Sea to Sky Backcountry Forum

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Update

This page needs to be updated. The mediator's report mentioned at the bottom of the page has been released, with mostly good news, though the bottom of the Phelix Creek Road is to be shared with snowmobiles. More info should be coming soon.


Background

This is the fact sheet for those wishing to write a letter of support for the Sea to Sky Winter Backcountry Forum. Anything helps!!!

In September 2001, the Sea to Sky Winter Backcountry Recreation Forum (Winter Forum) began monthly meetings to resolve the growing conflict among recreation users in the Sea to Sky backcountry. The Winter Forum included representatives from outdoor recreation clubs (backcountry skiers, snowshoers and snowmobilers), commercial recreation operators (heli-ski, snow-cat and snowmobile tour operators), and government representatives. All representatives recognized the increasing and often conflicting recreational demands placed on the Sea to Sky backcountry. There are over six million recreational visits to the Sea to Sky corridor each year. The number of recreational visits will increase with the 2010 Olympics.

The vision of the Forum was to find a way for all recreational users to have reasonable access to an enjoyable experience in the Sea to Sky backcountry. After almost two years of consultations, discussions and negotiations, the Winter Forum developed a Winter Sharing Accord, which designates areas in the Sea to Sky backcountry for different recreational uses. The Winter Sharing Accord was signed off by all Forum participants. Every user group made compromises and trade-offs in order to achieve the Winter Sharing Accord. The Winter Sharing Accord is therefore a total package, balancing the recreational interests of each user group and thereby minimizing conflicts between the different user groups.

Early winter 2007/2008 in Retrospect

Unfortunately, the government waited around a long time before they managed to implement this agreement. During this time memories certainly faded about what precisely was agreed upon (well, nobody felt their memory had faded, but people certainly remembered slightly different things). When the government finally threw up some signs for the winter of 2007/2008 it didn't go so well. A few areas in particular caused alot of heartache.

  • The area around Phelix Creek was signed as non-motorized. This caused a great deal of consternation amongst the snowmobile community, although we would later discover this was more about the East side of Phelix Creek than the area directly around our Brian Waddington Hut. Although both sides of Phelix Creek have a long history of use for backcountry skiing, the West side has become more popular for skiiers in recent times (perhaps due to the hut, and the steeper, forested, access which keeps all but the most determined sledders out) whereas the East side is more open and fairly suited to snowmobile. Although we don't know much about historic use of snowmobiles in the area it certainly became popular recently - the Pemberton Valley Snowmobile Club had even flagged a commonly used route into the Alpine.
  • In the intermediate time a commercial heli-sledding tenure was granted on Sproat. The backcountry skiing community was shocked that the closest backcountry daytrip to Whistler would get not only a snowmobile tenure - but a helicopter accessed one. We're still trying to figure out why it is necessary to helicopter snowmboiles somewhere you can reach on skis in 1.5 hours.
  • Finally, and perhaps the most sore point of all, the government enacted a section 58 and banned snowmobiles from the Callahan Valley, hoping to turn it into a world-class XC skiing area in preparation for the 2010 Olympics. Although the forum was told to stay away from 2010 planning, the Callahan Valley was truly the snowmobile community's playground and also offered the best access to the Pemberton Icecap (a very popular sledding destination). Unfortunately, cars getting locked behind gates is proving to make this huge area difficult to access for backcountry skiiers, and the XC operators still aren't quite sure what to do with people who want to access the area just outside their trackset.

Thousands of letters were sent to government.

Late winter 2008

After a bit of a rough start, we were able to get a few meetings going between some of the leaders in the snowmobile community and leaders in the mountaineering and skiing community. I was surprised at how much we could agree on, and how much we all felt let down that the government took so long before attempting to implement the results ofthe winter backcountry forum. Most of the problem, it seemed, was that the government waited too long and the situation had changed withfading memories. Most of the problem in Phelix Creek, as it appears to me (written by Christian Veenstra), is that there was never really a solid agreement on what was supposed to happen. People remembered what they wanted to remember. There is no agreement on this, by the way.

The government assigned a mediator to deal with the situation and come up with some recommendations for the minister (Pat Bell at the time). To me, the mediator seemed like an ideal candidate for the job, and did a good job listening to reasonable suggestions from both sides without getting sidetracked by the crazy ones. Of course, there were some pretty far out ideas on both sides.

Late Summer 2008

The mediators recommendations have been set down in writing but not yet released (but I anticipate they will be fair). They should go up here (likely under the "what's new" or "reports" tab) in the next few weeks.

As far as Phelix Creek goes, I feel it is likely the zoning recommendation will be shared as far as the branch between Phelix Main and Phelix East, and other than that the West side of the drainage (the area around the hut) will be non-motorized. This only extends to the height-of-land between Aragorn and Shadowfax - that's the basically the border of the Sea-to-Sky area.

The most important thing is that we get zoning in place - and this should be done before next winter. I really hope this happens, before we forget what we agreed upon again.

When they are released, we will need another wave of letters to make sure something is done with them before the snow starts falling.