Meet the local activists behind your pristine backcountry at the Banff Mountain Film Festival in RWC

This week’s film fest will raise funds for the Snowlands Network

2018 Banff Film Festival signature image of Valentine Fabre, Dent du Géant (Photo by Ben Tibbetts.)

For those of us Peninsulites who spend the winter months plotting the fastest way to Truckee and salivate over each resort’s growing snow depth measurements, seeing the white caps of Mt. Hamilton over the past couple of weeks has made being in the Bay feel like powder-free trap.

But snow-cravers stuck on the Peninsula this week can fill up on some armchair adventuring for a cause with a two-day series of adventure films to be screened at Redwood City’s Fox Theatre on Thursday, Feb. 21, and Friday, Feb. 22.

The event is supported by REI San Carlos and will feature short outdoors films from the Banff Mountain Film Festival as a fundraiser for the Snowlands Network, a nonprofit based in Los Gatos with a fascinating local history of supporting “human powered” snow play.

A cross-country skier enjoys untouched California snow. (Photo courtesy Snowlands Network/via Facebook.)

Into the Snowlands

The Snowlands Network aims to protect backcountry snow for “human-powered” activities. This basically means non-motorized means of exploration, like skis or snowshoes, not snowmobiles.

The network grew out of the Sierra Club’s Loma Prieta Chapter in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties in the late 1990s, explained Snowlands Network Vice President and Secretary Jim Gibson.

Eventually people working on snow-related conservation efforts decided to create a separate organization, focused on preserving recreational backcountry opportunities, Gibson explained, which later evolved into the Snowlands Network.

One of the primary threats to backcountry skiing has been the encroachment of snowmobiles into areas that were formerly used for non-motorized recreation, he argued.

Gibson explained that snowmobiles have adverse impacts in the backcountry because they have two-stroke engines, which are inefficient and release hazardous chemicals into the air. They’re also noisy. In addition, Gibson said, snowmobiles also have aesthetic impacts.

“They chew up the snow surface,” he said.

While a person on skis or snowshoes might travel six miles during a snowy-day excursion, a snowmobile might cover 60, he explained.

A number of California’s national forests have had problems in which motorized and non-motorized groups come into “conflict” — a high-drama term for when snowmobiles and skiers or snowshoers cross paths. The forest service has been using state money to groom snowmobile trails, without conducting what the Snowlands Network and its allies believed to be proper environmental review, he explained.

Snowshoers tread forward up a mountain. (Photo courtesy Snowlands Network / via Facebook.)

In November 2011, Snowlands Network, in partnership with Winter Wildlands Alliance and the Center for Biological Diversity, filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service, alleging that it groomed trails for snowmobiles on national public land without considering the impact that activity had on non-motorized users and the broader environment, including protected species.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the Environmental Protection Agency found in 2002 that one snowmobile can emit nearly as much pollution as 100 passenger cars; and in 2008, a report by the Congressional Research Service found that in one hour, a new-model snowmobile emits as much hydrocarbon as a 2008 model automobile emits in about four years — 54,000 miles — of driving.

In a settlement agreement reached in September 2013, the U.S. Forest Service was directed to conduct environmental analyses of five national forests — Stanislaus, El Dorado, Tahoe, Plumas and Lassen — and come up with plans to more effectively preserve the environment and mitigate the impacts of snowmobile use in the area. (Many snowmobile users have not been happy with the draft plan, according to the Tahoe Daily Tribune.)

On Feb. 8, the final plan for Tahoe National Forest was released. There is currently a 45-day window during which objections to the plan proposal may be raised. More information about the Snowlands Network’s response can be accessed here.

Through a partnership with REI, the Banff Mountain Film Festival will raise funds for the Snowlands Network.

Films scheduled to be shown are as follows.

On Thursday: Brotherhood of Skiing (2018, USA, 10 min.); Grizzly Country (2018, USA, 12 min.); Viacruxis (2018, Spain, 11 min.); This Mountain Life: Coast Range Traverse (2018, Canada, 39 min.); RJ Ripper (2018, USA, 19 min.); How to Run 100 Miles (2018, USA, 27 min.); Fast Horse (2018, Canada, 14 min.); and Skier vs. Drone (2018, Canada, 4 min.)

On Friday: Far Out: Kai Jones (2018, USA, 5 min.); The Mirnavator (2017, USA, 11 min.); The Beaver Believers (2018, USA, 12 min.); Surviving the Outback (2018, Australia, 44 min.); Choices (2017, USA, 2 min.); Boy Nomad (2018, Canada, 21 min.); Reel Rock 12: Break on Through (2017, USA, 26 min.) and The Frenchy (2018, USA, 13 min.)

If you go

The film festival will be held at 7 p.m. both Thursday, Feb. 21, and Friday, Feb. 22, at the Fox Theatre, 2215 Broadway St., in Redwood City. Tickets are $22 per night, plus processing fees, and can be purchased online here.

Go to for more information.

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Kate Bradshaw

Kate Bradshaw

Kate Bradshaw reports food news and feature stories all over the Peninsula, from south of San Francisco to north of San José. Since she began working with Embarcadero Media in 2015, she's reported on everything from Menlo Park's City Hall politics to Mountain View's education system. She has won awards from the California News Publishers Association for her coverage of local government, elections and land use reporting.

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