By Andru McCracken

Snowmobilers are making their way to Valemount and McBride despite a travel advisory in this province and major restrictions in Alberta.

Alberta’s tough anti-COVID measures have been in place since Dec 13. That province has closed all restaurants, bars, lounges and cafes throughout Alberta to in-person service in order to slow the spread of the virus. At the moment, Alberta currently has more than 20,000 active cases, double BC’s number. But the restaurant and bar rules don’t apply when Albertans cross the border into BC.

Albertans violating a public health order in their own province are subject to a $1000 fine and can be prosecuted for up to $100,000 for a first offense. In BC there is a travel advisory stating that all non-essential travel should be avoided.

Essential travel includes travelling locally for work or for medical appointments. The advisory explicitly states: “Do not travel for a vacation.” However there are no associated penalties.

It makes McBride senior Nadine Shovar wonder how long it will take for Valemount and McBride to experience the kind of outbreaks Alberta is seeing.

“Right now, they shouldn’t be allowed to come here,” said Shovar.

Dining out with friends in a restaurant recently, Shovar saw a group of sledders who weren’t wearing masks or social distancing.

At the end of the evening a maskless, inebriated patron held the door open for Shovar’s party. They didn’t welcome the gesture, but proceeded through, potentially exposing themselves to the virus.

Shovar said restaurants and other local businesses sometimes have a hard time getting sledders to follow the local mask protocols and socially distance.

“Enforcing protocols is easy to say, hard to do,” said Shovar.

What ticks her off is that some sledders are neglecting the rules and putting locals in peril, while many elderly residents won’t even see their grandkids this Christmasâ€a sacrifice they make for the wider good.

“While COVID is raging, please stay home,” asks Shovar. “It will be an absolute miracle if it isn’t widespread between the two communities.”

The pandemic is serious enough to warrant a shutdown, despite the impact to local businesses, she said.

“We have one lab tech and x-ray technician; if they get sick we have nobody.”

Not all sledders are disrespectful or flaunting the rules, though.

Linda Fry said the Grizzly Pub hasn’t had much difficulty with visitors as late as December 15.

When they opened for family dining though, they did have some trouble with “kids running amok.”

She said that sledders are greeted, asked to provide their contact info and instructed to wear a mask unless they are at their table.

She said they have some burly folks on staff who could intervene in a pinch, but so far that hasn’t been necessary.

She said her staff know how to stay way ahead of any issues.

“We seem to have created a culture that works in our favor,” she said.

Acting Mayor Lucille Green said the Village of McBride has discussed whether they should remain open to visitors to the community.

“There is no official restriction that prevents travel, but the hope is that common sense will prevail,” she said.

Green said if visitors were advised of the provincial directives, they would follow them.

“There is no legal reason why visitors cannot come to our community. Each business will be responsible for their own risk assessment to determine whether they will accept visitors to their business.”

Green said that McBride is famous for being welcoming.

“Council encourages the community to be respectful to any visitors that we see, and we are confident that they will be respectful in return,” she said.