Letter: Some users already have “exclusive” use of Crown land

Editor,

Regarding competition for terrain between skiers and snowmobilers:

Once upon a time, back in the good old days, this was a big land and there was room for all. Skiers and snowmobilers and whatever other users may have been out and about rarely came across another’s tracks, and if you did they were few and far between and you didn’t complain. That was my experience in the Robson Valley 25 years ago. But times have changed. There are now a lot more winter backcountry users out there, and we are all looking for the same thing – powder snow. As a non-motorized user I am also looking for silence, pure air, and mountain beauty. And not surprisingly, there are now frequent conflicts between competing users, such as that reported in the paper regarding Mike Wiegele’s Eight Peaks plan. For clarity, when I say “skier” that includes skiers, snowboarders, etc. When I say “snowmobile” that includes any motorized vehicle that moves on snow.

The basic problem is that the various winter backcountry users are not compatible. As I said above, I’m looking for untracked powder, silence, pure air, and mountain beauty. Snowmobiles pack down more snow in less time than any other user, making skiing on that terrain undesirable. No skier wants to go there. Snowmobiles also make a lot of noise and a lot of stinky exhaust. They are fast and unpredictable. If you search Youtube for “snowmobile collision” you will find many examples where they run into objects and into each other, and I have been afraid that they will run over me. (See for example “2013 polaris assault-I almost kill my family member” at 51 seconds, this is the nightmare scenario that I fear. What if that were me or one of my children standing there?) Snowmobilers are also notoriously foolish when it comes to avalanche safety (search Youtube for “snowmobile avalanche”). The last thing I need when skiing is to have some snowmobile cut the slope above me and start an avalanche that otherwise would not happen. And compound both of the above concerns with alcohol – if the number of beer cans scattered around our alpine meadows every spring is any indication, drinking and driving is endemic among snowmobilers. In summary, I don’t want to be anywhere near snowmobilers and I am concerned for my safety when sharing terrain with them. Skiers and snowmobiles are not compatible and will never be able to share the same terrain without conflict. And there are much the same issues between heli-skiers and snowmobiles, and to some extent between self-propelled skiers and heli-skiers. Snowmobile assisted skiing is a somewhat awkward hybrid, with the challenge being to somehow permit snowmobiles an up/down track without letting them foul the terrain for skiers.

When snowmobiles begin to use an area, skiers get displaced. There is a long history of snowmobiles displacing skiers from terrain that they used to enjoy. Bell Mountain and Lucille Mountain above McBride, and the West Ridge Cabin area near Valemount, are local examples. 25 years ago I spent many happy days skiing on Bell and Lucille with untracked powder everywhere and welcome silence and pure air. Now those mountains are so packed with snowmobiles it’s rarely worth the effort to even try skiing there. Snowmobiles go everywhere they can physically get to and skiers get pushed into more and more into inaccessible places. (I know snowmobiles are restricted in some areas such as those in caribou habitat.) Skiers are and have been the biggest losers in this competition for terrain. It works like this. Skiers only have uncontested enjoyment of an area that snowmobiles can’t get to. But when machine technology improves, or a strategic logging block builds an access road, or someone cuts an illegal trail (all known examples) so that snowmobiles can get to the area, then snowmobiles take over the area and skiers are again the losers.

And regarding exclusive access, Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing is not unreasonable in asking for exclusive rights to the ski terrain they propose to create on mountains surrounding Blue River. It’s not “exclusive rights to crown land” any more than other long established users already receive. Forest companies, mining companies, trappers, and guides all have exclusive rights to their respective resource within their designated area. Other users still hike, camp, hunt, ski, snowmobiles, etc. on that land – the exclusive use is only for the resource utilized by the tenure holder. Mike Wiegele heli-skiing wouldn’t have any extraordinary “exclusive rights to crown land”, only exclusive rights to the snow within a specific designated area. Other users can still hike or climb or pick berries or cut timber, etc. on that land. They just can’t put tracks in the snow, which I agree will feel “exclusive” to other winter users.

But note that snowmobilers do effectively have “exclusive rights” in many of the areas that they use. This may not be a legally designed right, but in practice when snowmobilers use an area that area becomes their “exclusive terrain”. Other users don’t want to go to these areas, but even if they do the other users don’t lower the quality of the snowmobiling. The reason this won’t work in reverse (eg. snowmobiles in a ski area) is that snowmobiles degrade the quality of the area for other users. So in fairness to others, snowmobiles must be restricted to give other users the opportunity to pursue their chosen activity.

Pretending that all is well and letting everybody go anywhere they want is like the zoo putting the deer and the cougars in the same enclosure. The deer wouldn’t like it, and pretty soon there wouldn’t be any deer. But the zoo has found a solution to this problem – they keep the deer and the cougars in separate enclosures. It needs to be the same in the modern backcountry – there must be some coordination and allocation of where the various competing and conflicting groups are permitted to go. This means that skiers will have to give up some coveted terrain (we have already given up lots of terrain). It also means that snowmobilers will have to give up some terrain that they wish they had. It means that heli-skiers will also have to forgo some terrain. It may even mean that Mike Wiegele has to give up some terrain in the proposed Eight Peaks plan. The point is, we can’t all have it all. Those days are long gone.

Jeff Corbett

McBride, B.C.