Sea to Sky-area snowmobilers will have to pay new fees to access Sproatt Mountain this winter.
The area has long been controversial because of concerns that sledders are ignoring a non-motorized vehicle zone on nearby Rainbow Mountain, which contains a watershed that the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) uses for drinking water.
After 18 months of discussion with various stakeholders, the province appointed Canadian Wilderness Adventures — which has tenure on the mountain and leads tours in the area — to collect fees of $20 per snowmobile.
"Recreation Sites and Trails B.C. will place signage at the toll booth and kiosk (and) our staff will be informing users of the map and boundaries, and educating them on the watershed issue," said Craig Beattie, CWA general manager.
As part of the non-profit agreement, the money will also go toward trail maintenance and grooming. The fee-collection kiosk will be placed at the beginning of the 11.5-kilometre trail that ends at CWA’s cabin. Trespassers in the area could be fined up to $1,000 and have their snowmobiles seized, according the province.
If the government doesn’t see greater compliance by the end of the year, the entire area could be shut down to motorized vehicles.
“Closures can only be considered once all other voluntary compliance options have been fully explored and only if there is multi-agency support and available resources for such an approach,” Alistair McCrone, recreation officer with Recreation Sites and Trails B.C., wrote in an email. “The province feels that the measures put into place this winter will have exhausted all of the voluntary compliance measures possible.”
In 2008, the province approved the Sea to Sky Land and Resource Management Plan (LRMP), which recommended boundaries to keep motorized vehicles out of 21 Mile Creek on Rainbow and Gin and Tonic lakes and the north side of Sproatt and Rainbow mountains. For the past four years, backcountry skiers, particularly the local chapter of the Alpine Club of Canada (ACC), have reported snowmobilers ignoring the recommendations and recently brought the issue to the attention of the RMOW.
While the ACC has a laundry list of concerns about snowmobilers violating the rules, they are largely upset about losing access to untouched snow.
“From the watershed point of view, one sled is not as bad as 50 or 100 sleds,” said Bryce Leigh, access and environment director for the club. “But from a skier point of view, one sled could shred the entire place in a few hours and it would still be a terrible place to ski when they’re gone. In our point of view, one is just as bad as 100.”
The group hopes the new fees, signs indicating boundaries and education will help.
“It’s good to see the government is putting the effort in,” Leigh said. “We’re optimistic because it looks like there is more of an effort, but we’ll only be happy if there’s compliance.”
Tyler Kraushar, director of the Pemberton Valley Snowmobile Club, said that although the club is upset that it was passed over in the decision on management of the area, it will be part of the effort to keep sledders away from the watershed.
“We don’t want to see it get shut down, but it’s hard when we have no ownership in the trail,” he said. “When you take ownership away from a group, they’re less inclined to listen… We’ll try and educate people. We’re going to put up more signs and I’m not going to walk away from the table. I’ll be at these dialogues and we’ll talk about land use in the area.”
This winter, the government will also put fees in place for snowmobilers to access the trail at Roe Creek, which officials said is a culturally sensitive First Nations area. They also have non-compliance issues in the Rubble Creek landslide hazard zone.