A trip up to the top of Mount Seymour will require a pass this winter, even if you’re not planning to visit the ski resort.
The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy announced Wednesday (Dec. 8) that the free online passes will be mandatory to park on the mountain between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m., starting on Dec. 15.
The province says the “pilot project” is to address the growing surge of visitors coming to the mountain.
"Winter is the busiest season for Mount Seymour Park, especially during the holiday break, with downhill skiers and park visitors sharing limited parking," said Environment Minister George Heyman. "We encourage people to stay active and safe this winter, and plan their visit to Mount Seymour Park in advance so they can enjoy a safe and less crowded experience."
According to the province, more than 1.1 million people visited the park in 2020, up 20 per cent from 2018.
Parks advocates, however, say the province should be working on ways to accommodate visitors, rather than turn them away.
Park visitors will have to choose a morning pass, which requires them to leave the mountain by noon, or an afternoon pass, which cannot be used before 12 p.m.
The passes, which are issued per vehicle, allow for up to eight visitors.
Unlike previous iterations of a pass system for local provincial parks, this one allows people to book their passes up to two days in advance. Passes will be available via the BC Parks website.
The release doesn’t say how many passes will be made available for the morning and afternoon slots per day.
Foreseeing technical difficulties and poor cell reception at checkpoints, the province is advising people to either physically print their pass out, or download them onto their phone.
North Vancouver parks advocate Steve Jones said the pass system speaks to the overall weakness of the “make them go away” management policy used by BC Parks of late.
“Unfortunately, the pattern that we're seeing in BC Parks, is the only arrow they have in their quiver is just trying to limit who can get to a park,” he said.
Public transportation geared towards park users would be a big step toward maintaining access, he said.
“It's a large mountain. There's a very large number of people that can visit the mountain. The constraint is parking. So why would we not introduce a shuttle before we start limiting how many people can go?” he asked. “If we're acknowledging that there's a lot of members of the public who want to get to a single place, that's a great reason to run a bus route up there.”
Opening the gates an hour earlier would allow more “dawn patrol” snowshoers to come and go before the crowds arrive, Jones said, and a new trail from the base that caters to hikers and snowshoers would be appealing as well.
In 2017, BC Parks conducted a consultation process with Mount Seymour visitors, floating other ideas of making it easier for people to reach the top. Among the proposed ideas: increasing shuttle service, creating a reservation system, charging for vehicle access, building more parking lots, building a gondola to the base, and setting up a ride-share program.
Although he was involved in the consultations, Jones said he doesn’t believe the results were ever made public.
“I think what that consultation would have shown is that there's a lot of support for ways that we can address the increasing visitations in the park without putting up gates to people accessing it,” he said.
According to the government's release, BC Parks is investing $21.5 million "to expand and enhance opportunities for outdoor recreation, including new campsites, trails and upgrades to facilities in high demand areas."
A pass system also introduces new safety concerns, Jones worried. Allowing people to book two days in advance is helpful, but weather and avalanche risk forecasts can change quickly, meaning some people may feel compelled to visit the backcountry in unsafe conditions, simply because they snagged a pass.
“Once you have one of those coveted tickets, you're going to use it,” he said.
Not requiring passes after 4 p.m. is another good step, but it will encourage people to wait until after dark to hit the trails, which carries its own risks, Jones added.
Regardless of whether it is a daytime trip or not, BC AdventureSmart is urging people to be prepared.
“This region of British Columbia is one of the highest search-and-rescue incident call volume regions in the province," said executive director Sandra Riches. "We support BC Parks initiatives that educate park visitors about responsible recreation which reinforces public safety. Outdoor enthusiasts are strongly encouraged to always have a trip plan, proper training and essentials."
The move is being welcomed by Eddie Wood, president and general manager of Mount Seymour Resorts.
“Our collective goal is to optimize access to the mountain and reduce congestion so that everyone can enjoy a safe and high quality experience,” he said in the government release. “BC Parks' responsible approach to managing visitor volume ensures safe and easy access for park visitors who are sightseeing and using the backcountry, and it aligns with the volume-management system we put in place for the downhill operation.”
In 2020, Cypress Mountain Resort introduced $10-per day parking to help curb demand and congestion on Cypress Bowl Road.