Snowmachine group aims to boost good will

Posted: Sunday, March 02, 2008

When the U.S. Forest Service granted access to parts of Spaulding Meadows to snowmachiners in the '60s, cross-country skier Bob Armstrong said he and other skiers were incensed.

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Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

That was before an alternate path was constructed and the area divided between motorized and non-motorized groups, Armstrong said, so skiers felt like they were losing out on some of best skiing in town.

"Some were fairly militant and would tear down the bridges the snowmobilers built and that sort of thing," Armstrong said. "It was an interesting time."

The tensions between snowmachiners and other winter sports enthusiasts is long established, according Ray Howard, president of the Juneau Snowmobile Club.

Howard said those tensions are exacerbated in Juneau because there's only so much space for winter recreation, and tempers sometimes flare when different groups have to share space. He added that there's nothing worse than being yelled at for simply riding a snowmachine.

The strife between snowmobilers and other groups reached a peak last year when snowmachiners asked to use terrain in and around Eaglecrest Ski Area. The snowmachiners' proposal "sorta got blasted," according Bob Janes, a retired Forest Service worker who helped get Eaglecrest up and running.

Since then, Howard said he's been making a focused effort to win over the hearts and minds of other sporting groups and lessen some of the tension between them and snowmobilers.

A few weeks ago, Howard and other snowmachiners groomed a 7-mile trail in the upper part of Spaulding Meadows for cross-country skiers. The snowmobilers also ferried skiers, including Armstrong, up to the trail, saving them a long, steep climb.

"I really appreciated the ride," said the 71-year-old Armstrong, adding that he likely wouldn't have made it up to the trail without the snowmachiners' help.

Howard said generating that kind of goodwill is crucial for snowmachiners if they want to gain access to other places to use in the future.

Snowmachiners are limited to two areas around Juneau: part of Spaulding Meadows and the Dan Moller Trail riding area on Douglas Island.

Howard and members of other winter sports groups are working to get a high elevation trail built that would be open to all user groups.

Called the Alpine Working Group, they are looking at the possibility of building a multi-use trail in Lemon Creek that would go along Blackerby Ridge to access new riding areas.

Howard said the likelihood of getting approval for a new trail, which would need to be signed off by city, state and federal agencies, would be greater with more than one group involved.

"We can come up with a lot better product than just: The Snowmobile Club wants to do this," Howard said.

Ray Imel of the Nordic ski club said he appreciates Howard's and the Snowmobile Club's efforts. He said there are skiers who want nothing to do with snowmachiners, and consider them loud, smelly nuisances that are incompatible with enjoying winter sports.

But Imel said many members of his club recognize snowmachiners' right to enjoy the backcountry, and appreciate the usefulness of snowmachiners for grooming trails and assisting in emergency rescues.

The recent grooming at Spaulding Meadows is proof of good things happening when the two groups come together, Imel said, adding that members of his group are starting to be more accepting of snowmobilers.

"They're like, 'Oh, it's gray, it's not black and white,'" Imel said.

Howard agreed that there are some skiers who will never have a positive impression of snowmachiners, but he said he's encouraged by the overall response to his efforts so far.

Howard is planning to groom the trail at Spaulding Meadows and ferry skiers up there again this month.

"That's why I'm out there, to try and reach folks who are willing to consider other things," he said.

• Contact reporter Alan Suderman at or 523-2268.

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