Archive:GAS Letter by Scott Nelson

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Scott Nelson
11-939 W 7th Ave
Vancouver BC
V5Z 1C4

Dear Graeme McLaren, Terry Pratt and Bill Hunter,

My name is Scott Nelson and I’m a member of the UBC Varsity Outdoor Club and the BC Federation of Mountain Clubs. I’m writing to express my concerns and comments about the proposed Garibaldi at Squamish resort development. My main concerns regard the provision of a suitable backcountry access corridor, and the impact of the resort on Garibaldi Park through added backcountry skier traffic and the potential for future encroachment into the park by the resort.

The master plan documents refer to the steep rocky feature on Brohm Ridge as the “Shark Fin”. This is confusing because of the feature in Garibaldi Park between the Warrren and North Pitt Glaciers that is also referred to as the “Shark Fin”. For clarity, the master plan should use different names to refer to these features.

The GAS resort master plan should a more detailed definition of the backcountry access corridor. At other ski resort (Mount Seymour in particular), the lack of well defined standards for the backcountry access corridor has led to conflict between backcountry skiers and the resort, and unsafe skiing conditions for backcountry skiers. In order to avoid such conflicts, the following measures should be undertaken:

  • The backcountry access corridor should use the highest available plowed road. If the designated parking area for backcountry skiers is too low, we will probably park improperly at a higher location to gain quicker access. The initial proposed location of the access trail at the base of lift R seems like a relatively good location at 1100m, but moving the backcountry access down to the day skier parking area would be poorly received because it is at a much lower elevation.
  • The backcountry access corridor should be a trail separate from the main ski run. Other ski area have identified having both uphill and downhill ski traffic as an operational safety concern for their guests, and use this as a reason to disallow backcountry skiers from skiing up their ski runs.
  • The backcountry access corridor should be for skiers travelling uphill and snowshoers travelling in either direction. Backcountry skiers and snowboarders travelling downhill when returning from the backcountry should be allowed to use a regular ski run.
  • The Federation of Mountain Clubs of BC should be consulted to determine what is an acceptable access arrangement for backcountry skiers.
  • The parking plan needs to consider all 4 categories of backcountry users: Day trip lift access, overnight lift access, day trip self propelled and overnight self propelled. The current proposal does not sufficiently address the parking needs for all 4 of these groups.

Other considerations for backcountry skiers also need to be considered as part of the resort master plan. The following items need to be addressed as part of the planning process:

  • Returning backcountry skiers may arrive at the base of lift P. Under what circumstances will backcountry skiers be allowed to use this lift to return to the ridgetop and exit the ski area? What happens if lift P is closed when they arrive? If the lift is closed or they are denied access, many skiers will likely opt to ski down South Culliton Creek through Garibaldi Park to near the base of the resort. This route involves avalanche slopes with a terrain trap into the creek, and also the possibility of becoming stuck on the wrong side of the creek. A bridge over the creek downstream of the lower park boundary may ease the safety concerns here somewhat.
  • Vol 9, chapter 12-3 proposes that skier seeking single ride lift tickets must submit an application to the resort 24 hours in advance, and that this is the same procedure used at Whistler-Blackcomb. However, this is factually incorrect as single ride lift tickets can be obtained at Whistler-Blackcomb without prior notification.

I believe that Volume 9 Chapter 2 understates the backcountry ski traffic that will access Garibaldi Park from the resort. In particular, this part of the report dismissess the terrain as being either too rugged (V9 Ch2 p7 item (a) ), or not steep enough (Vol9 Ch2 p8 item(d), ) or not as good as Whistler (V9 Ch2 p8, par3). I don’t believe that any of these argument are valid, and the backcountry skier traffic that would originate from the resort needs to be reconsidered. Of the 3 “backcountry” skiers consulted, one is the operations manager at Whistler Mountain, and other is an employee of the Utah consulting firm that developed the master plan. This is unacceptable, as consultations should be made with local backcountry skiing clubs that frequently visit the Garibaldi area. Having actually skied this area, I can say that it is in fact quite attractive and I would certainly go there myself. In particular, the following points should be considered:

  • The ski terrain on the Warren Glacier may not offer a challenging is run for experts, but it is very large, open, north facing, attractive slope that will offer excellent powder skiing. Access from the resort area is very easy in backcountry skiing terms – only 1.7km horizontal and 200m of climbing from the top of lift Q. Access to the Warren Glacier is not difficult, requiring a short traverse across a steep slope just beyond the top of lift Q, and then easy skiing up to the park boundary
  • The summit area of Mt. Garibaldi would also see a large increase in winter traffic, as it would be only a 10km return trip from the resort with only 900m of cumulative elevation gain via the northeast face. The higher parts of Mt. Garibaldi have very attractive steep skiing terrain on the north and northeast faces.
  • Traffic on the Garibaldi Neve traverse would probably increase many times over, as lift assisted access from the resort access would put the north to south Garibaldi Neve traverse squarely into the day trip category for the majority of backcountry skiers. From the top of lift Q, the traverse would be only 24km and 750m of elevation gain
  • Access to Garibaldi Lake and the Spinx Hut would be considerably simplified. Garibaldi Lake and Table meadows would become a popular day trip for winter touring, this loop would involve 17km of skiing and 750m of elevation gain. Also many more skiers would make their way to the Sphinx Hut for overnight use, as getting there would involve only 11km and 300m of elevation gain instead of the current 15.7km and 1100m of elevation gain. Increased use will The preferred exit from the Sphinx Hut would still be down the Rubble Creek trail.
  • I understand that recently the new Squamish Adventure centre has been providing car shuttles to out of town groups wanting to do the garibaldi neve traverse. If this continues to be the case, the logistics of doing backcountry ski trips starting at GAS and ending at either Diamond Head or Rubble Creek will be simplified. The GAS proponent may even decide to offer this shuttle service themselves as an add on to their backcountry access lift ticket.

The GAS propoenents admit in their own study that Whistler is the best example for what the impact on the park will be While the GAS master plan does not intrude on Garibaldi Park, and the proponent shows no inclination to expand into the park at this time, the experince at Whister suggests that intrusion of the resort into Garibaldi Park is likely. In order to prevent this unacceptable outcome from occurring, a legally binding provision (such as a land covenant) should be made to prevent the resort owner (or future owner in the event of a change of ownership) from ever expanding into the land that is now Garibaldi Park. Another option would be to donate the 65, buffer strip to a conservation group such as the land conservancy of BC. This is the only assurance that the public will trust, as elected government officials don’t seem to care about the park (they have deleted portions for development in the past), and it’s impossible to speculate what a future owner might try to do. If the current proponent is unwilling to enter into such a legally binding agreement, it only shows that they have something to hide about their real intentions.

It has come to my attention through the public comments that the Black Tusk Snowmobile Club (BTSC) has requested an alternate riding area. One comment in particular suggests this area may be in the clinker ridge area of Garibaldi Park, which is completely unacceptable. I find it somewhat offensive that the proponent has had private meetings to discuss this issue with BTSC and not with other user groups. Any concessions or alternate riding areas given to BTSC must be negotiated with the Sea to Sky winter backcountry sharing forum, which includes representatives of commerical and non-commercial, motorized and non-motorized user groups. This coming winter, backcountry skiers will be displaced from the Mt. Sproatt area by commercial snowmobiling as a result of development in the callaghan valley. It would not be fair for ski tourers to lose even more terrain if BTSC gets bumped into a traditional ski touring area. This sort of dispute is best resolved through negotiations at the forum.

Thank you for taking my comments into consideration. I hope they are helpful in improving the GAS resort master plan to make it acceptable to as many people as possible.


Scott Nelson