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Skinning is Not a Crime

You might have noticed some minor changes here. Chief among them is that my domain has changed. Epic Riding is now GrizzlyAdam.net. And thanks to some technical voodoo from Jeff Higham, I was able to change the domain without the need for any of you to change or update blogrolls or bookmarks. Even the archives display the new domain. Something called a 301 redirect. Whatever that is. Next week I will go into a little more detail about why I made this change, and what it means for the future of this space.


Roland Fleck, a 78 year old backcountry skier was arrested at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort for skinning against traffic. That is, uphill. He did not go down easily—it took 7 patrollers (and 2 pairs of handcuffs!) over 3 hours to forcefully remove Mr. Fleck from the mountain.

Roland Fleck has always been a big supporter of the ski area but believes he has a right to ski uphill, Dan Fleck, an attorney with The Spence Law Firm who is representing his father, said.

“He was within his rights to access the forest, and he was skiing safely,” Dan Fleck said.

Roland Fleck simply wanted to combine exercise with an outing to his granddaughter’s ski race, Dan Fleck said, and he had no intention of stealing a lift ticket or stealing a ride on a lift.

Ski patrollers told deputies who responded to the resort Saturday that a 78-year-old skier defied their orders to stop skiing uphill, skied over several patrollers’ skis, refused an offer of a free day pass and refused to leave the resort, sheriff’s Capt. Scott Terry said.

Deputies were transported to Roland Fleck’s location at the NASTAR course under the Casper Lift in a toboggan, Terry said. They told Fleck skiing uphill was a violation of Wyoming law and that it is considered unsafe, he said.

They asked him to meet them at the base of the mountain so they could issue him a citation, but he refused to cooperate, Terry said.

Deputies arrested Fleck and used two sets of handcuffs linked together behind his back to restrict his arms, Terry said. They sat him in a toboggan with a deputy as ski patrollers sledded him down the mountain, Terry said.

Fleck spent about seven hours in the Teton County Jail, an arrest summary report shows.

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort—like several resorts here in the Wasatch—leases land from the USFS.

The trespassing charge likely would apply to Fleck because resort regulations prohibit skiing uphill and the resort has a right to ask someone engaging in prohibited activities to leave, Terry said.

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort has a 40-year special-use permit to use U.S. Forest Service lands, Ray Spencer, Teton Division winter sports administrator for the Bridger-Teton National Forest, said.

Because the resort assumes liability for all activities inside the permit area, it has the authority to regulate what can and cannot be done there, he said.

Incidentally, the article quoted above has a rather lot of “he said” and “they said”. Perhaps more facts about what happened will shed more light on the event.

However…

I think it’s fairly clear that Fleck was engaging in an act of defiant civil disobedience. Had he been genuinely unaware of the policy he’d have acquiesced to the original demand to cease and desist. Instead, he decided to make a point. And it’s a good point. That is, our public lands are hardly public are they? Our access to them is based entirely on the whimsical approval of the owners land managers. In other words, “public” is entirely conditional. In this specific case however, it’s obvious that the ski resort had been granted some jurisdiction to enforce safety and other regulations within the boundaries of the resort. Regulations that Fleck was probably well aware of, and was (deliberately?) flaunting.

The incident, beyond being rather tyrannical and violent—was brute force really necessary?—has sparked a conversation within the backcountry ski community about the merit of skinning regulations. And that’s a good thing. It has also reignited the somewhat tenuous tolerance that resort managers and backcountry skiers reluctantly grant one another.

What do you think? Was Roland Fleck within his rights as a citizen? And what do you think about uphill ski laws? Specifically, those laws being enforced on land that is—nominally—public? Or, as Dave asks “to what if any extent does a private company have rights to restrict activity on public land which they merely (for however long) lease.”

Posted in Outdoor, Ski

17 Responses to “Skinning is Not a Crime”

  1. mark says:

    This and the incident Andrew describes with Wasatch Powderbirds raises a valid point about whether public agencies are working in the public’s interest when granting leases and use permits to ski operators on public lands.

    I would say they are not. The fees received from WPG likely don’t even cover the cost of clearing the bureaucratic red tape to grant the permit. So it likely costs us as taxpayers money for the Powderbirds to operate, and we receive zero public benefit in return. Although ski resorts like JHMR can make a better case regarding public benefit because of the economic impact the resort has on the town of Jackson, this still seems an abuse of the permit and a case of excessive force. Fleck did not present a danger to himself or others while standing and watching the race, so why did he need to be detained?

    • Grizzly Adam says:

      I tried to leave a comment on Andrew’s post, but was too pissed off to come up with a coherent thought. Frankly, I think your comment there summed it up perfectly.

      And as the federal government proves on a regular basis, what the federal government deems good for the public is really only good for the federal government.

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  3. Bob says:

    I’m no lawyer, but I believe a lessee has the right to set rules on usage of the property they lease. Whether or not htis is just depends upon your perspective.

    If you were innocently enjoying your downhill run a JHMR, getting some needed speed in for the endorphin release, and came around a blind corner and ran directly into Mr. Fleck, who do you think would win in a civil suit?

    Should they allow snowmobilers to shred the slopes too?

    So you call it Brute and/or excessive force, Mr. Fleck refused to submit to the rules of the lessee. Which in turn resulted in law officials arriving, he then refused to cooperate. They then acted lawfully and detained him. Mr. Fleck, seemingly initiated the conflict and created the escalation.

    Claiming he was wronged is a stretch, whether I agree with his stance or not.

    • Grizzly Adam says:

      If you were innocently enjoying your downhill run at JHMR, getting some needed speed in for the endorphin release, and came around a blind corner and ran directly into… a snowboarder sprawled across the slope… who do think would win in a civil suit?

  4. KanyonKris says:

    I say Fleck was tilting at windmills and being more of jerk than making a point. Refusing the lift pass is a red flag.

    But Fleck did bring attention to the issue. Have resorts been asked to provide uphill routes and refused?

    • Grizzly Adam says:

      Sometimes the best way to make a point is to be a jerk. Within the BC ski community however, it’s JHMR that is losing the PR war.

  5. Grizzly Adam says:

    Another interesting point I came across: “Fleck did not buy a ski ticket, so noone had any “authority” over him. He was on forest service land, and whether the law can be interpreted to suggest that he has no right to be there is undecided. It is doubtful that the village’s “safety policy” and lease permits them to enforce that requirement against an individual like Fleck, who has not agreed [through the purchase of a ticket] to the policys and disclosures of the village.”

  6. Bob says:

    I’m certain the law is clear on this, the resorts liability is not determined only by a lift ticket purchase, nor are the rules limited to those who buy a ticket.

    If i sneak into the Utah State fair park for a concert and get really drunk, and then get arrested for public intoxication i think a court would laugh at me if i said i didn’t buy a ticket, so the rules don’t apply. Let’s call that the gate crasher defense.

  7. Ed says:

    Great the end result will be more byzantine rules, regulations and restrictions across the board. More freedom withdrawn. No stinkin’ public land access for you hoss!

    Ed

  8. mtb w says:

    Legally, this guy is on the wrong side of the law. He was trespassing and refused to obey a police officer’s command. Public land leased to a private party makes the public land not so public during the term of the lease. If he had gone onto an oil drilling site that was located on public land but was leased to a private oil company, is that trespassing? Fraid so. There are different degrees of allowable public access to public land and if public land is leased out, then the terms of that lease govern (though public land managers can insert language in the lease to allow certain types of public access/use if they want). “Public land” does not mean open to anyone, anytime. So this guy was in the wrong.

    Now, if he wanted to make a public statement about use and management of public lands, he had the right to do that using lawful means. The fact that he refused the ski resort’s attempt to accomodate (asking him to leave voluntarily, offer a free day pass, etc.) and refused to cooperate with authorities during his arrest shows that he was either being a jerk or was using civil disobediance to bring these issues to light. Either way, accept the punishment.

  9. Dan says:

    Well, “Public” does not equal “Free Use”
    A public road is very regulated. The direction you drive, the direction your car faces when it parks, and even the equipment on you vehicle is very tightly regulated. But its all for our safety.
    Thus once something becomes “public”, an actual better term would be “limited use” due to the necessity to regulate.

    • Grizzly Adam says:

      If 2-way traffic is inherently dangerous, does that mean the singletrack that we all ride should become one-way trails? How often do we come across a slow moving uphill rider (hiker, horseback rider, runner) while we are ripping down the hill? A lot. And how often do we catastrophically collide? Not much.

      And safety (especially for government agencies) is often a cloak for revenue gathering schemes. Speeding laws, for example.

      So I don’t think the safety angle holds much water in this case. However, I think the guy was knowingly breaking rules. He was deliberately being a jerk. Why? To make his point. I’m not sure he did so in the best possible way, but as I said, he has sparked a good, and worthwhile conversation.

  10. Bob says:

    the more i think about this, the more i think this could be our generations Salt Satyagraha. Or maybe even our Selma to Montgomery marches. Power to the people.

    the market will correct all.

  11. Flahute says:

    Deputies were transported to Roland Fleck’s location at the NASTAR course under the Casper Lift in a toboggan, Terry said. They told Fleck skiing uphill was a violation of Wyoming law and that it is considered unsafe, he said. They asked him to meet them at the base of the mountain so they could issue him a citation, but he refused to cooperate, Terry said.

    I’d like someone to tell me exactly which part of the Wyoming Civil or Criminal Code states “skiing uphill is illegal” …

  12. DD says:

    First off–having lived in Jackson for nearly a decade you come to realize that it is one of the biggest “Entitlement” towns. The attitude, “I have been here the longest, done the most, biggest bra, etc.” seems to make individuals feel like they are entitled to do whatever they want and are completely shocked and appalled when they can’t get away with it. Does this incident smell of entitlement–in my opinion yes. Secondly, we live in a rule based society with tons of lawyers sniffing around (ambulance chasers). And yes whether you believe or not there could have been a collision and yes there could be a lawsuit. Your analogy to riding singletrack doesn’t fly as there is no-one to sue. There have been cases of un-lawful uphill travel where collisions have occurred (mainly due to snowmobiles) and resorts were held liable. Come-on make a point for solving world hunger or something really important in the world and accept a free ticket to watch your grand-daughter!