While it’s usually the West Coast that gets all the backcountry press, here in Vermont we have a long and rich history with both backcountry skiing and snowboarding.
“Backcountry Skiing is not a new sport in the Northeast, it’s actually a revival of a sport that enjoyed it’s hey day in the 1930s, then fell into a period of dormancy until relatively recently.” -David Goodman
This is best typified by the well know Teardrop trail, which we all know and love as a go-to spot off of Mount Mansfield. For it, we have the CCC to thank which cut Teardrop and many others like it during its hey day. While much of the old CCC infrastructure has fallen to the pages of history, a few dedicated locals kept gems like Teardrop intact to this day to help fuel the Backcountry renaissance we see in the Green Mountain State.
Unfortunately, as the popularity of backcountry skiing and riding has grown so too has the headaches. Everything as simple as places that were once guaranteed first tracks being skied out as fast as the glades at ski area, to lack of permission from private land owners and the state to gain access to new terrain. Even the lift accessed backcountry has started to run into problems with unprepared people dropping into the backcountry and getting lost, causing some lawmakers to propose overly harsh legislation targeted at out of bounds skiing and riding.
To date much of the Backcountry infrastructure in the state is focused on the nordic crowd, with groups like the Catamount Trail Association, and Bolton Friends, whose trails has provided choice access to rideable terrain, but much of their services focused on the touring crowd. It was time for us decent based riders to organize and gain a voice. Enter the Vermont Backcountry Alliance.
The VTBC launched in 2013 with the mission of protecting, advancing and advocating for “human-powered backcountry skiing and snowboarding in Vermont. The VTBC facilitates public access to backcountry terrain while promoting the conservation and responsible management of our mountain environment.” We recently had the chance to speak with Chair/SKI-E-O, Brian Mohr about the growth of Vermont Backcountry Alliance and what it means for Splitboarders.
Splitboard.com: What has been the initial focus of the VTBC and why should split boarders be excited about the new terrain that VTBC is working to open up?
Brian Mohr: Our big focus in 2014 has been to take some basic steps organizationally, while reaching out to and gathering input from Vermont’s broader backcountry community. These efforts will continue to be a top priority into 2015, as we building a solid base of support and strong partnerships is a practical strategy long term. Meanwhile, our pilot CTA/VTBC Chapter, the Rochester Area Sports Trail Alliance (RASTA), has been spearheading the development and responsible management of two new bc zones in the Rochester, VT area – one on a 1500 acre area of conserved land in Braintree, VT, on which glading work commenced last weekend; and another proposed area on Green Mountain National Forest (GMNF) land, for which approval is still pending. Our vision is that projects like these being developed by RASTA, and supported by the VTBC, can serve as a model for other groups interested in pursuing their own projects, locally, around the state. The VTBC could help to facilitate and streamline these projects through our developing relationships with major landowners, including the GMNF, the State of Vermont, town forests and land trusts or conservation organizations, while providing some of the resources for local groups to responsibly manage their own backcountry zones.
As we get more involved in helping to responsibly manage both new and even some existing bc zones, splitboarders and skiers of all abilities will have a greater variety of backcountry zones to consider – especially, we hope, options close to home, above town, on our way to work (think “commute chutes”), etc). Another major priority of the VTBC is the long term conservation of currently unprotected mountain lands, statewide. Advancing large scale land conservation efforts will help to keep our expansive mountain lands accessible and intact, and thus, help to preserve, long term, the incredible backcountry experiences we’re lucky to have today. It’s pretty cool to think that the steps we take today to help conserve and manage for backcountry riding will be places our kids and grandkids will get to ride, too.
Splitboard.com: What is on the Horizon for VTBC?
Brian Mohr: A big focus in 2015 is working with the State of Vermont and GMNF and other partners to publish a backcountry terrain management “handbook”, so that we all have something to reference, and for local groups to use as a starting point moving forward. We are also getting close to finalizing a new set of Vermont Backcountry Ethics, in partnership with Leave No Trace, for which we are still gathering feedback through our website this fall. I mentioned the organizational steps we continue to take. And as for terrain, a big focus for 2015 is to propose the management of one or two backcountry zones on State of Vermont lands. The State is excited to partner with us, and after hearing from the community at the forum in November, we should have a pretty good sense of what areas would make sense to prioritize.
Splitboard.com: How can splitboarders get involved?
Brian Mohr: The best way for Splitboarders to get involved is to support the VTBC by joining or donating to the CTA, our parent organization (or if you are near Rochester, you can join RASTA-Winter, a pilot CTA/VTBC Chapter). As we get off the ground, showing the CTA that the VTBC is more than just talk is essential. Membership comes with lots of perks, too, including a solid rewards book, and the inside scoop on upcoming projects, events and more. Another big way to get involved is to volunteer with the VTBC by helping with fundraising efforts, events, outreach and backcountry work days. Riders can subscribe to our Friends of VTBC email list right on the VTBC.org homepage, to stay tuned. Following us on Facebook is a great way to stay connected, too. Last, riders should consider pitching in or helping to develop their own local backcountry zones. Perhaps there is an existing mountain bike/trails group that wants to take on some winter backcountry skiing/riding projects, so keep that in mind, too.
So what does this all mean for the splitboard community? Long term it means more access to more terrain. Just as mountain bike organizations like VMBA have greatly increased the amount of terrain available to mountain bikers in Vermont, VTBC will be working on expanding the amount backcountry terrain, which means more face shots for everyone. If your worried about the VTBC blowing up your favorite honey hole, fear not, the VTBC is a bottom up organization that is looking to provide resources to locals to help them facilitate their backcountry zone when asked for help.