Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Somewhere in the Middle

An unknown snow machiner with a snow board on Sunnyside, Turnagain Pass, Alaska

Why do I love expensive hobbies? As if skiing and photography aren't enough, but then you add a hundred horses and its obvious that this new discovery has the potential to damage a savings account. I think my hippie roots are strong enough to keep me earning my turns on my own two feet, at least some of the time. However I can't deny the access a snow machine can open up to mountaineering, ski touring, and kiting... and its hard to say no to such a sweet invitation.

Snow machining also known as snow mobiling has always been a little controversial, at least in some of the circles I've hung out in. Images of rednecks, mullets, and republicans (well...Todd Palin) have stereotyped this sport for quite some time. It is a noisy fuel intensive activity that definitely could impair ones pristine wilderness experience. I admit to feeling a little annoyed after spending hours hiking only to discover high mark tracks on my ski line. High marking is the act of snow machining up a steep pitch and then turning it quickly down hill as the machine start to loose power.

Safety concerns like snow machines triggering avalanches on skiers is probably more worthy of discussion, but many land managers are attempting to find a balance. The Chugach National Forest has divided Turnagain Pass into two sides; motorized users are only allowed on the West side of the Seward Hwy, and non-motorized users have the East side, but are welcome to use either side if they choose.

I have never had strong feelings one way or the other on this issue, other than separating the two users. I enjoy the quiet solitude of a backcountry touring day, and would be disappointed if this experience was full of exhaust and engine sounds everywhere I went. On the flip side snow machining is really fun and opens up a lot more opportunities for skiing terrain that is otherwise impossible to access in a day. I had to smile when I heard about a tie-dye wearing, dread headed telemark skier motoring around the backcountry in search of fresh powder turns. I hope this collision of cultures is symbolic of the future of both skiing and snow machining. I'm pretty happy somewhere in the middle.

Kris Dudely unloading his machine in the Turnagain Pass parking lot

A group of Girdwood locals looking at a possible ski descent

Corbett on the ridge above Triangle Peak

Corbett, snowboarding down the face of Triangle Peak

Kris hiking up a ridge above Warm Up Bowl

Kris dropping into Warm Up

Kris rippin it on the the Tele-Pontoons

Kris Dudley making it look easy!
Rarely seen on this side of the lens, getting my share of the turns
photo by Kris Dudely