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Do helisking, Spearhead Traverse go together?

BC Parks receives more than 1,000 comments on Garibaldi Park Management Plan

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The Spearhead Traverse, the most travelled area of the Garibaldi Provincial Park, lies just outside the resort boundaries of Whistler Blackcomb. And after 22 years, the management plan for the area is getting revised.

"The plan for Garibaldi Park was originally written in 1990 so its coming to the extent of its lifespan in terms of the direction for the Spearhead area," said Jennie Aikman, planning section head at BC Parks.

"It's very initial at this stage, there will be further opportunity for the public and stakeholders to have comment on any language that has developed for the plan amendment."

The initial period for public and stakeholder input closed on March 15, with over 950 online comment forms and approximately 50 written letters being received by BC Parks. The online link to the comment form was shared on Facebook amongst several recreational groups and their members. The results of those comments are currently being analyzed and will be taken into consideration when BC Parks compile the draft management plan amendment in May. The draft will then be made available for public review and comment in the form of open house discussions, slated for July.

"We want to go back and revisit the direction, reengage the public and stakeholders to get their feedback on some of the key activities including heli skiing that are currently occurring in that area of the park," said Aiken.

Whistler Heli Skiing (WHS) has held tenure in the Spearhead Range since 1990 and its Park Use Permit was recently renewed for an additional five years through to 2016. The permit allows WHS to operate in a designated area within the Spearhead Range for the five months of the winter season. Of the entire WHS tenure (200,000 hectares, which extends from Brandywine to north of Bralorne), the Spearhead represents 2.5 per cent, or just over 5,000 ha.

In a letter dated February 12, 2012, WHS General Manager Mike Sadan wrote:

"We very much recognize the interests of the ski touring public on these glaciers and have practiced avoidances measures whenever possible."

"We continue to believe that the right decisions regarding usage within the Spearhead Range were made in 1990."

The buzz of helicopters can be heard in the Spearhead throughout the day when weather is suitable for flying, especially on the glaciers in the Blackcomb backcountry. Whistler and North Vancouver resident Lee Lau has been touring in the Spearhead Range for the last 15 years and is not bothered by the sound of helicopters flying over his head, however, he feels frustration like many others when heli ski groups land in close proximity to him and his party when he is ski touring.

"It used to be the case that (WHS) would stay away from tourers," said Lau.

"If they saw you in the area, they would stay away from you. That doesn't seem to be so common now. It's kind of annoying, they don't buzz you and (it's not) a safety issue, it's more a question of having your line scooped by a bunch of heli skiers."

Although seasoned ski tourers and heli skiers rarely utilize the same terrain, if the proposed Spearhead Hut project becomes a reality there could be a very different group of skiers frequenting the Spearhead Range. With the added comfort of sheltered accommodation and heating in the backcountry, the more casual backcountry user will be attracted to touring in the Spearhead.

"There may possibly be conflict because if there are huts, a lot of people who are near the huts are going to ski the heli ski terrain and the heli ski terrain is very, very gentle terrain," said Lau.

"But if the huts go in it's going to attract more beginners. And beginners like their beginner terrain."

Whistler Heli Skiing, which was purchased by Whistler Blackcomb in 2006, would not comment further than the letter they released on February 12.

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