Thanks to the efforts of Kevin and Molly Grove, Brian Barry and Lee Stevenson, among others, last night skiers intent on maintaining the right to climb/skin Mount Bachelor had the opportunity to meet face-to-face with Mt. Bachelor, Inc president Dave Rathbun and representatives of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS).
35 skiers showed up for the hour and a half meeting that took place at the Bend/Fort Rock Ranger District offices.
Introductory remarks from those representing the ski community stressed a willingness to work cooperatively with Mt. Bachelor to rescind the now-in-place ban on uphill travel at the ski area.
After pointing out why skinning up is popular (exercise, practicing and perfecting backcountry techniques, photography, early morning solitude) it was noted that the majority of the current crop of uphillers are: a) highly experienced and safety minded skiers and, b) are, for the most part, Mt. Bachelor season pass holders.
Those skiers, Kevin Grove cited, seek a safe, responsible and least restrictive access to the mountain.
Mt. Bachelor’s Rathbun responded by laying out a plan that calls for a single uphill route starting at Sunrise Lodge following I-5 to the top of Rainbow where there would be a kiosk informing skiers if the upper reaches of the mountain were open to uphill travel. Kiosk signage would also indicate the hours during which the upper portion of the mountain would be open to uphill and subsequent downhill travel.
From the kiosk, the uphill route heads to Beverly Hills and then towards the summit.
Acknowledging that the skiers in the room were well versed in mountain travel and safety, Rathbun noted that his and the area’s concern was with people not as well prepared and competent. He cited several instances of uphill skiers being in harm’s way on the mountain last year.
Rathbun reiterated that safety concerns with regard to uphill-downhill skier conflicts, avalanche control, and grooming operations (especially winch-grooming) were the primary reasons for instituting the current ban on uphill travel.
He offered that once the kiosk is up and in use, that Mt. Bachelor could also post that information on its website so skiers could know whether or not to travel to the mountain on a given day.
With that said, Rathbun maintained that even after the kiosk and new uphill route are established that uphill travel would most likely be limited to the period between the mountains’ official opening and closing times.
This could be a major sticking point in future negotiations in a meeting that has been proposed between a designated group of uphill skiers, Rathbun, and key Mt. Bachelor grooming and ski patrol personnel. The date for that meeting has yet to be set.
So where does that leave things? From all indications, a safe, designated uphill route will come into existence, but when?
Leaving the meeting one skier offered, “More meetings and negotiations are really more foot dragging and I don’t expect anything to happen until next year. By then, I think Bachelor and the USFS hope the problem will go away.”
The morning after the meeting, that same comment was echoed in e-mails and phone calls. On a slightly different note, an avid uphiller who stopped me at Juniper Swim and Fitness said: “It’s shame Bachelor didn’t get the skier community involved in this earlier. Just when you think Mt. Bachelor is becoming more community minded, they go an do this and unravel much of the goodwill they’ve been able to create more recently.”
That remains to be seen as the optimists among us think that Mt. Bachelor will listen to the uphiller’s pleas and create a plan that will be in place sooner than expected.