Empire editorial: Eaglecrest is not the place for snowmobilers

Community should help find another place for snowmachiners to go

Posted: Sunday, May 06, 2007

The city should listen to snowmobilers' call for action.

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More than 90 snowmobilers have joined together and drawn up a proposal to gain access to more snowy slopes on Douglas Island.

The only problem is where they want to go: Juneau's one area for downhill skiers and snowboarders.

Snowmobilers should be given the chance to develop trails for their growing sport. But those trails shouldn't be in Eaglecrest Ski Area any more than the city should allow skiffs at Augustus Brown Swimming Pool.

Keeping skiffs out of the city pool doesn't mean anyone's against boating. It simply means it's not the right place for high-speed vehicles.

The Dan Moller Trail above West Juneau and Spaulding Meadows off Glacier Highway are among the places already available to snowmobilers. They'd like to have access to other areas as well.

But they already have the advantage of being able to go to far more places than those on skis, who don't have other options. It makes no sense to cut into the one haven for downhill skiers and snowboarders when multiple opportunities abound for those on snowmobiles.

Safety is at the top of the list of worries.

Snowmobilers point out that they've been known to save lives by helping skiers and snowshoers in trouble in the backcountry. That's true, but it doesn't override the fact that skiers and snowboarders are at much greater risk of injury around machines running far faster than they.

Snowmobilers have proposed corridors that would separate motorized and nonmotorized users, but that leads to the second biggest concern: enforcement.

Under the snowmobilers' proposal, Juneau police would be the primary enforcement agents and a video camera in the parking lot would give them the information needed to identify snowmobilers who witnesses say have strayed into off-limit areas. Such a flimsy system is going to further pit skiers and snowboarders against each other in a game of accusation unlikely to result in genuine enforcement.

The lack of enforcement also undermines snowmobilers' proposal for keeping noise to a minimum. They suggest lower speeds as the No. 1 way to limit the sound of snowmobiles. But with virtually no enforcement, there's going to be little muffling of the noise.

Even at low speeds, snowmobiles can be heard from considerable distances. For many, the quiet of the slopes is one of the prime reasons to spend time outdoors. Destroy that silence and much of the experience is gone.

Snowmobilers have every right to enjoy their pastime, but not at the expense of others. No one would put up with someone bringing a boombox into a Juneau Jazz & Classics concert. Nor should skiers have to listen to the roar of motors, when there are other places those motors can run.

The name-calling and stereotyping of snowmobilers that's gone on at times has no place in the public debate. There are legitimate reasons for separating snowmobilers from skiers and boarders without getting petty and nasty.

Even Mark Wilke, founder of the Juneau Snowmobile Club, said this week Eaglecrest isn't the right place for snowmobiling. He asked the community to help find a place that is.

The city should take him up on that. And snowmobilers should leave the slopes of Eaglecrest to those who have no other place to go.

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