Winners and losers... as expected 

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Pop the corks; pour the bubbly. Light the torches; sharpen up the pitchforks. It's paaarrty time.

After a delay of roughly a year, during which time no one will ever know exactly what transpired unless we employ enhanced interrogation techniques — torture — BC Parks has finally released its Garibaldi Park Management Plan Amendment for the Spearhead area.

The Spearhead area covers roughly 17,500 hectares of Garibaldi Park. That is not quite nine per cent of the total park area. Given the amount of effort, angst and high-quality management time spent delaying the release of the amendment, we should all enjoy a glass of bubbly and give thanks Parks wasn't attempting to amend the entire park management plan.

When last we visited this monumental undertaking we were advised the amendment — it amends, slightly, the 1990 management plan in case you were wondering — would be released sometime in April, 2013. Why the delay?

Well, it depends on what you mean by delay. The plan was, in fact, released last year, albeit not on time, and only to Whistler Blackcomb. While not being one to idly speculate, I might idly speculate the delay had something to do last spring's provincial election, with Whistler Blackcomb formulating its response, Parks seriously considering that response, advanced dithering on the part of whomever Christy Clark handed the Parks portfolio off to, a study of the impacts of proposed recreational activities on the mountain goats living in the area — although that was ready last May — and, quite possibly, the chance for the entire staff of Parks to get out and experience heliskiing first hand. That last item is meant to be speculation of both an idle and facetious nature, but more on that later.

As might be expected, there are winners and losers in this quest to ladle out access to the Spearhead. The biggest losers are mountain bikers. While I'm not entirely certain loser is appropriate, since mountain bikers never had access to this part of the park before, I'm more than certain they'll consider it a loss. An unfair loss. A slap-in-the-face, what-part-of-mountain-biking-don't-you-understand loss.

Explaining to local mountain bikers they've lost is not the sort of thing any sane person wishes to do. Just ask Rob McSkimming, whose house came as close to being firebombed as that sort of mob protest gets in this town when it was merely perceived he had something to do with cancelling a mountain bike event some years ago.

There will be no high alpine bike trail in the Spearhead area for the foreseeable future, foreseeable future being defined as, well, forever. And while this clearly establishes the mountain bike community as losers, it's a win for hikers. It means the Spearhead will continue to be one of those overwhelming, achingly beautiful, contemplative places where hikers can enjoy solitude at altitude, knowing everyone's travelling at more or less the same pace and anyone overtaking from behind, or in front, will be apparent for long enough to get used to the idea.

Ski tourers and hikers are both winners, ski tourers in a good-news, bad-news way and hikers unconditionally. The amendments embrace the sun-rises-in-the-east plan to build backcountry huts along the Spearhead Traverse. Further, the strategy favours a non-commercial hut system that offers lower fees and provides modest facilities — alpine huts in other words, not backcountry hotels.

Hikers win as well because the amendments embrace a new, vehicle-accessible trailhead area for the Singing Pass trail somewhere up the draw of Fitzsimmons Creek on the north side of the creek. The new trailhead acknowledges the four-kilometre slog up the road to the current trailhead is a showstopper for all but the most intrepid hiker.

Ski tourers are partial winners because whatever hut system is built will be a welcome addition, especially during what we can only hope is unexpected foul weather since it takes a certain kind of crazy to set off on the Spearhead Traverse knowing you're going to run into foul weather.

The addition of a hut system will also be a feather in Whistler's cap. It acknowledges the increasing interest in self-propelled, multiday backcountry recreation and adds a certain authenticity, a je na sais quoi to the otherwise very polished, and frequently very crowded, resort experience we currently offer.

Some, but not all, ski tourers will see the amendments as a glass half-empty kind of thing because they also favour continuation of Whistler Heliskiing's tenure in this part of the park. The thwak-thwaking arrival of a chopper dropping off skiers whose biggest exertion may well not come until they've finished après is, for tourers, both an annoyance and completely at odds with Parks own "...overarching vision for Garibaldi Park to be non-motorised." But it comes, it goes, the quiet returns and all that's left are ski tracks on a line most tourers probably aren't going to ski anyway. Doesn't make it any less annoying, but it's not annoying like a sliver you can't dig out no matter how hard you try.

What is both annoying and not transitory though is how Parks, seemingly without input or consultation, except perhaps for whatever was advocated by WB, has granted a de facto 10-year extension of Whistler Heliskiing's tenure. Parks granted a five-year renewal of the tenure in 2011. When it comes up in 2016 we may have greater insight as to how well or poorly hut-to-hut ski touring and heli-skiing coexist as a harmonious mix.

But as if by magic — for it was nowhere in the draft amendments — out of nowhere comes this language: "By no later than 2026, BC Parks will develop a recommendation on the future of heli-skiing that meets the vision of the park, and addresses impacts on key park values. The recommendation could include continuing, adjusting, or eliminating heli-skiing."

Let's be generous for a moment. Let's assume a level of diligence and independence for which, viewing Park's work to date, we have no evidentiary reason to assume. Under the best imaginable outcome we would probably be prudent foregoing a wager Parks will beat their self-imposed deadline of 2026. This language would seem to unequivocally indicate Whistler Heliskiing's tenure has just been extended another decade.

I wonder how they ever came to that decision.

Oh well, wonder is all I'll ever do because short of a massive dose of sodium pentothal or those enhanced interrogation techniques mentioned earlier we're never likely to get a straight answer to the question.

So there it is, folks. Read the details, make your choices. I'll probably crack some bubbles because (a) the report is finally out, (b) it's what I do and, (c) my pitchfork is up at Smilin' Dog Manor.


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