Neighborhood Watch: The Wasatch Backcountry Alliance

No greater metropolitan area has a larger population living so close to the mountains than Salt Lake City. The Wasatch Front is home to more than 1.7 million people, 11 ski resorts and near-constant, seemingly ceaseless battles over open spaces.

A lifelong Wasatch backcountry skier and president of the newly formed Wasatch Backcountry Alliance, Jamie Kent is now at the forefront of advocating for the protection of Salt Lake’s backyard bc. Here’s what he and his organization are up to.

Aaron Rice on Cardiff Fork watch. [Photo] Tyler Cohen

Aaron Rice on Cardiff Fork watch. [Photo] Tyler Cohen

 Backcountry: What’s your personal connection with the Wasatch?

Jamie Kent: I was born in Salt Lake City, so I grew up going on family outings in the Wasatch Mountains. I’ve developed a love and passion for the Wasatch and what it has to offer. It’s so close to where we live, and it’s so hard to separate the mountains from our valley. There’s an amazing peace we can find there.

BCM: How has the backcountry scene changed over the last decade?

JK: Even five or six years ago you could go in the backcountry and you wouldn’t see another skier. Now, it’s much more used, and people are moving from the ski resorts to the backcountry. There are a lot more development plans, so there’s a much greater need to seek to protect these areas.

BCM: How and when was the Wasatch Backcountry Alliance formed?

JK: Out of the Stop SkiLink movement and the Friends of Flagstaff, and thanks to Mark Menlove of Winter Wildlands Alliance, we formed just a couple months ago. We had just over 300 people attend [a Stop SkiLink fundraiser] and we raised a ton of money. It showed a need to organize. It seemed like we were lacking a unified voice.

BCM: What are the goals of WBA?

JK: Our goal is to provide a unified voice for human-powered winter users. Not just skiers and snowboarders, but snowshoers, cross-country skiers, winter hikers…even for people that go to the ski resorts to be able to look across the mountains and see backcountry. One of our immediate goals right now is to count the number of [backcountry] users to more readily provide numbers that will be useful for advocating to local government—who are these people, where are they coming from, how many are there….

BCM: What other projects will go along with that?

JK: In the future, we’d like to be involved in the planning process if there are ski-area expansion plans. We want to have a say. We want local government and processes to come to us for feedback and data.

BCM: Why does the Wasatch, of all places, need a backcountry advocacy group?

JK: What we have here that nobody else has is a unique balance between ski areas and backcountry. You go over one ridge and you’re in a ski resort and in between there you have an awesome backcountry area. I think that balance is really important to maintain. And that’s one our goals: to advocate and to preserve the unique balance we have. That’s part of the resort experience, too, seeing those amazing views from the chair lift. We want to see that continue, both for the backcountry community and the resort skiers.

This story was first published in the November 2013 issue of Backcountry Magazine. Find out more about the Wasatch Backcountry Alliance on Facebook and at wasatchbackcountryalliance.com.

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