Small area of Shoshone stirs debate with skiers, snowmobilers

The Shoshone National Forest is 2.4 million acres, yet it is an area less than a square-mile in size that has become one of the most vocally contested areas as staff work on its management plan.

On Wednesday the Shoshone National Forest will host a meeting in Dubois to talk about snowmobiling and backcountry skiing on Two Ocean Peak on Togwotee Pass.

Kelsey Dayton

The goal of the meeting is to talk about motorized and non-motorized winter recreation on the forest, specifically Two Ocean, said Kristie Salzmann, spokeswoman for the Shoshone. She didn’t know how many comments about the area were submitted during the public commenting period, which ended Nov. 26. But it is an issue that people have raised  and wasn’t addressed in any of the alternatives for plan, Salzmann said.

The issue of use on Two Ocean has intermittently come up before, but it’s remained successfully multi-use for years, said Jeff Moberg, president of the Wyoming State Snowmobile Association. Moberg thinks users should be able to work things out instead of closing areas to certain user groups.

The area in question is on the Shoshone, but nearby access is on the Bridger-Teton. Closing part of the mountain will create an area with different access rules and be confusing, or it will lead to more closures for snowmobiles.

“We can close a little small area here and a little small area there and you are either going to end up with a ridiculous patchwork or major closures,” he said.

Shared access is always an issue on public lands, but the controversy on Two Ocean is currently the biggest conflict in the state, he said.

For Dubois snowmobilers, like Johanna Thompson, president of the Dubois Sno-Katers, Two Ocean is a popular spot for beautiful views with steep climbs.

Sharing the area with skiers has worked fine, Thompson said. While the issue has been brought up multiple times, there haven’t been actual conflicts on the mountain, she said. National Forests are meant to be shared. There are risks anytime someone is on steep slopes whether skiing or snowmobiling, she said. Plus, the skiers have nearby wilderness areas they can use that snowmobilers can’t.

Two Ocean is ideal for skiing with its North facing slopes holding snow and its easy access from the highway, said Darran Wells, assistant professor of outdoor education and leadership at Central Wyoming College. Wells teaches skiing classes on Two Ocean and also skis there himself. Skiing on the nearby wilderness area on Togwotee Pass is a challenge because of the long approach and isn’t a realistic day trip.

Wells wants only a small area of the peak closed — several chutes and trees near the runs.  The popular area draws skiers from Fremont and Teton counties, he said.

Snowmobilers have a larger impact on unstable snow and are more likely to trigger avalanches, Wells said. If the machines triggered a slide, they might not even know if skiers were below, he said.

But perhaps the more pervasive argument is that the machines tear up the gullies which can trip up skiers and cause crashes, especially beginners which frequent the area.

People often mistakenly lump the concerns of skiers like Wells with those with environmental concerns about snowmobiles.

“We just want a place to ski where we’re not getting run over,” Wells said.

Backcountry skiers used Two Ocean long before snowmobilers could travel off trail into the area, Wells said. There are designated cross country ski areas on Togwotee Pass, but not one just for downhill skiing and snowboarding, he said.

“If cross country skiers can have a designated single use area, then why can’t backcountry skiers?” he said.

The meeting is promising, said Wells, and shows the Forest Service is thinking seriously about the issue.

The meeting will discuss  addressing winter recreation as part of a travel management plan, instead of in the forest plan, Salzmann said. The forest management plan is more general, laying out what could be allowed, while travel management plans create specific rules for travel on the forest, she said.

The meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the Dubois auditorium. For more information call the Wind river Ranger District at 307-455-2466.

— “Peaks to Plains” is a blog focusing on Wyoming’s outdoors and communities. Kelsey Dayton is a freelance writer based in Lander. She has been a journalist in Wyoming for seven years, reporting for the Jackson Hole News & Guide, Casper Star-Tribune and the Gillette News-Record. Contact Kelsey at kelsey.dayton@gmail.com.

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Kelsey Dayton

Kelsey Dayton is a freelancer and the editor of Outdoors Unlimited, the magazine of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. She has worked as a reporter for the Gillette News-Record, Jackson Hole News&Guide...

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