Modeling large-scale winter recreation terrain selection with implications for recreation management and wildlife

Lucretia E. Olson, John R. Squires, Elizabeth K. Roberts, Aubrey D. Miller, Jacob S. Ivan, Mark Hebblewhite

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Winter recreation is a rapidly growing activity, and advances in technology make it possible for increasing numbers of people to access remote backcountry terrain. Increased winter recreation may lead to more frequent conflict between recreationists, as well as greater potential disturbance to wildlife. To better understand the environmental characteristics favored by winter recreationists, and thus predict areas of potential conflict or disturbance, we modeled terrain selection of motorized and non-motorized recreationists, including snowmobile, backcountry ski, and snowmobile-assisted hybrid ski. We used sports recorder Global Positioning System (GPS) devices carried by recreationists at two study areas in Colorado, USA, (Vail Pass and the San Juan Mountains), to record detailed tracks of each recreation type. For each recreation activity, we modeled selection of remotely-sensed environmental characteristics, including topography, vegetation, climate, and road access. We then created spatial maps depicting areas that recreation activities were predicted to select and combined these maps to show areas of potential ecological disturbance or interpersonal conflict between motorized and non-motorized activities. Model results indicate that motorized and non-motorized activities select different environmental characteristics, while still exhibiting some similarities, such as selection for ease of access, reflected in proximity to highways and densities of open forest roads. Areas predicted to have only motorized recreation were more likely to occur further from highways, with greater forest road densities, lower canopy cover, and smoother, less steep terrain, while areas with only non-motorized recreation were closer to highways, with lower forest road densities, more canopy cover and steeper terrain. Our work provides spatially detailed insights into terrain characteristics favored by recreationists, allowing managers to maintain winter recreation opportunities while reducing interpersonal conflict or ecological impacts to sensitive wildlife.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)66-91
Number of pages26
JournalApplied Geography
StatePublished - Sep 2017


  • GPS tracking
  • Habitat models
  • Interpersonal conflict
  • Motorized recreation
  • Non-motorized recreation
  • Recreation planning


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