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Snowmobile access confirmed for Sea to Sky

Winter public recreation plans divide backcountry into usage zones

The province weighed in on the battle between motorized and non-motorized winter recreation in Sea to Sky watersheds this week, adopting a set of recommendations made by consultants. It does not directly resolve the issue over snowmobile access to the Pemberton Ice Cap through the Upper Callaghan since motorized recreation was banned last year, but does support better alternatives.

The main conflict is between non-motorized and motorized backcountry users, or backcountry skiers/snowboarders and snowmobilers. Realizing that the two activities are sometimes incompatible, representatives from both groups hammered out a rough agreement through the Winter Backcountry Recreation Forum (WBRF) from 2001 to 2003 that was never adopted by the province. Recent changes to land zoning, including the Sea to Sky Land and Resource Management Plan, First Nations land use plans, and the creation of new protected areas, prompted the government to revisit the forum’s recommendations.

The new plan put forward by consultant Gordon Erlandson in August — Recommendations for the Management of Winter Recreation in the Lillooet River Drainage and the Sea-to-Sky LRMP Area — allows for snowmobiles in the eastern portion of Phelix Creek basin (near Birkenhead Lake), bans snowmobiles in Twentyone Mile Creek watershed, and recognizes that an alternative has to be found to access the Pemberton Ice Cap with the closure of the Upper Callaghan Valley to motorized recreation.

According to Nelson Bastien of the Powder Mountain Snowmobile and Outdoor Recreation Club — a representative on the WBRF for over two years — the decision to close the Upper Callaghan access is a sore point for snowmobilers.

The new plan does not reverse the decision to ban motorized recreation from the Upper Callaghan, but does call for upgrades to the alternative route through the Brandywine. It also calls for the investigation of a new route to the Pemberton Ice Cap via the Soo Valley, with cooperation of government and First Nations.

“We expected that area to be closed in 2010 for the Olympics, but they really caught us off-guard when they decided to close it on us two years early,” he said.

The wisdom was that snowmobilers could just access the Pemberton Ice Cap through the Brandywine drainage, but Bastien says that is a much riskier passage in terms of the avalanche danger on one section of the trail. It’s also a longer trip, he says, although it’s an easier route. With the Callaghan route closed, it’s also a lot busier.

Bastien supports the idea of upgrading the Brandywine access and says could be accomplished fairly easily. However, he says it will be difficult and expensive to create a route through the Soo, and that it would be difficult to maintain.

“I think that the Brandywine and Rutherford will always be the main entrances to the Ice Cap, which makes it easy for us to collect trail fees and manage parking,” he said. “The Soo has too many issues. If we’re going to spend money and increase the safety of the Brandywine and Rutherford, why go to another valley to create more safety issues?”

Bastien says the best solution, which they will be pursuing after the 2010 Games, is to keep the Upper Callaghan closed to motorized recreation but allow snowmobiles to pass through on a designated route.

“That is the solution, and it’s the only solution,” he said. “We were promised many years ago when they created the Callaghan Lake Park that we would always be allowed an access route through there — that’s all we want, just to get through. We don’t want to bother what was there for the Olympics, but I have a lot of snowmobilers coming up to me and complaining that they’re being forced to travel through an avalanche path.”

Bastien says he has already been contacted to discuss the issues as part of the Sea to Sky Land and Resource Management Plan revision, but he is wary of taking part — motorized recreation is usually outnumbered in stakeholder groups because of the number of non-motorized activities, and he wants assurances that his input will be considered.

Some of the ideas that went into the WBRF also had to be updated in light of issues like the increase in commercial recreation tenures, including helicopter and snow cat skiing operations, as well as the increased number of people using the backcountry, and the growing cross-over segment that uses snowmobiles to access areas for backcountry skiing and snowboarding.

The complete report with maps is available online at