News » Whistler

Landslide cuts wide swath

Destruction of access road, bridge may mean the end of a business



Friday morning's massive landslide blocked sections of Meager Creek. It wiped out an entire span of Capricorn Creek Bridge. And it may have wiped out Don Pitcairn's business.

The owner and operator of Whistler Hot Springs (WHS) started his tour company this past winter to capitalize on world market interest in Meager Creek hot springs following the Olympics. The plan was to haul tourists up on a round trip for about $100, let them soak in the magma-heated mineral water in natural stone tubs as the white water of the creek rumbles past.

Now, with one span of Capricorn Creek bridge wiped out and about five miles of the Upper Lillooet Forest Service Road buried, it may take years for the public to access the springs again. That means Pitcairn will either need to refocus his efforts on Skookumchuck hot springs or fold the business all together.

"There's a fair amount that's up in the air right now with what we're going to do with Whistler Hot Springs," Pitcairn said. "Meager Creek was the destination that everybody wanted to go to."

He said 80 per cent of the calls he receives are queries about the Meager Creek hot springs. If Meager Creek is out indefinitely, he needs to decide if there's enough interest in Skookumchuck - located about 50 km south of Pemberton - to maintain his business. At this point, he doesn't know what to do.

The hot springs, which have long been a tourist attraction, sit at the foot of Mount Meager, a dormant volcano. They are heated by the volcano's magma system. The area is highly unstable; Meager last erupted 2,400 years ago and the landscape has been breaking down ever since.

A flood in 2003 wiped out the bridge spanning Meager Creek, cutting off access to the hot springs. It took until 2008 to fix the bridge. Then, in September 2009, another, weaker flood damaged one of the bridge's three spans, once again cutting off access to the hot springs.

According to Mike Sato, owner of Sea to Sky Onsen Inc., which developed the hot springs into a tourist friendly hotspot in the 1990s, repairs to the Forest Service Road and the bridge were finally completed about three weeks ago.

"The caretakers for the Meager Creek Hot Springs were last there last Monday, and were preparing for opening the hot springs to the public," Sato said.

But Friday's massive landslide wiped out one span of the bridge and shifted another, rendering the hot springs unusuable and virtually unreachable, except by airlift.

"There's not much left up there," said Pemberton Mayor Jordan Sturdy. "I'm not sure what the impacts on the Meager Creek Hot Springs are. I have no idea what the situation is there, given what I saw."