Two of the area's best backcountry skiing areas might be closed to motorized use. The Lolo National Forest's Missoula Ranger District is proposing a winter shutdown of the roads in the Lolo Pass area that access "Crystal Theater" and "The Spot" (actually, powder hounds call it "The G-Spot," but Forest Service officials felt it best to lose the "G" in their announcement).
Last year, through the Montana Legacy Project, the Lolo National Forest acquired about 39,000 acres of land near Lolo Pass. It's attempting to maintain existing uses in the area.
"It was apparent that [Crystal Theater and the G-Spot] were used for backcountry skiing by the earn-your-turn, climb-and-ski types," says the Missoula Ranger District's Andy Kulla. "They have some characteristics that are unique for this type of experience—close to Missoula, close to plowed roads, dependable snow, diverse terrain, and low avalanche danger."
Under the proposal, the roads would be closed to motorized travel in the winter. They're already closed to wheeled vehicles yearlong and to snowmobiles from mid October to December 1.
The Montana Backcountry Alliance supports the proposal "wholeheartedly," says board member Greg Peters. "It formalizes a history of non-motorized use on two of the best backcountry stashes close to Missoula."
Stan Spencer, a member of Missoula Snowgoers Snowmobile Club, says he personally opposes the closure because he believes it sets a precedent for future closures that serve only one group of users. "Public lands should be managed for balanced multiple use," he says. "All the closures, actual and proposed, favor non-motorized users and restrict access to areas traditionally used by motorized users."
Crystal Theater and G-Spot are in the midst of a 226-mile groomed snowmobile trail system in Montana and Idaho.
"Some folks might be concerned that this is the beginning of a larger effort to close wintertime motorized use over a larger area," Kulla says. "It's not."
The Missoula Ranger District is accepting public comments on the proposal through June 15.