I’ve often thought how wonderful it would be to show up at a Forest Service meeting with a big sack of cash. “Here you go, I brought this for you. Keep it.” While this may sound crass and borderline illegal, it is essentially what all of the ski areas and guiding concession do by way of leases and permit fees, which is probably why the Forest Service listens to them so closely. Conversely, backcountry users pay nothing and demand things like trailheads, rangers and avalanche forecasters, all of which costs the Forest Service money. Personally, I’d be in favor of a small pay-to-play fee for backcountry use along the lines of a hunting and fishing license, which is about $40 per year. The dollar amount is trivial compared to the price of a day ticket at a ski resort, and it would serve to both bring in revenue for the Forest Service and provide an all important head count.
A common sentiment at land use meetings is that backcountry skiers just want to “save all of the powder for themselves and their six other friends.” While the first part may be true, the second part is way off – on any given day there are hundreds, if not thousands of people using the Wasatch backcountry. It has been estimated that Wasatch backcountry usage is the equivalent of one ski resort on any given day. Unfortunately, there is no way to prove this as there hasn’t been an accurate trailhead census done for years, if ever. To add to this, the Forest Service also relies on data collected by its concessionaires such as the Wasatch Powderbird Guides, who in 2008/09 claimed they saw a total of 408 backcountry users for the entire season, versus the 1,293 that WPG flew. If you were a Forest Service bureaucrat looking at that, you might think that heli skiers outnumbered human powered recreationalists by a ratio of 3 : 1, which is hardly the case.
But now is the time to stand up and be counted. The standing part is actually optional, but if you use the Wasatch backcountry in any form and would like to be part of a unified voice, the Wasatch Backcountry Alliance has been recently formed to do just that. There are no fees and it is as simple as going to http://wasatchbackcountryalliance.org/ and entering your name and email address. The organization and website is brand new, so you don’t have to worry about reading a bunch of stuff because there is nothing there yet except a sign-up option. Spam and selling your e-mail address is not a concern as the organization is run by a bunch of skiers who have a hard enough time just finding the on/off button on their computer.
It doesn’t matter if you are a 100 day a year local or a once every five year visitor, or whether you are a skier, snowboarder, snowshoer, hunter, birdwatcher, runner, hiker or kite flyer. If you use the Wasatch backcountry and want to be involved in decisions that effect it, joining the Wasatch Backcountry Alliance is a great first step.