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King 1005

Dressed in his pine-green U.S. Forest Service uniform, Ed Ryberg ducks under a closure rope and skates to the lip of Montezuma Bowl, a 375-acre alpine basin just outside the boundary of Colorado's Arapahoe Basin ski area. The bowl's white expanse is virtually untracked and Ryberg is eager to drop in and make some turns, but first there's work to do. He's on the taxpayer's clock, after all.

Ryberg's job title is National Winter Sports Program Leader, but in layman's terms he's the federal government's man on the slopes. More than 130 ski areas operate in national forests, where every operational detail is closely regulated. Before a ski area can replace a lift, add a terrain park, build a bigger day lodge or thin trees on a glade, it must get Forest Service approval. A 28-year Forest Service veteran and lifelong skier, Ryberg, 57, analyzes these proposals—dozens can cross his desk in a typical year. Field analysis is crucial to the approval process. When a ski area wants to add terrain, Rybverg, based in Denver, Colo., packs his skis.

Today's he's come to A-Basin because its operators hope to build a chairlift in Montezuma Bowl, a move that would nearly double the size of the 490-acre ski area and put it on the map as a destination for prime above-treeline skiing. Skiers could do laps on Montezuma's 1,100 vertical feet all day, working fresh lines.

"It would spread people out and ease congestion in the base area," says A-Basin general manager Alan Henceroth, who has huffed up to the lip of Montezuma Bowl to pitch the project. Ryberg scans the proposed terrain. To the left, East Bowl swoops toward the valley floor in a mellow grade of 20 degrees—ideal for intermediates. To the right, West Bowl tilts to an imposing 40 degrees, with its expert slopes punctuated by rock outcroppings. Powder-filled tree stashes dot the lower portion of the bowl. Ryberg likes what he sees: "Bread-and-butter terrain," he calls it.[NEXT ""]It's time for Ryberg, a telemarker, to get to work. He pushes off from the 12,470-foot-high ridgeline and arcs precise turns through knee-deep powder. Already this winter, he has skied 20 resorts across the Rockies, from Montana's Bridger Bowl to Wyoming's Jackson Hole, where he enjoyed a 20-inch dump and braved the Crags—new experts-only rocky chutes. Ryberg skis so much he doesn't bother to count the days anymore. I'm surprised when, midway down Montezuma Bowl, he snags a rock and falls in a heap. Embarrassed, he hops up, dusts himself off and rips the bottom. Watching from the ridge, I decide that Ryberg may have the best job in the federal government. "People see my uniform and ask if I get to ski for free," he says. "'Heck no,' I tell them." A smile spreads below his reddish moustache. "'I get paid to do this."'

For the next three days, I tag along as Ryberg visits some of the biggest proposed terrain expansions in Colorado's White River National Forest. Home to Vail, Breckenridge, Copper, Aspen, Keystone, Arapahoe Basin and others, the White River domain could be called the epicenter of American skiing. The 22 areas in Colorado national forests generate more than 11 million skier visits—about one in five skier visits nationwide—and pump millions of dollars into the state's economy. Denver's population boom means A-Basin and neighboring resorts will see an extra 320,000 skier visits by 2010, the Forest Service projects. To maintain current skier densities, the Forest Service wants to open thousands of acres in coming years.

But expanding on public lands is a complex process. Resorts must show a need for new acreage. The public must express support for the expansion. Environmental impacts must be minimized and terrain must be deemed suitable for good, safe skiing.

Determining whether an expansion meets those criteria can take years. Environmental studies must be commissioned, public meetings held and federal laws followed. Ryberg, an expert on the intricate twists and turns of expaion policies, guides ski resorts through a maze of paperwork and helps local Forest Service supervisors render verdicts. "I'm like a consultant," Ryberg says. "I've dealt with expansions all over the country, so I can tell them what they need to think about." Increasingly, that means managing controversy. While resorts clamor for new terrain, environmental groups, backcountry skiers and local residents often bitterly resist expansions.

Early next morning, Ryberg and I rendezvous at Copper Mountain. Accompanied by Mike Unruh, Copper's director of mountain operations, Marketing Director Ben Friedland and local Forest Service snow ranger Joe Foreman, we hike 20 minutes to the top of Tucker Mountain and stop, winded, at the edge of Diamond Face, a 37-degree pitch. Copper wants to build a lift to the top of Tucker, eliminating the hike needed to access 275 acres of world-class terrain. Tucker is north-facing, which means quality snow, Ryberg notes, and the slopes wouldn't require much modification. "For a minimal impact, it would open up a lot of terrain. It has all the ingredients."[NEXT ""]

Having all the ingredients, however, guarantees nothing. Copper and the Forest Service began working on the Tucker proposal nearly a decade ago. The resort still awaits a decision as the Forest Service and other government agencies pore over the project's environmental consequences. When it comes to ski-area expansions, environmental protection is paramount. The National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, requires the government to consider citizen comments on any federal action that impacts the environment. The bigger the project, the more detailed and costly the study. The Forest Service required Copper to pay for an Environmental Impact Statement—a dreaded term for businesses that operate on public lands. An EIS often takes years to complete and can cost millions of dollars. The Forest Service, Environmental Protection Agency, Fish and Wildlife Service and Army Corps of Engineers all examined the Copper project to ensure that it would comply with Clean Water, Clean Air (extra terrain means more visitors and more car traffic) and Endangered Species Acts. Copper has spent $1.5 million on the EIS process, and Unruh estimates it could be another year or more before a decision is finalized.

Hoping to streamline the NEPA process, the Bush administration has commissioned a task force to review it. Environmentalists counter that reviewing NEPA is a slick cover to gut federal environmental safeguards in favor of commercial interests that operate on federal lands. They cite efforts to shorten the public appeals period and to exclude smaller projects from NEPA review. These "categorical exclusions" would, for instance, allow the Forest Service to grant permission to replace a lift without a lengthy review. "The public's desire for land stewardship and wildlife protections are being pushed aside," says Sloan Shoemaker of the Carbondale, Colo.-based Wilderness Workshop. We temporarily forget about the contentiousness as we drop down the steep pitch of Diamond Face. The snow is tracked but soft, and we slice down the initial treeless pitch. With Unruh and Friedland leading, Ryberg and I veer in separate directions as the slope widens into the powder-filled Fremont Glades. "That was fantastic," Ryberg says when we meet at the bottom. With the athletic build of a three-decade Forest Service worker, a voice like a news anchor and deep smile-wrinkles around his eyes that attest to a lifetime at altitude, Ryberg looks more at home in the field than in his small Forest Service office in Denver, where he lives with his wife (his two kids are grown).

A career public servant who has worked through Republican and Democratic administrations, he avoids political talk. Even so, his ideals shine through in places. Ryberg's Toyota Tacoma pickup truck bears a red, white and blue peace sign. His K2 Hippy Stinx tele skis are plastered with stickers—Che Guevara, Bob Marley—that give insight into his child-of-the-'60s leanings. "What are you talking about?" he says, feigning incredulity, when asked about a Grateful Dead sticker. "Jerry's not dead." [NEXT ""]

Born in Salt Lake City in 1947, Ryberg grew up skiing the steep fall lines of Alta and hiking in Montana's Gallatin National Forest, where his grandparents owned a cabin. In college, he returned to Montana during the summer to work the night shift at a sawmill. By that time, he knew he wanted to work in the woods, so he took part-time summer jobs with the Forest Service while obtaining a master's degree in forestry from Utah State. In 1978, he got his big break when the service gave him a full-time job in Alaska's Chugach National Forest. Stationed in Cordova on Prince William Sound, he helicoptered to remote locations to perform timber surveys for 10-day stretches. He skied Mount Eyak, a local one-chairlift ski area.

Ryberg's expertise in ski-area planning grew when the Forest Service sent him to Steamboat, Colo., in 1983. The resort wanted to expand, and Ryberg guided the development of the area's Sunshine Bowl. After a stint as supervisor of the South Platte district outside Denver, where his last official act was torching the decrepit lodge at the defunct Geneva Basin ski area, he landed his current job in 1994 thanks to a Forest Service boss who also spent time in Alaska. "I got it handed to me on a silver platter," he says. Ryberg declines to specify his salary, but his federal GS-14 pay grade suggests the veteran Forest Service employee takes home $90,000 to $117,000 per year.

As the government's ski-resort pointman, Ryberg is unabashed about his role in promoting skiing. "We are interested in providing first-class recreational opportunities in national forests. That's our objective," he says. Sometimes, that means tackling unpopular issues. The first time I interviewed Ryberg, he was grappling with the agency's policy regarding outdoor advertising on public lands. Ski industry executives are pushing the Forest Service to allow corporations to sponsor costly terrain parks and other amenities that would otherwise be paid for by rising prices at the resort.

Interviewing Ryberg, it becomes clear he objects to the thought of more advertising at ski areas. But as a public servant he understands the benefit of allowing ski areas to finance improvements with sponsors' dollars. "He's reasonable, he's a good listener, and he's well versed in policy," says Chuck Tolton, Keystone's director of mountain operations.

Despite his close relationship with the ski industry, Ryberg speaks his mind when he sees something he dislikes. At A-Basin, he complains about the rapid speed of a fixed-grip lift, which he considers dangerous for beginners. Later, while driving up to a parking attendant's booth at Breckenridge, he notices a large sign that implores skiers to know the Ski Safety Act. Ryberg asks the 20-something kid in the booth if he has any copies. When the attendant says no, Ryberg bristles. I ask him if he was hazing the employee.

"They're telling people to know the act but they don't have any copies? That's ridiculous," he replies.

Established in 1905 to protect public forests from timber barons who stripped mountains bare, the Forest Service today oversees 191 million acres and employs 20,000 workers. The agency's principal job remains managing timber supplies and fighting forest fires, but recreation and skiing are increasingly growing in importance as more Americans head outdoors. Ski areas operate on Forest Service lands in 18 states and host 34 million skier visits (approximately 60 percent of the nation's total), which makes skiing the most popular sport in the national forests.[NEXT ""]

In fact, the Forest Service helped found the American ski industry. In the 1930s, Forest Service employees such as Alf Engen cleared trails, built lifts and stabilized hillsides eroded by abusive mining. Alta, Sun Valley, Snoob Marley—that give insight into his child-of-the-'60s leanings. "What are you talking about?" he says, feigning incredulity, when asked about a Grateful Dead sticker. "Jerry's not dead." [NEXT ""]

Born in Salt Lake City in 1947, Ryberg grew up skiing the steep fall lines of Alta and hiking in Montana's Gallatin National Forest, where his grandparents owned a cabin. In college, he returned to Montana during the summer to work the night shift at a sawmill. By that time, he knew he wanted to work in the woods, so he took part-time summer jobs with the Forest Service while obtaining a master's degree in forestry from Utah State. In 1978, he got his big break when the service gave him a full-time job in Alaska's Chugach National Forest. Stationed in Cordova on Prince William Sound, he helicoptered to remote locations to perform timber surveys for 10-day stretches. He skied Mount Eyak, a local one-chairlift ski area.

Ryberg's expertise in ski-area planning grew when the Forest Service sent him to Steamboat, Colo., in 1983. The resort wanted to expand, and Ryberg guided the development of the area's Sunshine Bowl. After a stint as supervisor of the South Platte district outside Denver, where his last official act was torching the decrepit lodge at the defunct Geneva Basin ski area, he landed his current job in 1994 thanks to a Forest Service boss who also spent time in Alaska. "I got it handed to me on a silver platter," he says. Ryberg declines to specify his salary, but his federal GS-14 pay grade suggests the veteran Forest Service employee takes home $90,000 to $117,000 per year.

As the government's ski-resort pointman, Ryberg is unabashed about his role in promoting skiing. "We are interested in providing first-class recreational opportunities in national forests. That's our objective," he says. Sometimes, that means tackling unpopular issues. The first time I interviewed Ryberg, he was grappling with the agency's policy regarding outdoor advertising on public lands. Ski industry executives are pushing the Forest Service to allow corporations to sponsor costly terrain parks and other amenities that would otherwise be paid for by rising prices at the resort.

Interviewing Ryberg, it becomes clear he objects to the thought of more advertising at ski areas. But as a public servant he understands the benefit of allowing ski areas to finance improvements with sponsors' dollars. "He's reasonable, he's a good listener, and he's well versed in policy," says Chuck Tolton, Keystone's director of mountain operations.

Despite his close relationship with the ski industry, Ryberg speaks his mind when he sees something he dislikes. At A-Basin, he complains about the rapid speed of a fixed-grip lift, which he considers dangerous for beginners. Later, while driving up to a parking attendant's booth at Breckenridge, he notices a large sign that implores skiers to know the Ski Safety Act. Ryberg asks the 20-something kid in the booth if he has any copies. When the attendant says no, Ryberg bristles. I ask him if he was hazing the employee.

"They're telling people to know the act but they don't have any copies? That's ridiculous," he replies.

Established in 1905 to protect public forests from timber barons who stripped mountains bare, the Forest Service today oversees 191 million acres and employs 20,000 workers. The agency's principal job remains managing timber supplies and fighting forest fires, but recreation and skiing are increasingly growing in importance as more Americans head outdoors. Ski areas operate on Forest Service lands in 18 states and host 34 million skier visits (approximately 60 percent of the nation's total), which makes skiing the most popular sport in the national forests.[NEXT ""]

In fact, the Forest Service helped found the American ski industry. In the 1930s, Forest Service employees such as Alf Engen cleared trails, built lifts and stabilized hillsides eroded by abusive mining. Alta, Sun Valley, Snowbasin and Arapahoe Basin—all in national forests—were among the first to open. Forest Service policy identifies skiing as a beneficial use of public lands.

With its uniforms and hierarchy of ranks, the Forest Service operates like the military. Orders come from the top brass, who often come from the timber industry. Asked how the agency has changed under President Bush, Ryberg speaks cautiously. "It's fair to say the previous administration was more environmentally focused," he says, "and this one is more business-focused."

Later on my second day with Ryberg, we ride to the top of Chair 6 at Breckenridge and stand in the shadow of Peak 8. In May, the Forest Service approved a $4 million high-speed quad to the top of the peak—a favorite destination for hike-to skiers. At 12,840 feet, the lift—scheduled to open next winter if all goes smoothly—would be

North America's highest (topping Loveland's Lift 9 by 140 feet). Skiers could drop straight down into Imperial Bowl, accessing 900 vertical feet across several hundred acres of appetizing advanced-intermediate terrain. Experts could hike from the top of the lift to Easy Street, which offers 30- to 35-degree pitches and postcard-perfect powder terrain. The Lake Chutes, reached by a long hike over the summit of Peak 8, offers menacing lines through rock outcroppings with pitches of 50 degrees and more. The proposed lift, Ryberg says, "will give upper-intermediate skiers a chance to get up into alpine terrain and think they're getting an extreme experience." Or, as Breckenridge Chief Operating Officer Roger McCarthy puts it, "They're gonna wet their pants."

For advanced skiers, alpine bowls offer breathtaking views and wide-open lines. "The high alpine stuff is what people really want," Ryberg says. Indeed, all the terrain we examine over our three days goes above treeline. Lifts that run to mountain peaks, however, raise safety concerns. From the summit of Peak 8, for instance, skiers could hike to untold acres of wild, avalanche-prone slopes. Deadly slides such as the one just outside the boundary at The Canyons in Utah last January could become more commonplace and raise the cost of search and rescue efforts. The Forest Service takes all of this under consideration when reviewing a proposed new lift or terrain expansion.

In contrast to the Copper Mountain proposal, the Forest Service issued its decision on Peak 8 in just six months, thanks to Ryberg's efforts to resolve many environmental questions before initiating the NEPA process. The Peak 8 expansion became a go after several environmental groups decided not to appeal the Forest Service's approval of the project in court. For environmental organizations, NEPA is a critical tool to halt—or at least delay—expansions. A majority of ski-area expansions are appealed on the basis of alleged NEPA violations. If these efforts fail, opponents often head straight to court. [NEXT ""]

There is no need for new terrain at Breckenridge, Copper, A-Basin—or just about anywhere else, says Shoemaker of the Wilderness Workshop, because "skier acreage is growing vastly faster than skier numbers." Indeed, skier visits nationwide have stagnated at about 54 million for more than a decade, while major terrain expansions such as Vail's 645-acre Blue Sky Basin and others have gone forward. "We want skiing, but we don't see a need for more acreage in undisturbed areas," Shoemaker says.

Ryberg partly agrees. In regions of the country with slow growth and low skier densities, there is no need for new alpine terrain, he says. He cited the rejection of a proposed new resort outside Missoula, Mont., noting "utilization of the existing acreage is relatively low." Ski resorts that serve Denver and other metro areas, however, are a different story. Nearly 250 ski areas nationwide have closed over the past 20 years, sending displaced skiers and boarders to Colorado, Utah, California and resorts within driving distance of large cities. "There is a centralization phenomenon going on in the ski industry," Ryberg says.

Back on Peak 8, we decide it would be unsafe to hike to the summit in the late dimming light, so we shuttle halfway up by snowmobile and bounce powder turns for several hundred yards before speeding down groomers to the Breckenridge base area. Day Three: Keystone. Four inches of snow cover the slope below as Ryberg and I peer down into Jones Gulch and scan Independence Mountain—areas where Keystone would like to add snowcat tours. Both expansions would include slopes with 30- to 50-degree pitches—advanced terrain. "It's a really interesting piece of property," Ryberg tells Tolton, Keystone's director of mountain operations, offering neither encouragement nor skepticism. "But the backcountry guys will be upset."

Locals who earn their turns hiking to backcountry slopes dislike expansions that open the door to mainstream skiers who track out their turf. An avid backcountry skier, Ryberg understands the complaints. "I can see why the hike-to-ski crowd so often objects. At Breck, it's a type of skiing experience that will go away."

Due to avalanche danger, we forgo skiing into Jones Gulch and instead make several laps through Bergman Bowl, where Keystone began running cat trips in 2004. It's Ryberg's first opportunity to ski Bergman, and he needs to check out the existing cat operation before forming his opinion on whether Keystone should be allowed to expand it. The snow in Bergman is pillowy. After three days of great skiing, it's time to say goodbye.

>In 2007, after 30 years with the Forest Service, Ryberg plans to retire and build a house in Montana. He'll miss the Forest Service's rough-hewn characters, who, after a long day outdoors, put a bottle of scotch on the table and tell war stories. "Those are my type of guys," he says one night after a few pints. Unfortunately, these days Forest Service employees often spend more time behind desks than tromping around in the field. Budget cuts have also made it tough. "We don't have as many boots on the ground anymore," Ryberg says. "In the good old days, we were ground-pounders."

One thing he won't miss is the acrimony over how national forests should be managed. Put 10 people in a room and you'll get 10 opinions on what's in the public's best interest, Ryberg says. "The American people have always had a spirited debate over how to use public lands," he says. "I doubt that will ever change."

October 2005 sin and Arapahoe Basin—all in national forests—were among the first to open. Forest Service policy identifies skiing as a beneficial use of public lands.

With its uniforms and hierarchy of ranks, the Forest Service operates like the military. Orders come from the top brass, who often come from the timber industry. Asked how the agency has changed under President Bush, Ryberg speaks cautiously. "It's fair to say the previous administration was more environmentally focused," he says, "and this one is more business-focused."

Later on my second day with Ryberg, we ride to the top of Chair 6 at Breckenridge and stand in the shadow of Peak 8. In May, the Forest Service approved a $4 million high-speed quad to the top of the peak—a favorite destination for hike-to skiers. At 12,840 feet, the lift—scheduled to open next winter if all goes smoothly—would be

North America's highest (topping Loveland's Lift 9 by 140 feet). Skiers could drop straight down into Imperial Bowl, accessing 900 vertical feet across several hundred acres of appetizing advanced-intermediate terrain. Experts could hike from the top of the lift to Easy Street, which offers 30- to 35-degree pitches and postcard-perfect powder terrain. The Lake Chutes, reached by a long hike over the summit of Peak 8, offers menacing lines through rock outcroppings with pitches of 50 degrees and more. The proposed lift, Ryberg says, "will give upper-intermediate skiers a chance to get up into alpine terrain and think they're getting an extreme experience." Or, as Breckenridge Chief Operating Officer Roger McCarthy puts it, "They're gonna wet their pants."

For advanced skiers, alpine bowls offer breathtaking views and wide-open lines. "The high alpine stuff is what people really want," Ryberg says. Indeed, all the terrain we examine over our three days goes above treeline. Lifts that run to mountain peaks, however, raise safety concerns. From the summit of Peak 8, for instance, skiers could hike to untold acres of wild, avalanche-prone slopes. Deadly slides such as the one just outside the boundary at The Canyons in Utah last January could become more commonplace and raise the cost of search and rescue efforts. The Forest Service takes all of this under consideration when reviewing a proposed new lift or terrain expansion.

In contrast to the Copper Mountain proposal, the Forest Service issued its decision on Peak 8 in just six months, thanks to Ryberg's efforts to resolve many environmental questions before initiating the NEPA process. The Peak 8 expansion became a go after several environmental groups decided not to appeal the Forest Service's approval of the project in court. For environmental organizations, NEPA is a critical tool to halt—or at least delay—expansions. A majority of ski-area expansions are appealed on the basis of alleged NEPA violations. If these efforts fail, opponents often head straight to court. [NEXT ""]

There is no need for new terrain at Breckenridge, Copper, A-Basin—or just about anywhere else, says Shoemaker of the Wilderness Workshop, because "skier acreage is growing vastly faster than skier numbers." Indeed, skier visits nationwide have stagnated at about 54 million for more than a decade, while major terrain expansions such as Vail's 645-acre Blue Sky Basin and others have gone forward. "We want skiing, but we don't see a need for more acreage in undisturbed areas," Shoemaker says.

Ryberg partly agrees. In regions of the country with slow growth and low skier densities, there is no need for new alpine terrain, he says. He cited the rejection of a proposed new resort outside Missoula, Mont., noting "utilization of the existing acreage is relatively low." Ski resorts that serve Denver and other metro areas, however, are a different story. Nearly 250 ski areas nationwide have closed over the past 20 years, sending displaced skiers and boarders to Colorado, Utah, California and resorts within driving distance of large cities. "There is a centralization phenomenon going on in the ski industry," Ryberg says.

Back on Peak 8, we decide it would be unsafe to hike to the summit in the late dimming light, so we shuttle halfway up by snowmobile and bounce powder turns for several hundred yards before speeding down groomers to the Breckenridge base area. Day Three: Keystone. Four inches of snow cover the slope below as Ryberg and I peer down into Jones Gulch and scan Independence Mountain—areas where Keystone would like to add snowcat tours. Both expansions would include slopes with 30- to 50-degree pitches—advanced terrain. "It's a really interesting piece of property," Ryberg tells Tolton, Keystone's director of mountain operations, offering neither encouragement nor skepticism. "But the backcountry guys will be upset."

Locals who earn their turns hiking to backcountry slopes dislike expansions that open the door to mainstream skiers who track out their turf. An avid backcountry skier, Ryberg understands the complaints. "I can see why the hike-to-ski crowd so often objects. At Breck, it's a type of skiing experience that will go away."

Due to avalanche danger, we forgo skiing into Jones Gulch and instead make several laps through Bergman Bowl, where Keystone began running cat trips in 2004. It's Ryberg's first opportunity to ski Bergman, and he needs to check out the existing cat operation before forming his opinion on whether Keystone should be allowed to expand it. The snow in Bergman is pillowy. After three days of great skiing, it's time to say goodbye.

>In 2007, after 30 years with the Forest Service, Ryberg plans to retire and build a house in Montana. He'll miss the Forest Service's rough-hewn characters, who, after a long day outdoors, put a bottle of scotch on the table and tell war stories. "Those are my type of guys," he says one night after a few pints. Unfortunately, these days Forest Service employees often spend more time behind desks than tromping around in the field. Budget cuts have also made it tough. "We don't have as many boots on the ground anymore," Ryberg says. "In the good old days, we were ground-pounders."

One thing he won't miss is the acrimony over how national forests should be managed. Put 10 people in a room and you'll get 10 opinions on what's in the public's best interest, Ryberg says. "The American people have always had a spirited debate over how to use public lands," he says. "I doubt that will ever change."

October 2005 here is a centralization phenomenon going on in the ski industry," Ryberg says.

Back on Peak 8, we decide it would be unsafe to hike to the summit in the late dimming light, so we shuttle halfway up by snowmobile and bounce powder turns for several hundred yards before speeding down groomers to the Breckenridge base area. Day Three: Keystone. Four inches of snow cover the slope below as Ryberg and I peer down into Jones Gulch and scan Independence Mountain—areas where Keystone would like to add snowcat tours. Both expansions would include slopes with 30- to 50-degree pitches—advanced terrain. "It's a really interesting piece of property," Ryberg tells Tolton, Keystone's director of mountain operations, offering neither encouragement nor skepticism. "But the backcountry guys will be upset."

Locals who earn their turns hiking to backcountry slopes dislike expansions that open the door to mainstream skiers who track out their turf. An avid backcountry skier, Ryberg understands the complaints. "I can see why the hike-to-ski crowd so often objects. At Breck, it's a type of skiing experience that will go away."

Due to avalanche danger, we forgo skiing into Jones Gulch and instead make several laps through Bergman Bowl, where Keystone began running cat trips in 2004. It's Ryberg's first opportunity to ski Bergman, and he needs to check out the existing cat operation before forming his opinion on whether Keystone should be allowed to expand it. The snow in Bergman is pillowy. After three days of great skiing, it's time to say goodbye.

>In 2007, after 30 years with the Forest Service, Ryberg plans to retire and build a house in Montana. He'll miss the Forest Service's rough-hewn characters, who, after a long day outdoors, put a bottle of scotch on the table and tell war stories. "Those are my type of guys," he says one night after a few pints. Unfortunately, these days Forest Service employees often spend more time behind desks than tromping around in the field. Budget cuts have also made it tough. "We don't have as many boots on the ground anymore," Ryberg says. "In the good old days, we were ground-pounders."

One thing he won't miss is the acrimony over how national forests should be managed. Put 10 people in a room and you'll get 10 opinions on what's in the public's best interest, Ryberg says. "The American people have always had a spirited debate over how to use public lands," he says. "I doubt that will ever change."

October 2005