In the wake of two fatal B.C. avalanches involving snowmobilers in the past two weeks, Whistler operators are calling on the provincial government to tighten rules surrounding the sport.
This week, the general manager of Canadian Snowmobile Adventures, the president of Powder Mountain Snowmobile Club and the owner of Blackcomb Snowmobiles all said snowmobilers should have to register their vehicles and obtain licenses.
"There definitely needs to be more legislation," Craig Beattie from Canadian Snowmobile Adventures said Tuesday morning. "The general public can go wherever they want, which is great, but the issue is that some of these guys don't have a clue what they are doing."
When you buy a new car, you need to show your driver's licence and have the car registered, he explained. But if you spend $8,000 on a snowmobile, you can take off with minimal paperwork into the backcountry.
Wearing helmets is not even required in B.C.
Unlike Interior of B.C, few snowmobilers in the Whistler region have encountered avalanches this winter.
Shawn Wilson from Blackcomb Snowmobiles said he can't remember a single snowmobile death in Whistler's backcountry.
But he pointed out many people take their skis and snowboards with them when they head into the backcountry on a snowmobile, which is way more dangerous.
Having a license and registration system would make it easier to educate people on backcountry and avalanche safety, he said.
"I get shocked when I hear about people going back there without backpacks or shovels or transceivers," he said.
"We have more people on the trails and more yahoos who don't understanding they need insurance and are crashing and hitting each other."
Earlier this month Solicitor General Kash Heed announced new legislation covering off-road vehicles, including mandatory licensing of snowmobiles, would be introduced by November 2011. Heed made the announcement after a class 3 avalanche struck about 200 snowmobilers on Boulder Mountain near Revelstoke. Two people died and 31 were injured.
Six days later, on March 19, a class 5 avalanche trapped and killed another snowmobiler, also near Revelstoke.
Both avalanches were believed to have been started by snowmobilers high-marking on slopes above the victims.
But Nelson Bastien isn't convinced the government will stick to its word.
The director of the B.C. Snowmobile Federation and president of Powder Mountain Snowmobile Club said the government has dropped the ball too many times in past years to give him any confidence that it is committed to the issue.
"What is wrong here is the B.C. Snowmobile Federation has been lobbying the government for over 10 years to get busy and to get registration and licensing in place for snowmobilers," he said.
Under the provincial government's Motor Vehicle (All Terrain) Act, snowmobilers must technically register their sleds. But little enforcement to date has left current compliance among the snowmobile community strikingly low.
The 73-year-old snowmobiler said his federation has even prepared detailed plans on how to properly implement such a system. If the government wanted to change the rules it could have them in place by tomorrow, Bastien said.
He thinks the policy makers in Victoria are dragging their feet because charging people for registering their snowmobiles and getting licenses would be an unpopular move politically.
Bastien said a license and registration system would also help communicate safety information to snowmobilers. Money collected through licensing and registration could be poured back into snowmobile education programs to further improve safety.
Currently, of the 100,000 snowmobilers in B.C., only about 10,000 are involved in clubs where they can get regular updates. The rest operate in an information void, Bastien said.
"We need registration and licensing on these machines so we can get some funds to further education," said Bastien.
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