderness and roadless areas that further constrict snowmobilers’ ability to “graze” away from nonmotorized areas. It is understandable that they want to “protect” areas they frequently access, but in some sort of knee-jerk environmental advocacy crusade run amok, they also work to close quality snowmobiling terrain far away from their favorite spots. This Pavlovian howling for more and more closures drives the snowmobile “herd” right back into their own garden. Not only is this unwise, it supports snowmobilers’ claim that nonmotorized users simply hate sledders and want to cause them grief.

Further proof that nonmotorized users haven’t learned this lesson is that they currently seek closure of thousands more acres in North Routt, where they utilize only a fraction of that amount and where their favorite areas largely had been avoided by snowmobilers voluntarily until that aggression began.

Nonmotorized users should cease the broad offensive, concentrate on portions they actually might use and begin to stand with snowmobilers rather than against them when it comes to areas they show no desire to access anyway.

Nonmotorized users also must adjust their expectations. While the desire for untracked snow and space is reasonable, being free from the sights, sounds, smells and all other evidence of snowmobilers in places like Rabbit Ears and Buffalo Pass in this day and age is unreasonable.

Wilderness areas total more than 235,000 acres in Northwest Colorado and more than 3,700,000 acres statewide. Vast amounts of additional nonmotorized terrain also are available.

To both sides I say: Enough is enough. Hoarding unused terrain and asking for more? Demanding more parking when riding areas already are saturated? Both sides are wrong here.

Want parking? Get up earlier. Want solitude? Go into the wilderness. Still not happy? I hear Alaska is wide open.

Mark Hartless

Steamboat Springs


Scott Wedel 4 years, 3 months ago


Is there actual data saying the nonmotorized areas are underused? Certainly, the nonmotorized areas have fewer tracks, but that is not the same as being underutilized.


Scott Wedel 4 years, 3 months ago


Fair enough. Any indication that Forest Service also recognizes that at least during the winter that motorized use in that area appears to be much more popular than the nonmotorized use?

I suggest this should be handled not so much as a philosophical battle, but a local economic development issue. Both snowmobiling and XC skiing support local businesses and attract tourists. So who gets what terrain should be viewed as what has a better economic effect and what areas are more popular for each.


mark hartless 4 years, 3 months ago


When it comes to what the USFS recognizes, your guess is as good as mine. They certainly don't listen to me, even though I ride sometimes 100 days/ yr and know a lot about what goes on up top. I guess for them it's more of an administrative issue to be handled from the office.

I have completely given up on being part of their "process" which, to me, seems like just something to check off their list before they do what they damn well please anyway. In fact, as I think back I can't help but think what an incredible waste of time it was being engaged and volunteering all those hours, then getting basically told FU. I don't think I'm alone there; a lot of sledders I know have had enough and they are just going riding and forget the "window dressing". Life's too short, you know?

Snowmobilers spend way, way more $$$$ into the local economy than backcountry skiers.

But let me be very clear, I don't think that means backcountry skiers should not be entitled to some space, they certainly should. I think it's quite reasonable that there should be some area set aside for them.

However, I think the Forest Service got the proportions wrong on Rabbit Ears in 2005. Skiers didn't need even 1/3 of that much terrain.

I'm concerned they are getting ready to make some even bigger mistakes in North Routt and expanding the snowmobile parking on Rabbit Ears is a terrible idea.

The non-motorized folks have been overreaching for a long time. I think it stems from how the "collaboration" process usually ends up giving them a fraction of whatever they ask for. Therefore they have learned, right or wrong, to simply ask for the moon and stars and settle for just the moon, so-to-speak. They also know that they can never lose terrain so they take the low-hanging fruit and return perennially for more. However, that mode of operation has began to tick a lot of sledders off and, I'm guessing some folks in the USFS as well. At least I imagine they get tired of seeing the same whining faces every week.


Ben Tiffany 4 years, 3 months ago

Mark, So you figure that looking at parking lots is a reliable indication of use. You don't strike me as the sort of person who would go out into the winter backcountry without some sort of motorized assist,so how would you really know whether non-motorized area are really being "underutilized"? (Is it fair to assume that you are not driving your sled out there for a better look?) How exactly do you define "underutilized"? Do you think the fields,meadows and forested areas need to be full of skier/hiker/snowshoer tracks to satisfy your definition of proper utilization? Believe me,there are skiers and other non-motorized users out there,plenty of them. You seem to think that if you can get there on your sled,that means you should have the right to be there. Is it not true that there are a number of websites that promote the attractiveness of Rabbit Ears Pass and North Routt as snowmobiling destinations? It seems that the majority of the users who show up with large trailers and multiple sleds and riders are from places like Pueblo,Colorado Springs,Wyoming and New Mexico,or even further away. Many of the riders I have encountered over the years are from those places,nice folks,generally. It's certainly true that snowmobiling (and motorsports in general) have greatly increased in popularity in recent years,and the demand for places to ride have naturally gone up as well. It is also true that non-motorized use is increasing,and those users need their space too. You have apparently decided that you "know" that non-motorized areas are underutilized,and therefore should be given to motorized users. No doubt you are unaware that many skiers tend to stay out of sight deliberately,skiing in the woods and other areas not often seen by sledders,enjoying their backcountry experience in quiet and solitude. Your opinion would mean more if it was based on something other than the lack of Suburus in trailhead parking lots. There is really no shortage of areas available legally for motorized users. As an experienced,avid local rider,I'm sure you know where those place are. Be sure and get there early.


mark hartless 4 years, 3 months ago


Unless non-motorized users have recently started walking up to Rabbit Ears then yes, parking lots are a reliable indicator of use. I know there is a small percentage of users who come in from the ski area or are dropped off on top and ski over and down through the ski area. I also know there are those who have been operating these "shuttle services" without permits.

Where did you learn that I do not ski in the backcountry? How do you know I have not been through those areas on skis or snowshoes? An assumption...I'm assuming...

Did you miss the last statement I made about how I agree with having non-motorized space?

Of course I define "utilized" differently than many non-motorized users. No doubt many of them think that they are "utilizing" every thing they can see. And, indeed they can, since, unlike snowmobilers, there is not one single acre of public land from which they have been excluded. For many, their sense of entitlement has truly gotten the better of them. As for going out without some sort of motorized assistance, isn't it true that someone uses motorized equipment to groom trails in the non-motorized areas for "non-motorized" users? Isn't it also true that many "non-motorized" users ski on trails in motorized AND non-motorized areas which have been groomed by MOTORIZED equipment? And isn't it true that when anyone really needs actual "assistance" in the non-motorized areas that motorized equipment is called in?

Did you know that just yesterday there were dozens of mtn bikers using groomed trails on Rabbit Ears. Riding their fat-tired bikes on trails groomed with snowmobilers money?

Don't you think, in the spirit of "paying their fair share" that non-motorized users should be required to pay for the services they use, instead of using snowmoblie funds??? Doesn't that seem "fair"??? With respect to your assertion that websites promote these areas, you are absolutely correct. Others promote skiing.


Ben Tiffany 4 years, 3 months ago

Hello Mark, Where to begin? First of all,regardless of what you think based on parking lot use,there is and has been plenty of skier/hiker/shoeshoer use of areas on Rabbit Ears. The number of users obviously varies with snow conditions,day of the week, and other factors. Have you been monitoring the parking lots on a daily basis to determine if these nonmotorized areas are being used? Have you been on skis or snowshoes in any of these areas to look for yourself? You imply that you have,but you have not actually said so. You are correct in saying that nonmotorized users have taken advantage of areas where motorized grooming was done. (I had not heard of "dozens" of mtn. bikers using trails groomed and paid for by snowmobiling clubs;that's a new one to me.) The only instance that I know of where such use is widespread is on the Bruce trail,which is groomed for the use of track skiers. I rarely use any groomed trails on Rabbit Ears Pass,other than to cross them on my way to somewhere that I wish to ski. I would be very happy to break trail from my car to as far as I am going and back,if it guarentees me untracked powder skiing when I get there. So no,I don't feel any obligation to pay for any services provided by snowmobiler or anyone else's funds;I pay my taxes,and doesn't the CDOT plow the roads and parking lots on the pass? ( If there are indeed so many mountain bike users of the groomed trails on Rabbit Ears Pass,I would agree that they should help pay for the grooming and maintenance of those trails.) I think that is a very good thing that there are groups such as Search and Rescue that will go and help anyone that needs assistance in the backcountry,regardless of where they are,but that has nothing to do with recreational use of the terrain. Motorized user groups have been very good at promoting their sport,especially on Rabbit Ears Pass,and it does no good to whine that you don't have enough terrain because of it. There are so very many places that you can go,if you are willing to make the effort to get there. With a sled you can sure cover lots more ground much faster than a skier can,going to many places that skiers rarely if ever reach. I think that you just like to complain,Mark! I really don't think you've made much of a case for expanding terrain for motorized use on Rabbit Ears Pass. Try and play nice with the other users,even if you don't like them very much.


mark hartless 4 years, 3 months ago

So, Ben.

If skiers rarely if ever reach many of the places I ride (and that's true), then why do so many of them continue to fight to close more and more terrain which is completely out of their reach? Is it because they simply hate sledders and want to piss us off, or do they ultimately want to shut us down alltogether???

And if it's the latter, why should we not meet that attack with equal force???


Ben Tiffany 4 years, 3 months ago

Perhaps you could be a little more specific as to which areas that you are talking about? You are sounding a bit paranoid now.


mark hartless 4 years, 3 months ago

If you're not paranoid, Ben, it's because you are not paying attention.

I'll round up some of the comments from the last USFS comment period a couple years ago and have them for you shortly. Anyone can obtain them with a FOIA request. I have them on file.

To paraphrase, one in particular said snowmobiles should be "pushed into Wyoming". I'm guessing most skiers can't quite ski that far from the Columbine parking lot, ESPECIALLY unless they use the trail groomed by snowmobilers funds and groomed with a motorized groomer. But they seem to have that "trailer park" attitude: "if I can't have her, nobody will".

One big-time anti-snowmobile advocate in particular moved up there, right next to the parking lot knowing snowmobilers parked there and immediately started quacking about the parking lot needing to be moved. I didn't realize skiers liked skiing in that lot. Kind of like moving to the airport and then bitchin about the planes, no?

They have also tried to shut down snowmoblie traffic on 129, something for which they have pettitioned the county no less than 3 times. That's all doccumented and available for anyone who wants to read about it. Did you know about that, Ben??

I'm not sure how much quality skiing is being ruined by snowmobilers in the RCR129 right-of-way. I guess I just figured it was an attempt to squelch snowmobiling by shutting down their ability to move about.

But I'm probably just paranoid.

Imust also confess it's just an assumption on my part that the anti-snowmobile folks tended to be more prone to advocate for wilderness and roadless areas. Of course, that assumption can also be supported or refuted with a simple FOIA request.

Have you ever took the time to read some of the comments turned in to the USFS from the anti-motorized crowd? Very hostile. Not very "tolerant" comments, really. I have read many, many hours worth of them, and the same complaints and requests come up over and over and over and over and over and...

The funny thing is that they were the same comments that came up on Rabbit Ears, so we gave up Rabbit Ears. Then the same comments came up about Buffalo Pass. Now they come from the SAME "tolerant" folks about north routt. Next it will be the Flattops, and so on. But, again, I'm probably just being paranoid.


john bailey 4 years, 3 months ago

akin to bringing the paying crowd downtown to spend their hard earned dollars, just to have the local live- ins complain about the noise. keep your stinking hands off the flattops all ya'll. we down here like it just fine.


Ben Tiffany 4 years, 3 months ago

Mark, I should have given you more credit for the research work you have done as an advocate for the motorized users of the national forest. I confess that I have not read many of the comments regarding different areas in contention. (I've sent in a few myself,which you may have read;hopefully you will have found my letters to be well-reasoned and not vitriolic as some of the others you've seen.) I imagine (but don't know for sure,obviously) that there have been some pretty nasty comments from both sides of the argument,and perhaps not many that are reasoned and actually interested in a fair solution;everybody just wants to win. It IS possible that the same complaints keep coming in because nothing is being done about them,regardless of whether they are reasonable or not. I'll concede that you have a right to feel paranoid,but I doubt that you are losing the battle. It will go on and on,and you and I will still continue to ride and ski powder,just like we always have. I have to thank you for giving me some other points to think about, and although we are not likely to agree on much, I really do appreciate your point of view. Think snow!


mark hartless 4 years, 3 months ago


I don't have much time but here are a few quotes from the Columbine access comment period as promised: I could put names with these quotes, but I'm way too nice a guy to do that.

"How did this come to be named the Columbine access project when it should have been named the Wyoming access project?"

"...Home Ranch and Vista Verde clientele pay top dollar for a quiet, pristine experience". (which they expect to get 10 feet off the highway rather than in the wilderness???) (and which they apparently believe they can purchase)

"Alternative 3 is unacceptable because it would put snowmobiles in non-motorized areas..." (This comment was quite frequent. Someone has convinced a lot of folks that the areas in question are non-motorized. They ARE NOT. But they WERE basically left alone by sledders till the anti snowmobilers started their scheming on how to push us into WY)

"The Friends of the Routt Backcountry(FORB)long ago identified the Quarry parking lot (the one used by snowmobilers for decades) as a natural trailhead parking lot for a Winter Quiet Use Area on Hahns Peak." (meaning another non-motorized area) "Not allowing trailers (they mean dsiallowing what is already allowed) at the Quarry Lot would be a simple way to facilitate this."

"Put them (snowmobilers) out the farthest where they don't bother anyone...let skiers have a good time." Sounds like some real "tolerant" folks, no???


Ben Tiffany 4 years, 3 months ago

Mark, I would have to agree that the above comments are not helpful and seem to be either irrelevant or ignorant for the most part. To be fair,I wonder what sort of comments were received in favor of Alternative 3? My experience is that ignorance and arrogance runs on both sides of most arguments,particularly ones having to do with such a sensitive topic. Just exactly how "tolerant" are those that favored Alternative 3? Might have to file a FOIA request myself to find that out.


mark hartless 4 years, 3 months ago

You are right, Ben.

There were some "off the wall" comments all around. Just wanted to point out that the "sledheads" are not the only "intense" people in northwest Colorado.

Also really wanted you to know that some of us really do pay really close attention and we're disinclined to continue to roll over from this point forward.


brian ferguson 4 years, 2 months ago

Embrace the snowmobile.catch a ride to the wilderness line and go ski the good stuff.its o.k.I wont tell.


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