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Judge says backcountry skiers have right to relief from snowmobiles

WINTER SPORTS — Backcountry skiers who have been negotiating against the near-total encroachment of snowmobiles into national forest playgrounds near Lookout Pass and Stevens Peak may find some support in a ruling handed down by a court in Boise.

A federal judge in Idaho says the U.S. Forest Service broke the law when it didn’t craft rules to govern snowmobile travel, handing powder-loving backcountry skiers and snowshoe enthusiasts a victory that could extend to national forests nationwide.

  • The skiers emphasized they didn't want a ban on snowmobiling, just a balance of their use in the winter backcountry.

U.S. District Magistrate Judge Ronald Bush ruled Friday that the Forest Service must go back to work on its 2005 Travel Management Rule and draw up regulations designating areas of use and non-use by all off-road vehicles, including snowmobiles, on national forest lands.

See the story: Judge sides with backcountry skiers

Today’s highlights

Jerry Kienbaum talked about collecting snowmobiles for his museum in Greenacres on Monday. SR photo/Kathy Plonka

The top news in today's Valley Voice is reporter Lisa Leinberger's story on the East Valley School District's continuing transition to a K-8 education model. The district has had several meetings lately and heard emotional testimony from parents. On Tuesday they voted unanimously to moved the preschool and other special programs to East Valley Middle School in the fall.

Lisa also has a story on Spokane Valley resident Jerry Kienbaum, who has spent years amassing a collection of vintage snowmobiles. He runs the Northwest Museum of Vintage Snowmobiles.

Spokane County is planning several upgrades to the Argonne Road corridor north of the Spokane Valley city limits over the next few years, replacing pavement and adding sidewalks. The only project scheduled for this year is the replacement of the Bruce Road bridge over Deadman Creeek south of Mount Spokane Park Drive.

The Spokane Valley City Council spent some time Tuesday on how to avoid a bill of over $300,000 when new limits on the number of misdemeanor cases public defenders can handle take effect in October. That amount would be the city's share of seven new attorneys Spokane County might have to hire to help with the load. The increased cost would be charged to the city every year.

Powder struggle: Snowmobilers, back-country skiers battle in court

A backcountry skier advocacy group, the Winter Wildlands Alliance, has filed suit in federal court, asking a judge to order the U.S. Forest Service to create plans for snowmobiles limiting their travel on public land, the Associated Press reports. “One snowmobile can track up an area in an hour that a dozen skiers could use for two weeks,” said Alliance Director Mark Menlove. “It is a competition for a limited resource. Beyond untracked powder, we also think that quiet is a forest resource that should be managed.”

Snowmobile groups have lined up with the Forest Service opposing the move, saying there's enough forest to go around for everyone. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Iron-dogging the Iditarod Trail:

Chilly good-bye: Diary, days 18-21

SNOWMOBILING — The last leg of their adventure following the Iditarod Sled Dog Race started smoothly as Bob Jones of Kettle Falls and Josh Rindal of Spokane left Nome, Alaska, to run back 250 miles to return a borrowed snowmobile at Unalakleet.

But the biggest adventure of the trip that would total nearly 1,400 miles was on its way.
 
The first day was a sweet 106 miles to a cozy cabin, and the next day another swift 125 miles in cold, clear weather.
 
Then the blizzard hit. Bob got stuck in a whiteout. Josh fell through a snowbridge and soaked his feet in a creek.
 
Read on for the details and photos on how they holed up and survived thelast day and night of their irondogging trip on the Iditarod Trail.

Cold overlooked along Iditarod Trail

Septuagenarian Bob Jones of Kettle Falls has chiseled into the frozen culture of arctic Alaska as he's snowmobiled 1,000 miles along the Iditarod Trail.  His diary and photos have been a highlight of my blog for two weeks.

Here's one of Jones's many observations from icy remote villages as he pushed through bitter temperatures:

“Cold weather is never a conversation topic among Alaska villagers. When it drops to 30 below, they just put on another layer of clothing and go about their business.”

Of course, it might be different if Alaska villagers had to come up with something quick to say on an  elevator lift to their office.

See Bob Jones's Diary and photos, days 1-6.

See Diary and photos for days 7-10.

See Diary and photos for days 11-12.

See Diary and photos for days 13-14.

See Nome Sweet Nome: Diary and photos for Day 15.

See Diary and photos for days 16-17.

Iron-dogging the Iditarod Trail:

Diary, days 13-14

SNOWMOBILING — “I'm too tired to even look at pictures,” snowmobiler Bob Jones said in an email from the tiny village of Golovin on the Iditarod Trail. (Additional photos will come later and be posted here.)   He'd just put in an 11-hour  day that extended well into the night to reach a place where he and Josh Rindal could get out of the cold for a few hours of sleep before continuing their 1,000-mile journey to Nome following the Iditarod Trail.

Despite a fierce cold and a major breakdown that forced them to find a snowmobile to borrow, Jones, from Kettle Falls, and Rindal, from Spokane, have an outside chance of making the Mushers Banquet in Nome tonight (March 18) — if they can make the last 90 brutal miles in one day.

“It will be a cold ride, just like today's was,” Jones reported. “It's -9º and breeze outside as I write this from the library at the Golovin school.  It's about +70º in here and my sleeping bag is only about 5 feet away on a pad on the floor.”

Then he crashed and slept like a bear in winter… until early the next morning when he filed his diary for two days (click continued reading below) and offered these additional updates:

Mileage: Nearly 1,000 miles so far out of a total trip that will reach about 1,300 miles if they return to Unalakleet as planned.

He had one final thought about his cozy quarters on the library floor before heading out in the bitter cold for another long day: “This is a beautiful school. Probably costs more on a cost-of-heat-per-kid basis than anywhere in the Lower 48!”

I replied to Jones noting that he was an ironman model for people older than 70. “I wonder what all the other septuagenarians in Kettle Falls are doing today?” I poked.

“Being more intelligent!” he replied.

Click “continue reading” to see Jone's Iditarod diary and photos.

Also: click here to see a continuously updated photo gallery of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race.

Iron-dogging the Iditarod Trail:

Diary, days 11-12

SNOWMOBILING — Chilled but not chilled out, Bob Jones of Kettle Falls and Josh Rindal of Spokane contginued their snowmobile trek along the Iditarod Trail even though the Iditarod sled dog race is is over and the winners have packed up for home.

“Zero degrees here last night with nary a cloud in the sky.  The most perfect day for traveling imaginable,” Jones said, indicating he was happy to still be on the trail.

“The sun is getting some power and sometimes we can feel the heat through our thick clothing.

“Machines are running fine and things are going great!”

On days 11 and 12  they continued to enjoy hospitality from natives with only a few stressful encounters with deep snow in the arctic cold.

Read on for more of Jones's diary and photos.

Also: click here to see a continuously updated photo gallery of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race.

Iron-dogging the Iditarod Trail:

Diary, days 7-10

SNOWMOBILING — As fate would have it, the real adventure began 70 miles from any assistance behind the racers in the Iditarod sled dog race. As the temperature plunged to minus 32 degrees — nearly 60 degrees colder than the day they started out following the Iditarod Trail — snowmobilers Bob Jones of Kettle Falls and Josh Rindal of Spokane faced some arctic cruelness:

  • The starter on Bob's snowmobile was falling apart.
  • A clunking noise was developing in Josh's snowmobile.
  • A friend died in McGrath and the town had to unite to dig a grave in the frozen ground.
  • Fuel was $7.15 a gallon in McGrath.
  • Bob and Josh had to drive over a dead moose in the trail.
  • And then Josh's snowmobile developed problems that threatened to end the 1,000-mile expedition.

Click “continue reading” to see how the two ingenious adventurers saved their butts by hooking on to something a fisherman left behind in a remote BLM cabin.

Also: click here to see a continuously updated photo gallery of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race.

Iron-dogging the Iditarod Trail:

Diary, days 1-6, plus links for entire trip

SNOWMOBILING — Snowmobiler Bob Jones, 72, of Kettle Falls was in Alaska this winter, once again following the annual Iditarod sled dog race with his son-in-law, Josh Rindal, who works at Fairchild Air Force Base.

We followed Jones's diary of ups and downs from the arduous trip on the Iditarod Trail as he reached several personal milestones:

  • — His 100th Alaska visit.
  • — A total of more than 20,000 miles following the 950- to 1,100-mile race from Anchorage to Nome.

Here's a wrapup story about Jones and his love-hate relationship with snowmobiles, but read on to follow his journey day by day.

Jones, a colorful guy with a gift for gab, is a familiar face in the remote villages along the race’s two routes since he began following the event by snowmobile in 1995.

“The first year, eight snowmobiles followed the route, and my Washington group had four,” he said. “One year, I was the only one doing the whole thing.”

He tows a trailer with gear for camping in bitter cold. Sometimes he stays in roadhouses.

“The villagers all know me and like me because I only stay a day, have a good time and leave,” he said.

Live the arctic life with with Jones by clicking “continue reading” for the first six days of diary posts from the Iditarod Trail, followed by links for Bob's take on the rest of the trip.

Also, click here to see a photo gallery of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race.

Snowboarder’s death focuses concern on spring snowpack

WINTER SPORTS — The weekend avalanche death of a snowboarder near Stevens Pass has sobered some backcountry travelers, and brought forth some worthwhile thoughts. 

Following is a comment from a skier named Ed posted with the news story about the death. It follows the same train of thought in the recommendations of the weekly avalanche forecast for this region.

Check it out.

Snowmobilers desecrate backcountry skiers’ favorite slopes near Mullan

WINTER SPORTS — A clash has been brewing for years near Lookout Pass as snowmobilers' insatiable appetite for high-marking and tracking fresh snow continues to invade more and more areas used by backcountry skiers.

Thirty years ago, snowmobilers tended to stay north of I-90 while skiers found peace and quiet to the south in the St. Regis Basin, around Stevens Peak and other areas.

Snowmobilers pretty much drove skiers out of the St. Regis Basin by the late 1990s — their high-marking and potential to set off avalanches often made it dangerous to be a skier below.

A backcountry skier can make only a few runs up and down a mountain slope in a day.  A snowmobiler can foul an entire basin with tracks and noise in a few hours.

This winter, snowmobilers seem to be making a point to go in an trash some sacred ground for backcountry skiing in the West Willow Peak area south of Mullan. 

Backcountry skiers, who seem to shun organization, are starting to react.   Check out the Stevens Peak Backcountry Coalition website, and the update on what skiers encountered last weekend.