On a chilly December day about one year ago, an informal group of skiers and backcountry folk came together to form the Mad River Valley Backcountry Coalition (MRVBC). A year later, on November 18, 2019, president of the association Steve Sharp introduced himself to the Waitsfield Conservation Commission hoping to collaborate. Sharp told conservation commission members that intentions for MRVBC were in line with the goals of the conservation commission.
“As we continue to grow, we want to make sure we do so in a way that is sustainable long term. If we end up developing backcountry areas, we want to do it in a way that follows best practices and has a long-term sustainable approach,” he said.
MRVBC is a new chapter of the Mad River Catamount Trail Association. They formed as a result of the growing interest in backcountry skiing and skinning in the Mad River Valley. Their mission has many facets, one of which is to help develop and manage backcountry zones for skiing, skinning and snowshoeing.
“Our mission is to expand backcountry recreation opportunities within The Valley and nearby areas. We want managed terrain and managed trails that get up into the mountains. The conservation-environmental-stewardship piece of this is to make sure we do this in a way that is sustainable long term,” said Sharp.
In addition to collaborating with the conservation commission, MRVBC also plans on collaborating with the Mad River Glen and Sugarbush ski areas. In fact, they have already organized a community event with the ski areas: The Earn-Your-Turns Roundtable on December 5 at 6 p.m. in Rumble’s Kitchen at Sugarbush. This meeting is open to the public and meant for all outdoor-oriented folks: land managers, ski area operators, downhill skiers, backcountry explorers and more. The topics of this meeting include managing backcountry zones, conservation of mountain lands, backcountry safety and ski area access policies. In addition to MRVBC, Mad River Glen and Sugarbush, the organizations represented include the Catamount Trail Association (CTA) the Green Mountain National Forest (GMNF), Vermont Forest, Parks, and Recreation (FPR) and Vermont Search and Rescue (SAR).
“This roundtable event will bring together skiers and riders interested in earning-their-turns, those who climb and use the mountains of The Valley and beyond. Earn-your-turn enthusiasts will be able to discuss the opportunities and challenges that this growing sport has stimulated!” said Sharp.
EDUCATION AND SAFETY
While various organizations listed above are unique in the services they offer, they overlap in one key area: education and safety. At the conservation meeting, Sharp emphasized education and safety as a fundamental part of MRVBC’s mission. “As more and more people get into doing backcountry activities, we want to help them think a little bit before they go, so they know to have that extra layer of clothing, so they know to bring a repair kit in case the binding blows up, so they know to travel with somebody else. We see a lot of overlap in terms of opportunities for education and awareness of safety issues with the other ski areas in The Valley, especially because many backcountry skiers are also downhill skiers.”
As of now, MRVBC has no definitive projects. However, in the future projects may include managing gladed terrain or expanding access to cross-country skiing. Until then, MRVBC is developing by forming alliances with other outdoor-oriented organizations and educating the public on how to have safe backcountry fun.