Just north of Mammoth and a little bit south of Tahoe in the wild crags of the Sierra Range sits a chunk of land called Sonora Pass. There are no resorts here-no halfpipes or terrain parks, and definitely no chairlifts. You get places by your own two legs-or more likely, by snowmobile.
Sonora’s proximity to both Mammoth and Tahoe means that film crews like Standard and Neoproto depend on the area for awesome backcountry footage just like other crews count on the Whistler out-of-bounds. However, the pass is part of the Stanislaus and Toiyabe National Forest, and much of the acreage is designated Wilderness, meaning snowmobiles are not allowed off the roads at all, and violators are subject to 500-dollar fines and potential sled impoundment.
Lucky for shreds in the motorized pursuit of powder, the Forest Service has been fairly lax about enforcing these restrictions, but things might be changing. Rumors flew through the pro-snowboard community last season that sledders were getting fined in the Sonora Pass parking lot, and that the Forest Service was shutting down the area completely to snowmobiles for the following winter.
However, the real truth is that nothing is really changing-because areas beyond designated roads are already closed to motorized vehicles. “The (established) law bans any type of motorized equipment, including snowmobiles and chainsaws, to enter designated Wilderness Areas,” says Stanislaus National Forest’s Jerry Snyder.
It seems the only thing that’s really changing is that the FS is working to raise awareness about the laws and might be enforcing them a bit more, as well. This shift could very well be instigated by pressure from environmental groups in the area. According to the (CSERC) Web site, “The Forest Service has not effectively responded to snowmobile violations with clear, strong, and well-publicized law enforcement and educational efforts.”The site also states that, “During Forest Service over-flights on a single weekend in March (2004), more than 100 snowmobiles were observed violating Wilderness or roadless-area boundaries.”
So shredding versus the environment? It’s a tough call. Shit, we love powder here at TWS, but we like nature, too-yeah, bunnies and trees and stuff are all right by us. As for the situation actually changing, the Stanislaus Forest Service didn’t acknowledge any new restrictions-or even that it was planning to escalate patrols and Wilderness-law enforcement. So who knows? For now, we’ll all just have to wait and see-and I guess bring our checkbooks when we go shred Sonora.-J.S.