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Colorado: New backcountry access at Breckenridge

Tenmile Range backcountry around Peak 6. PHOTO BY ELLEN HOLLINSHEAD.

Ski patrol, Forest Service place new access points in areas where rope-cutting was common

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Working together with Breckenridge ski patrollers, the U.S. Forest Service has permitted a couple of new backcountry access points where skiers and snowboarders can leave the resort and enter public national forest lands.

One of the new access points is high Peak 7, the other off the Falcon Chair on Peak 10. The new access points were opened within the past week, according to U.S. Forest Service rangers.

The ski patrol is planning a March 3 open house at the Maggie Restaurant in Breckenridge, at the base of Peak 9, to address the ski area’s boundary policy, back country access points, backcountry travel tips and user responsibility. The open house starts at 6:30 p.m. Appetizers will be provided and there will be a cash bar.

White River National Forest snow ranger Joe Foreman said the changes came after discussions with the resort highlighted a couple of problem areas where skiers and snowboarders were illegally ducking boundary ropes on Peak 7 to access the national forest backcountry.

“There were a couple of spots where they just couldn’t stop people from cutting ropes,” Foreman said.
A regional Forest Service policy calls for providing reasonable access to the backcountry. Access in Summit County has been more restrictive than in many other areas ever since a large avalanche on Peak 7 killed several people more than 20 years ago. After that slide, the Forest Service enacted a forest supervisor’s closure around most of the local ski resorts, with only a few limited access points.

By contrast, the four ski areas around Aspen — also on the White River National Forest — have a much less restrictive boundary management policy.

Foreman said the recent discussions about the access points at Breckenridge also included representatives of the Summit County sheriff’s office, who also offered some input on the new locations.

“We talked a lot about the philosophy of backcountry access … we really want people to make informed decisions,” Foreman said. By placing access points in areas were people were cutting ropes illegally, the Forest Service and resort hope that skiers and riders leaving the resort will read the signs so that they are at least somewhat informed about the potential risks, including avalanches.

It’s possible that some people who were cutting ropes were simply following other tracks that were already there, without understanding the potential consequences. Providing an access point with information signs could even deter some people who are unprepared for those risk from heading out, Foreman said.

Local backcountry skier Ellen Hollinshead said she has mixed feelings about the new Peak 7 access point. She’s all for encouraging people to get out and enjoy the backcountry, but also has concerns about potential avalanche risks. The new Peak 7 access point sends people toward an area known for frequent slides, she said, adding that there’s potentially an increased risk from above for skiers heading uphill under their own steam, outside the ski area boundary.

Hollinshead, who skis the Peak 6 area frequently, said she’d also like to see even more access near the ridge of the Tenmile Range to enable better access to the west side of the crest, an idea that was nixed in the current round of discussions by the sheriff’s office, which expressed concerns about the potential increase in the number of rescues from that remote area.

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