Director’s Blog 2/15/19

Director’s Blog 2/15/19
By Ian Billick, PhD

The winter mists hiding Gothic have permanently lifted. Jennie and I spent one glorious winter as caretakers in 1996-1997. I may be the only person to ski part way to a PhD defense in San Diego. It started puking snow in early December and the larger world faded away, much like Brigadoon, the mythical Scottish highland village that only occasionally opens to the larger world. Visitors to Gothic were rare.

I was shocked in 2017 on a ski to Gothic. Between Giles playing hockey in every small Colorado ski town, and theease of skiing on the mountain, I rarely ski to Gothic. When I pulled up to a trailhead with 50+ cars, it was shocking. There were skiers and dogs everywhere. It was no longer an abstraction that the ridgelines around Gothic are known by backcountry skiers around the world.

I spent some time personally grieving for the loss of a place and time that had been important to Jennie and I. But we had to get a handle on the situation given the impact to research. We established travel corridors around Gothic to move skiers away from research sites. We require Gothic visitors to use those corridors and the caretakers set a skin track in those corridors. If you have ever broken trail in the backcountry, you can appreciate why that works.

Unlike summer, winter trespass is obvious and at times we have aggressively enforced our private property rights. But we have emphasized communication and understanding. We have brought backcountry skiers into our community, talking with them individually (especially the guides), educating them when they use the Gothic huts or take avalanche courses. We have encouraged the backcountry community to take pride in RMBL and our research.

For the most part, the backcountry community has responded positively. People use the ski tracks set by ourcaretakers. Snodgrass is heavily visited, but most stay south of Gothic. Many people come up from, and returndown, Washington Gulch.

The Gothic that I first came to in 1988 is gone, which is as much about me as Gothic. As much as I bemoan the opening of the world, I also appreciate the people who are learning to love and value Gothic in their own way.