There are no avalanche experts. They’re all
– Ed Lachapelle, 1985
By Michel Beaudry
Enough already. With mountain deaths dominating headlines this winter in B.C., a veritable orgy of blame and recrimination has descended upon the province of late. Everyone, it seems, has suddenly become an avalanche expert. Whether radio talk show host or newspaper editor, national news anchor or online blogger, the message is depressingly similar: close the backcountry! Put trespassers in jail! Make the mountains safe again by keeping people out!
As a lifelong backcountry user, I find this mass hysteria almost comic. Why? Because it doesn’t make any sense…
Do we close the province’s beaches after a drowning? Do we shut down the bars when somebody dies of alcohol poisoning? Of course we don’t.
So why the heck is B.C.’s Solicitor General wading into the current avalanche debate with talk of legislating access to the backcountry? Does he really know what kind of a Pandora’s box he’s opening here?
Let me put it bluntly. The moment the government starts regulating backcountry access is the moment the B.C. mountain tourism sector goes into a tailspin. C’mon now. It wasn’t that long ago that our reigning premier challenged us to double the size of the tourism business in this province. As Pique editor Bob Barnett explained last week, the widespread response was to develop far more recreational real estate than the resident population could ever use. And that can work — up to a point.
But let’s not fool ourselves. Promoting mountainside real estate to out-of-province buyers can only be successful if we continue to deliver on the promise of a “Supernatural B.C.” Compared to any other destination in the world, British Columbia boasts a relatively pristine, accessible (and peaceful) mountain wilderness with huge global appeal. It’s our ace in the hole — our differentiator if you will — and without it, we just become part of the chorus. As French journalist Mathieu Ros puts is so well: “Whistler’s reputation in Europe has nothing to do with lifts and resorts and fancy hotels. It’s more about the potential for wilderness adventures throughout British Columbia — it’s your wild forests, your long winter seasons and your untouched snow. You see, we have all the lift-accessed skiing we need in the Alps. What we don’t have is the kind of backcountry that you guys take so much for granted.”