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Epic Snow Fight: Skiers v. Snowmobilers

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

Many Americans know that Washington's Mt. St. Helens produced the deadliest and most destructive eruption in U.S. history.

But relatively few know that Oregon's Newberry Crater has spewed out 20 times more volcanic material than Mt. St. Helens. That's because it last erupted 1,300 years ago and its activity spanned 600,000 years.

And in the shadow of these volcanic eruptions, another heated exchange has endured for generations: the battle between skiers and snowmobilers for fresh snow.

Snow Suit

It came to a head in Oregon, where a skiers' association sued the National Forest Service over a proposed sno-park. The forest service was trying to alleviate tension between the winter recreationalists by dividing them with separate parking areas.

"The two most popular winter activities in Deschutes National Forest are snowmobiling and cross-country skiing," the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals observed in Wild Wilderness v. Oregon State Snowmobile Association. "Cross-country skiers and other recreationalists who prefer non-motorized activities often dislike the noise and tracks left by snowmobilers..."

The plaintiffs said the forest service violated provisions of the National Forest Management Act by opening a new sno-park for snowmobile riders. Instead, the plaintiffs wanted to ban the motorized users from the sno-park.

A trial court granted judgment against the plaintiffs, finding that the forest service complied with the applicable laws. They were more like guidelines, the court said.


On appeal, the Ninth Circuit agreed. When conflicts occur between non-motorized and motorized use, the NFMA and the governing Land and Resource Management Plan say the forest service may:

  • Designate trails for specific uses
  • Intensify educational and indirect management
  • Restrict motorized use of Nordic trails
  • Close the area where conflicts occur

The appeals court said the forest service used all steps to resolve the problem, but ultimately chose to open the new sno-park with additional parking for snowmobile use. That did not violate the NFMA, the court said.

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