On Roland Fleck

I interrupt a quiet moment at work (thanks to a cancellation) to bring you something of great interest:

In a story that will soon be blowing up all over internetland; Roland Fleck, a 78 year old doctor from Jackson, was sledded off the slopes of JHMR in handcuffs this past Saturday.  The crime?  Skinning up the groomed slopes.

Fleck…was arrested on misdemeanor charges of criminal trespass, interference with an officer, unsafe skiing and theft of services. His extrication from the mountain came after up to seven ski patrollers spend 3.5 hours trying to stop him, reports said.  Roland Fleck has always been a big supporter of the ski area but believes he has a right to ski uphill, Dan Fleck, an attorney with The Spence Law Firm who is representing his father, said.  “He was within his rights to access the forest, and he was skiing safely,” Dan Fleck said.

Therein, of course, lies the question: to what if any extent does a private company have rights to restrict activity on public land which they merely (for however long) lease.

After spending time at Big Mountain this winter, I see the need for some order to be brought to a mix of uphill and downhill traffic at a well-traveled ski hill.  The potential for serious accidents between humans, or between humans and groomers, is quite real.  I think that Big Mountain ought to open up more lanes of uphill traffic, and allow for a more liberal after-hours downhill policy (at present you’re only supposed to ski down what you skinned up, though it’s unclear if this is enforced).  But they do get (a few) points for trying to compromise, however halfassedly.

My hope is that uphill traffic at ski hills will become more common, and that up and down hill skiers will come to be seen as having equal rights.  While resort companies and their liability has to be taken into account, the distorted, myopic way in which North America has until recently viewed alpine skiing has allowed too many areas, built entirely of public land leases, to blanket ban human powered traffic.  Mr. Fleck’s conduct, seemingly designed to engender Keystone Cops behavior, must be intended to force this issue.

He’ll be a sympathetic figure. 

There are plenty of backcountry mountains beyond ski hills, but resort companies locked up access points decades ago.  Missoula Snowbowl, whose famously unpleasant owner prohibit all uphill traffic during the operating season (but do allow it aftewards), is a case in point.  Their lease area is prime mountain access terrain.  And while I have no problem with their seeking of compensation for their investment, I do have a problem with locking public land up, for all practical purposes, from almost all of the public.

After all, they didn’t ask me if it was ok to put the lifts in.


5 thoughts on “On Roland Fleck

  1. I’m baffled why it took 7 patrollers 3.5 hours to get him. Hilarious.

    I know the lease agreement (at least as it was reported) allows the resort to regulate the traffic on the land, but the issue here is whether or not the skier was posing any risk to himself or others? Here in the Wasatch the resorts that lease public land have a fairly relaxed enforcement of the no-uphill rule. It depends on the patrollers that happen to be on duty that day.

    And one of the most popular BC access points is directly across the road from Alta. Alta is continually trying to build a lift up the hill, which would destroy 3 major (and huge) forks, and effectively cut off the fastest acces point to those forks. And by destroy, I mean, for BC skiers. They’d become resort/slack country,which wouldn’t much benefit the resort skier, the BC skier, or the land itself. that is, more wild terrain would be subjected to explosive control work, glading, road building, and lift installing. If it’s one thing ski resorts ‘aint – it’s green.

    Uphill lanes at resorts that have quality access points to BC terrain would be a fairly easy installation. Something like that wouldn’t require more than 4-5 feet in width, and could be tucked away along the borders of the resort. Signage similar to the “SLOW” or “MERGE” banners that we see all over resorts could alert other skiers that uphill skiers could be present.

    It will be interesting to see if Mr. Fleck’s act of civil disobedience will trigger any reconsideration of policy.

  2. If they’d have asked me there would most certainly not be that eyesore of a tramway atop the glorious prominence that is Lone Mountain. Making my way up into the basin that is Big Sky Ski Resort makes me shudder every time.

  3. Fleck is my here. Good for him — and thanks for the nice writeup.

    In the Northwest, things are a mix. There aren’t that many ski resorts, which makes it more tolerable. Mount Rainier National Park used to have a rope two at Paradise, but it has been gone for a long time. The nice thing is that they plow the road to Paradise, so backcountry travelers have lots of great terrain to explore. At Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park, there are a couple lifts, but they are tucked away on the side, so you can still enjoy the backcountry without the noise and ugliness. The Mount Baker ski resort is a different matter. They carved a pretty good chunk of the area between Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan and put up a ski resort. The good news is that the resort is very nice about backcountry skiers. There is a section which is groomed primarily for folks who have to go through the flats before heading uphill. There is a chance for conflict during both that section and the uphill part, but signs clearly say stay to the right and people have no problem. Overall, it is nice that they plow the road as far as they (and without a ski resort, I’m not sure they would).

    There has been talk about expanding the Stevens Pass ski resort northward (across highway 2) which would be terrible for backcountry travelers. Folks beat back an attempt to add a ski resort in the Methow, and I hope we can do the same for the expansion.

  4. There are lots of factors at play in this issue, none with clear answers, and in the end good solutions will be site specific.

    I’m quite the situation is just harder at bigger “destination” resorts. Places like Vail, JHMR, and Big Mtn get folks who skis twice a year on holiday, and in huge doses at certain times of year. Makes everything harder to manage. If/when uphill travel becomes more of the alpine skiing pantheon, and folks are more aware, things will be easier.

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