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Vermont Senate Bill S.111 would create a law making it a crime to ski off designated ski trails and would further fine anyone who used ski area trails to access backcountry trails, got lost and needed to be rescued $500.
Jason M. Duquette-Hoffman, a Middlebury man, takes issue with the bill and in a letter to the bill’s authors, Senators Sears, Ashe, Benning, Nitka and White, outlines his reasons so clearly that there’s not much left to say.
“Backcountry skiing is not a crime. It is the soul of winter sports in our state, with a long, rich, proud and storied tradition. Accessing our backcountry in the winter, from a resort or otherwise, is a thrill, a challenge and a pilgrimage that many in our state have spent years or more developing. Some of us have built businesses, lives and family traditions around this centerpiece of our Vermont culture,” Duquette-Hoffman wrote in a letter this week.
“The vast majority of backcountry enthusiasts and users in our state are knowledgeable, responsible and respectful of the challenge that winter travel in the backcountry can bring. Criminalizing their behavior is not only counter to a venerable and honorable Vermont tradition, it is counterproductive. This measure will not go any further toward preventing the kind of irresponsible behavior we are seeing from a few, largely out-of-state folks with limited experience and understanding of the rigors of backcountry travel. This is not a criminal issue, it is an educational issue,” he continued.
“Do we really think that it should be a crime for trained, knowledgeable and well-equipped people who encounter an unexpected circumstance (such as an aggressive moose, failure of a defective piece of equipment or other similar unforeseeable happenstance) to access the services of our public safety system as any others would? I would suggest that I, and those with whom I travel in the backcountry, are generally more prepared for emergencies than many who use our state snowmobile trail system. I always carry gear appropriate to survive several days and nights in the woods, to find my way home, to stabilize injuries and to repair broken equipment. I understand that I must operate in the wilderness under my own recognizance. I am trained as a Wilderness First Responder. My companions have similar training and experience and yet, should the worst occur, we could face criminal charges under this proposed legislation. This, despite the fact that a wholly unprepared, untrained snowmobile operator could access these same services with impunity? Please do not place my 6-year-old daughter, already a backcountry enthusiast, in criminal jeopardy should she or I become unexpectedly in need of assistance during legitimate use of our public lands and despite our best precautions and preparations. How would you explain to her that the jewel of our state, its winter wilderness, is inaccessible to her under penalty of law?” he urged.
Well said, Mr. Duquette-Hoffman. Senators take heed. Vermont derives far more income from winter enthusiasts than it expends rescuing lost or injured enthusiasts from the woods. No one would balk at sending help to someone hiking on the Long Trail or someone injured at Warren Falls. Why should backcountry skiers be treated like criminals?