Update: I realize this is incredibly tedious, but I’ll leave it up anyway as a testament to my late summer boredom.

Saturday afternoon while napping I briefly awoke, startled, to the sound of Seany B laughing.  After a mumbled inquiry into what he was laughing about, Sean replied reading a quote from the book he was reading. “The truth is that for hours each day I am a moron,” Sean recited laughing.  I quickly returned to sleep, finding Sean’s quote amusing, but more simply something that I’d gladly admit to being true of my own life.

I provided myself with an example of the quote’s clarity last night while reading an article in the Economist, titled Commons Sense.  The article was a brief summary of various philosophies of public resource management.  Despite it being late summer I failed in applying the various ideas to anything of worldly interest (a topic on which it shouldn’t be hard in Alaska) and instead spent the entire time relating it to skiing.  The articles opening, which quotes the work of biologist Garret Hardin uses the example of grazing on common lands to explain the many problems facing publicly controlled resources, in this instance common pastures.  It states…
“Picture a pasture open to all,” he wrote. A herdsman grazing his animals on the land will have an incentive “to add another animal to his herd. And another; and another…But this is the conclusion reached by each and every rational herdsman sharing a commons. Therein is the tragedy.” Each herdsman captures all the benefit from an extra animal but the cost of overgrazing is borne by all.”


Myopic to the verge of pointlessness, the first thing that sprang to my mind was skiers chasing fresh snow. To translate the stated example, each skier want’s more and more untracked snow, and although the gratification each gets from an additional run is both real and tangible to the individual, the skiers bare the cost of each additional run collectively(if we can collectivize a mass of skiers, as in the people who are skiing in a particular area), as in fresh snow being increasingly scarce, the need to hike further for unblemished snow is bared by all.  When it comes to finding fresh snow it matters not wether the previous turns are of your own or another’s making, it is their existence that matters when fresh snow is the goal. 
Euros turn too much, this is a very inefficient use of resources!

Euros turn too much, they should know this is a very inefficient use of resources!

The article, which is excellent and highly recommended by those of us here at Dongshow, embarks from Hardin’s example, rooted in the British Enclosure Movement of the 18th century,  not to elaborate on the plights of backcountry skiers ,  to discuss why the theory matter’s today (“three quarters of those living on less than $2 a day still depend in some way on commonly held resources”) , and to point out the holes in Hardins example, that (not as the delusional fools at the Acton Institute my try to claim) public resources are inherently inefficient and backwards , but that rather in many cases sensible management of public resources can benefit all.


“The other implication of Hardin’s analysis—that the commons are doomed—came under attack early on. When economists began to look at how systems of commonly managed resources actually worked, they found to their surprise that they often worked quite well. Swiss Alpine pastures; Japanese forests; irrigation systems in Spain and the Philippines. All these were examples of commons that lasted for decades. Some irrigation networks held in common were more efficiently run than the public and private systems that worked alongside them. Though there were failures, too, it seemed as if good management could stave off the tragedy. Before he died, Hardin admitted he should have called his article “The Tragedy of the Unmanaged Commons”.


And although the article goes on to discuss “new age commons”, namely the internet, I drifted into the worlds of snow management before being distracted by something else of modest interest.  This article and my petty mental linking of it to skiing would have been forever forgotten, if not for my reading of WildSnow this morning, which got me thinking about cable routes, which fueled by office boredom led me into lengthy contemplation of ski resource management.


Typically Inefficient Americans.

Typically Inefficient Americans.

My thoughts on cable routes, or via ferrata, were that despite having a massive impact on their surroundings and the general experience of any location, they clearly have their place, I wouldn’t want to see them everywhere, but on the themes of think economist article, I think that if they were used sensibly they could have a definite positive impact on the way us skiers enjoy the backcountry, which I figure is a mostly unregulated common resource.  Yes, they would damage the natural experience of some areas, but in many places where you are required to battle traffic, park next to tourist filled RV’s taking photos of dazed wildlife, and pass and be passed by countless people on the way up, what kind of natural experience are you really deluded enough to expect, and would a couple cables easing your last hundred feet of rock scrambling really make a difference.  I can’t really say it would to me.

the rat race

the rat race

The number of factors that effect how I go about searching for fresh snow is infinitesimal, everything from the condition of my car, to the dampness of my socks will effect where I go on a particular day.  Ski Areas clearly use seemingly unseen factors to manage crowd control.  Alta makes you traverse all over for it, places like Baker and others use backcountry gates and regulations requiring  beacons requiring beacons to keep the unprepared out and the rest clustered into particular areas.  By far my favorite control tactic is the use of fear in Chamonix, where they couldn’t care less where you go, but also make it clear they care even less if you make it back alive, which has a tendency to wake people up and keep the gapers on groomers.
Effective crowd control

Effective crowd control

In the backcountry, where things are supposedly by definition unregulated, our behavior is still controlled by a endless outside factors.  It’s normally obvious that places with good parking, established skin trails, easy approaches, snowmobile access, the presence of helicopters and moderate terrain see increased crowds.  The very factor of tracks decreasing as one moves further from the road or trail head is apparent to anyone who ventures into the backcountry.  And I think it’s not a stretch to say that some of these factors can be managed for everyones benefit.
“In systems too large for a single group, there are layers of decision-making: the nomads of the Sahel, for example, used to have overlapping informal authorities up and down the Niger river. Tragedy often occurs when governments come along in hobnailed boots and trample over these informal systems, as happened in the Sahel during a dreadful drought in the 1970s.”


This is example is of African nomads I think is very fitting.  Formal regulations, although necessary in some cases (I don’t want helicopters and snowmobiles going everywhere; I enjoy both but equally see the annoyance) are going to inevitably be irksome.  But informal movements, much like basic etiquette, can be effective.  Providing good parking, cable routes, trails, signs and many of the things people set out to avoid can go a long ways towards concentrating people in particular areas, and thus they can equally be avoided.   That too me seems the most efficient use of our precious terrain.  Provide access in certain locals to congregate the masses, while leaving open lawless spaces for the more ambitious.   Sorry for writing aimlessly, but I’d be interested to hear what people think.  As you can tell, I’m not doing much at work today.