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.