This post is long past due but a recent article on WildSnow.com rekindled the thought. With the recent growth of turn earning both at ski areas and in the backcountry, how have ski areas on the east coast responded? Where are they missing opportunities and where are they getting it right?
It has been just over three years since two men were arrested for the Big Jay cut. TheSnowWay.com documented news coverage and provided commentary on this issue from the time of the cut up until the Vermont Life article regarding illegal cutting was published last year. The Vermont Life article generated some discussion. But since then, the issue has quietly faded from prominence.
There was talk about skiers and riders organizing for political involvement. Perhaps such an organization could take a page from the regional mountain biking organizations that sought to protect and create riding trails. But as many had predicted, powder hounds and backcountry skiers and riders do not have mentalities geared towards organization. They would rather protect their secrets and stashes than make them public and open to scrutiny, invasion of the masses, or perhaps even forced closure. Despite a few scattered forum postings proposing various ideas, no leaders stepped forward.
So, life goes on. And, so does illegal cutting. As I asked last year in my rebuttal to the Vermont Life article, I will ask again: Is there a problem? It is widely agreed upon by nearly everyone that the Big Jay cut went too far and is not what thinning out tree runs is all about. Was this issue really about illegal thinning? Or was it about two idiots who cut a full blown ski trail rather than thinning out some pucker brush? I say the real story and issue was the latter.
It’s now birdwatching season. And even if you are sitting on the sidelines, if you ski illegally cut woods come winter and praise the locals who cut them, you are culpable too and have taken a moral position (even if unspoken) that illegal cutting is acceptable. If you do not think illegal cutting is acceptable, you would not be being intellectually honest with others nor yourself if you skied those illegally cut lines despite your opinion that illegal cutting is wrong.
A Response to the Vermont Life Magazine Article on Trail Cutting
The Big Jay trail cutting incident continues to create discussion about so called “illegal backcountry trail cutting.” Vermont Life Winter 2009 edition presents an article that fails to fully flesh out the issue and generally focuses on only one side of the “problem” and “solution”. So lets delve into this subject in detail using the Vermont Life article as a launching pad for a more in depth discussion.
Is Cutting a “Backcountry” Problem?
First, I would like to address this common concept of blaming “backcountry skiers” for illegal cutting and thinning. I propose that the majority of illegal cutting occurs at established ski areas within or adjacent to ski area boundaries. While there are those that cut and thin lines that are strictly accessible by earning turns, most thinned areas are lift service accessible or at least slackcountry accessible from a lift with a short hike. This is not strictly a “backcountry” problem and I would suggest that the problem is actually significantly bigger at and around ski areas. The Vermont Life article (or at least those quoted within it) confuses ski area gladed terrain with backcountry terrain (or at least is written in such a way that suggests confusion).
Second, all skiers and riders currently recreating in illegally thinned out tree lines are culpable and have provided defacto approval and endorsement of the activity. This likely even includes many if not most of the persons quoted in the Vermont Life article that suggest “skiing without a saw”. Perhaps prior to the Big Jay cut, there could be no guilty mind despite the guilty act because cutting and thinning of lines seemed very acceptable and the way things are done. But since the Big Jay cut, any one that skis a line that has been thinned illegally is providing their tacit endorsement of the activity. This likely includes many skiers and riders who have decried cutting and thinning the loudest.
Perhaps many do so without even knowing that the line was thinned illegally. However, I think it is a safe assumption that unless a ski area actively promotes boundary to boundary (or perhaps even beyond the boundary) tree skiing, most tree skiing not on a trail map is likely the result of illegal or unauthorized cutting. Essentially, most tree skiing off the map is likely maintained without the approval of the adjacent ski area.
After more than a year and a half since Paul Poulin and Alan Ritter were arrested for clear cutting a trail on Big Jay, the two men have accepted a plea bargain just before the case went to a jury trial. According to the Caledonian Record, the judge sentenced both men to 18 to 36 months each of probation and 60 days each on community work service.
The Caledonian Record is reporting that plea deals have been scraped for the two men accused of clear cutting the trail on Big Jay. Days after firing his attorney, Paul Poulin appeared in court to represent himself and argue a motion to dismiss the case. However, the judge ordered Poulin to complete a psyciatric evaluation to verify Poulin was mentally sound enough to stand trial. Alan Ritter has skipped the plea bargain process opting to fight the charges out right.