by Mike Rolfs
I love ski-hiking at Mission Ridge. Some years, when the lifts close in April, there isn’t much snow. Other years, the snowpack is deep. Last year was a big snow year, and I skied at Mission Ridge all the way into July!
This year looked like it might be just as good with over five feet of snow at Midway on closing day. The best summer skiing at the Ridge is right off the top and, given this snow pack, it appeared that the goods at the top might last another three months! Over the weekend, however, three snowmobilers may have stolen the ski-hike season from us all.
There has been much controversy this year over the conflict between snow machines and human-powered winter recreationalists. Part of the problem is that snowmobiles track up large areas quickly. The saving grace is that the tracks usually last only until the next big storm. It is currently late April and the next big storm might be in November. The damage was done to a warm snowpack and the scars are deep.
The tracks are spaced just close enough to be too close to turn between. They are spaced far enough apart to track up most of the steep, fun terrain. It’s as if the paths were premeditated to inflict maximum damage. I don’t fall much, but I fell today intersecting these ruts. I can’t cross them safely.
In those places where they are allowed (the large majority of state and federal forests), snowmobilers have as much right as I do to track the snow. But Mission Ridge is one of the few non-wilderness areas not allowing recreational snowmobiling at any time. It is also a place that sees substantial ski and snowboard activity (which is legal after the lifts shuts down for the season). Because it is so accessible, relatively safe, and keeps it snow (northern exposure), quite a number of skiers and snowboarders make laps here before work, after work, over the weekend when the schedule has a few hour gap for a burst of fun. Ruining the steep slopes for skiing and snowboarding feels like theft, or maybe vandalism -- I feel like three months of fun were just taken from all of us.
- Here is the Turns All Year report I posted about this (quite a bit of buzz in response).
- You’ll find lots more pictures of where snowmobilers were and the deep ruts they randomly spread across the mountain in this slideshow.
- Aaron Wright checked into the legality of snowmobile use of Mission Ridge after the ski area closes in mid-April and reports the following: “The Wenatchee River Ranger District LEO got back to me and snowmobiling in the Mission Ridge Special Use Permit Area (SUPA) is illegal at any time, year round, except for the purpose of mountain operations. Steven's Pass front side is the same, illegal at any time. The Mill Valley drainage is open after the Nordic Center and the back side close because of historical usage. Please report any violation to the Wenatchee River Ranger District, ask for Dan Ritter.
- If you see snowmobiles using closed areas, it will help the enforcing agency if you get a picture of the offenders -- especially if you can see the tags on their machines. If you suspect a vehicle is connected to illegal snowmobile activity, get a picture of it and the license plate number.
- Note: The boundary of the SUPA is not the same as the ski area boundary, it extends beyond the ridge lines and encompasses the entire upper Squilchuck basin. Mission Peak and the ridge to the NW are inside the SUPA almost to the site of the old lookout. These areas are signed no snowmobiles.
Photo above: An idea of track depth. Below: Tracks out in the Outback.
Above: Quite a number of these signs are posted around the border of the ski area (although snowmobile tracks in the dirt indicate these snowboarders came around the cement barriers blocking the head of the parking lot. Below: Oh,Oh, the damage done.