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By Korie Marshall, Editor

Great early snow conditions in the Robson Valley bodes well for winter tourism operators, especially after a short year with poor snow last year. But for some it has meant an early reminder of a common winter conflict – sledders vs locals.

Last Saturday morning a sledding truck and trailer parked over four or five parking spots in front of the drug store and grocery store. I’ve seen that before, so I am not surprised, but one of the spots was the wheelchair accessible spot.

When some locals approached them to let them know there was an empty parking lot just on the other side of the former Fields building, a few feet away, they were told “We’re sledders – Valemount would be nothing without us.”

We were a community before sledding became popular, and we survive the summers without them, so I’m not sure where anyone would have gotten an idea like this. I know it is particularly galling for people who don’t think that their jobs or their lives are made better by our winter visitors. And if you don’t work in the local restaurant and accommodation industry, it may not be obvious how money spent in the local tourism industry trickles out to other businesses in the area. But it does.

I checked with our local RCMP, and Sergeant Darren Woroshelo says there is nothing wrong with the public telling them they are parked illegally, but it can lead to confrontation, mis-communication, or worse. He says the RCMP would have responded (if they weren’t busy with more urgent issues) if someone had reported the parking issue. They could have given a warning, and had the driver move the vehicle immediately, which seems like a reasonable option to me. Or maybe a ticket if the driver had been rude to the police. He also says he can issue tickets to the registered owners of vehicles, if someone can provide documentation like photos, dates, and licence plate numbers.

I think there are two issues here. One is that snowmobiling tends to attract well-paid young guys who are often geared up for a challenge, and some of them are going to be badly behaved anywhere. They are not all like that, but of course, they are often the ones who catch the attention of locals, in a bad way. Is that an issue we can address? Probably not directly, but I can point to a number of local young guys who sled, and are very respectful, so I think the community is doing at least some things right.

The other issue is that we locals seem to remember the bad encounters the most. We don’t talk about the well behaved, respectful sledders, we just remember the ones who made us angry, and who we think are disrespecting us on purpose. We get our defenses up, and usually nothing good comes of it.

Maybe this is an issue we can deal with. Our community as a whole is not dependent on sledders, but parts of our community are. Sledding and other outdoor recreation pursuits are going to continue to attract people to Valemount, both as tourists and as potential new residents and entrepreneurs, both of which build our community.

So my question is: can we, as a community of people who live here all year round, welcome our sledding and other visitors in a way that elicits the respect we deserve? I think we can.