Conflict has erupted again between commercial recreation operators in the Sea to Sky Corridor, with Cougar Mountain Adventures clashing with sled rental company Outback Snowmobiles over access within the Soo Valley.
Whistler RCMP were called out to the valley Feb. 21 following complaints of snowmobiles illegally travelling along the Soo River Forest Service Road. Three snowmobile riders, including two customers of Outback Snowmobiles, were subsequently fined $58 each for sledding on the forestry road.
The rental company had been ordered to cease and desist operations by the British Columbia Assets and Lands Corporation (BCAL) in early February, for failing to apply for a commercial recreation tenure within a set deadline. The order meant that Outback Snowmobiles has been unable to continue transporting clients to Crown land and was instead dropping off clients on the private property of David Williams at the foot of the valley. Clients were then making their own way up the forestry road to reach the trail network on the Crown land.
Constable Phil Leu says under the Forest Practices Code Act, snowmobiles cannot be driven along a plowed forest service road. He says the police became involved at the request of conservation officer Chris Doyle who was unable to reach Soo Valley at the time. He says RCMP do not want to be involved in what is essentially a civil dispute between commercial operators.
"We hope they can sit down and sort it out themselves but if signs start being knocked over and property damaged then we will be forced to intervene," Leu said.
It appears the conflict has already reached that level. The owner of Outback Snowmobiles, Cory Donner, says he has taken down a fence blocking the entrance to the Soo River Forest Service Road. He claims Cougar Mountain Adventures erected the fence, as well as obstructed the road in several other areas using vehicles and a snowcat.
"Eric Sinclair (of Cougar Mountain Adventures) thinks he owns the land and has the right to block public access when he doesnt," Donner said.
Donner claims Cougar Mountain Adventures staff have "thrown punches at my guests" and are generally hostile when the two groups met in the backcountry.
Cougar Mountain Adventures is the only company currently holding a commercial recreation tenure on Crown land in the Soo Valley. The company grooms trails there for its dog-sled and snowmobile tours. The groomed trails are also used by public riders and rental outfits, including Outback Snowmobiles.
Under the terms of the tenure issued by BCAL, there is no restriction on public access to Crown land unless safety is a concern. Sinclair has been unavailable for comment on the current blow-up with Outback Snowmobiles but his business partner John Spencer Nairn has recently expressed frustration with unlicensed commercial operators that run tours on Crown land.