A pair of serious collisions on a stretch of Highway 99 that killed two motorcyclists this weekend underscores the risk of navigating the scenic roadway—particularly for inexperienced drivers.
“The Sea to Sky Highway is a fantastic highway to drive but it is something that needs to be driven. You can’t sit back and just assume that one hand on the steering wheel is going to get you from A to B,” said Whistler RCMP Staff Sgt. Paul Hayes, who is also an avid motorcyclist. “It’s a roadway that needs to be paid attention to at all times when you’re driving, and that’s regardless of whether you’re in a vehicle or on a motorcycle.”
Tragedy first struck Highway 99 near Pemberton late afternoon on Friday, July 3 when a motorcyclist travelling north lost control negotiating a corner, slid into the oncoming lanes and was struck by a southbound vehicle approximately 10 kilometres north of the In-SHUCK-CH Forest Service Road, police said.
The driver, a 31-year-old Vancouver man, succumbed to his injuries.
The second fatal crash took place late Sunday morning, July 5, and involved multiple motorcyclists, according to witnesses who spoke to police.
Investigators said that four motorcyclists were heading north when up to three of them collided with a southbound vehicle roughly nine km north of Joffre Lakes Provincial Park.
One motorcyclist from the Lower Mainland was declared dead at the scene. Two other motorcyclists and two individuals in the southbound vehicle were taken to hospital with what police said appear to be minor injuries, while a motorcycle passenger was airlifted to a Lower Mainland hospital with serious injuries that are not believed to be life-threatening.
A non-fatal motorcycle crash also occurred on Highway 99 near Function Junction in Whistler Saturday, July 4, engulfing the bike in flames. Hayes said the motorcyclist was speeding at the time and was unable to manoeuvre around a vehicle and rear-ended it, launching him off the bike.
While speeding can play a significant role in motorcycle accidents, Squamish Motorcycle Shop owner Jamieson Murray believes it has more to do with riders’ experience levels and the increasing number of vehicles on the road.
“A lot of factors [are at play, including] inexperienced riders and poor road conditions, and a lot of people on the road, and with a lot of people on the road, there are distractions,” he said.
“I personally don’t ride on Friday, Saturday or Sunday because it’s a gong show on the highway. People who take those risks, the accidents that are happening, are taking place on the weekend. And now with COVID, everyone is getting out and going north.”
Conditions can also be challenging for motorcyclists along Highway 99, particularly the further north you travel, with gravel accumulating on the road shoulders and around blind corners that can make them difficult to navigate.
“Unlike a car, when a bike leans into a corner there’s only so much contact between the tire and the ground and you’re more susceptible to sliding on loose gravel, loose dirt and it’s just how it is up there,” Murray said. “It’s the Duffey. I’ve been saying that for years; it’s not a new thing. People who hear about doing the Duffey Lake loop don’t realize that road conditions change as you go further north.”
Miller Capilano Highway Services, which did not return a request for comment by press time, is contracted to maintain the section of road where the two fatal accidents occurred this weekend. But Murray believes it is unreasonable to expect any mountain pass roadway to be maintained frequently enough to keep it clear of gravel and other debris.
“It is [Miller Capilano’s] responsibility to keep it clean and safe, but you would have to be doing it every day,” he said. “You can only maintain so much. It’s like blaming the road crews for not keeping the Coquihalla [Highway] clear. But I think if there was a place for a lot of these riders to go … a racetrack or something throughout the Sea to Sky corridor, I think that would draw less speeding and less accidents on the highway.”
Brian Antonio, school director for ProRide Motorcycle Training in North Vancouver, urged motorcyclists to expect the unexpected when riding a roadway like Highway 99.
“If you’re out there riding in a way that isn’t compatible with something you’re not expecting, then you can expect to get in trouble,” he said. “I don’t ride those roads every day, so when I do get out there, I don’t expect it to be the same as it was the last time. So going around those blind turns or corners, you’ve got to be really cautious about what might be there that wasn’t there before.”