The Stevens Peak Backcountry comprises the subalpine area in the vicinity of Stevens Peak, located on the Lolo and Idaho Panhandle National Forests, in the vicinity of the Idaho-Montana state line. The Stevens Peak Backountry:
- Offers prime terrain and snow conditions for backcountry snowboarding and skiing.
- Has historically been used primarily for quiet human-powered winter recreation.
- Is accessible during the winter from trailheads that can be reached by passenger vehicle, something uncommon for the public lands in our region.
- Is experiencing increasing patterns of snowmobile use primarily for high-marking.
- Is being threatened by the proposed expansion of the Lookout Pass Ski Area.
Proposed Stevens Peak Backcountry Winter Non-Motorized Area
The Proposed Stevens Peak Backcountry Winter Non-Motorized area (shown below) is an area of approximately 6,500 acres in the vicinity of Stevens Peak. It includes portions of the Copper, Saint Regis, East Willow (Stevens Lakes), West Willow, Boulder and Gold Creek drainages. The concept was originally proposed to the Forest Service in 2000 by members of the Spokane Mountaineers.
The Inland Northwest Backcountry Alliance
The Inland Northwest Backcountry Alliance (formerly Stevens Peak Backcountry Coalition) is a grassroots organization of backcountry skiers and snowboarders, cross-country skiers, snowshoers, and climbers who value quiet human-powered winter recreation in the Inland Northwest. Our goals:
- Work toward the creation of a comprehensive and workable Winter Recreation Plan for the Stevens Peak Backcountry and other areas in our region.
- Educate others about the value of and opportunities for quiet human-powered winter recreation.
We seek to strengthen the traditional winter recreation community by formally identifying and connecting the growing number of non-motorized winter recreation enthusiast users in our region — eastern Washington, northern Idaho and western Montana, an area that includes the cities of Spokane, Coeur d’Alene, Missoula, Moscow and Pullman.
A model for creating a winter travel management plan may be what is occurring in Idaho’s Payette National Forest. The Payette National Forest issued a special order for the 2011-2012 snow season on a trial basis to protect resources and to provide areas for backcountry skiing based on the work of the Payette Winter Recreation Forum. The forum is a collaborative process involving a wide range of stakeholders in winter recreation and conservation. During its first year the special order, was according to reports, successfully implemented and the Granite Mountain Special Closure Order will again be in effect January 15 – March 31, 2013 for this winter. More information may be found Here.
2012-13 Granite Mountain Travel Map (Click to enlarge)
The Inland Northwest Backcountry Alliance worked with the Spokane Mountaineers, Montana Backcountry Alliance, Winter Wildlands Alliance, Panhandle Nordic Club and the Lands Council, to prepare a comment letter on the Idaho Panhandle National Forest (IPNF) Draft Environmental Impact Statement. Our comments included the following points:
- A proposal that the Stevens Peak Backcountry Area be given Special Area designation for management as a Recreation and Scenic Area, recognizing the area’s importance for quiet human-powered winter recreation.
- A recommendation that until a comprehensive plan for the Stevens Peak Backcountry Area is developed, the proposed expansion of Lookout Pass Ski Area through a modified special use permit should not proceed. And,
- The IPNF consider the potential for management of additional suitable areas for quiet human-powered winter recreation when and where possible.
You can read our comment letter Here. Associated Figure 1 can be viewed below.
Stevens Lake and Stevens Peak have been the location of the Spokane Mountaineers’ Mountain School’s Snow Climbing Practice for more than 30 years. The 2012 Mountain School Snow Practice was held the weekend of April 14-15 and is documented in a great video Here.
Roped team travel, self arrest and avalanche awareness are taught by volunteer instructors. The Spokane Mountaineers Climbing Schools is possibly one of the best and most comprehensive climbing courses in the US.
The proposed expansion of Mt. Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park would severely diminish the backcountry skiing experience now found on the west and northwest side of Mount Spokane.
Jeff Juel of The Lands Council has provided us with a status update on the ski area expansion. The Lands Council has filed a lawsuit challenging Washington State Parks and Recreation decision and requiring an Enivronmental Impact Statement. We support their position. We think it makes more sense to invest scarce dollars in upgrading the existing lifts and lodges to provide a better skier experience, and permanently protect the remaining wild areas on Mt. Spokane. More information about the situation can be found in the Regional Issues Section: Here.
Local Outdoors writer Rich Landers of the Spokesman-Review has written a good summary of the recent history regarding Lookout Pass Ski Area’s proposed expansion and the INWBA’s (formerlyStevens Peak Backcountry Coalition) ongoing collaborative efforts Here.
Yesterday the Winter Wildlands Alliance’s petition asking for management of over snow vehicles (OSV) on national forest land was denied. The petition was signed by the Spokane Mountaineers and 89 other organizations, representing 1.3 million members. Details can be read on the NewWest Blog Here.
Quoting from the NewWest story, “…the Forest Service did agree to develop guidelines or factors for local officials to consider if they choose to implement winter travel planning, but gave no timeline for when those directives might be announced.”
Mark Menlove, WWA’s director was quoted as saying “We appreciate the offer to establish better guidelines, but guidelines are of little use without a directive to actually follow them.”
The Stevens Peak Backcountry Coalition will continue to work toward creation of a winter non-motorized recreation area for the Stevens Peak Backcountry.
An agreement between backcountry boarders/skiers and snowmobilers has succesfully been in effect in Idaho’s Wood River Valley for the past decade. The Nordic and Backcountry Skiers Alliance of Idaho worked collaboratively with the Sawtooth Snowmobile Club, Blaine County Recreation and the U.S. Forest Service to create the ‘Snow Pact’ which designates motorized and non-motorized winter recreation zones in the upper Wood River Valley.
The Snow Pact is a model of what we are seeking for the Stevens Peak Backcountry. Read more about the history of the agreement in the Winter 2010 Sun Valley Guide story Here.
Yesterday, three inbound snowmobilers passed us as we were climbing up the north end of West Willow Ridge at about 5,000 ft. They passed us again on their way out at about 6,400 as we were nearing the shoulder of Stevens Peak near the head of West Willow basin. The photo above (click 2x to zoom in) shows what we saw when we reached the vantage point on the ridge above the basin and what three snowmobilers can do in a short time. The precedent is being set.
The Stevens Peak Backcountry is featured in this VIDEO creation made by Forrest McCarthy. The video also features footage taken during Forrest’s recent trip to several northwest backcountry and Nordic skiing locations where the Winter Wildlands Alliance is working with other grassroots groups to enhance opportunities for and preserve areas for human-powered winter recreation on public land.
During the Stevens Peak Backcountry tour, Forrest joined five members of the Spokane Mountaineers and Stevens Peak Backcountry Coalition along with Adam Switalski, Greg Peters and Ted of the Montana Backcountry Alliance. All experienced great conditions, skiing in the backcountry with three feet of new powder.