BC Parks' plan for the Spearhead
Thank you for your recent editorial in Pique Newsmagazine that echoed the public support for draft amendments to the Garibaldi Park Master Plan in favour of backcountry huts in the Spearhead Range (Nov.29, 2012).
However, the editorial also voiced continued support for heli-skiing in the park and I question the arguments given. I agree that heli-skiing is an important part of the local economy and is also important to Whistler-Blackcomb to help distinguish it from other resorts. The real issue, however, is not about the value of heli-skiing. The issue is whether the continued support for heli-skiing in the park is appropriate for long-term planning in Garibaldi Park.
First off let's be clear that any changes to heli-skiing in Garibaldi Park will have very little effect on Whistler Heli-Skiing, which has an enormous tenure outside Garibaldi Park and will continue to operate with or without skiing in the park.
The key motivation for the current amendment to the 1990 Master Plan is to give BC Parks guidance to deal with the huge changes that have taken place and will continue to take place in the Spearhead area of Garibaldi Park.
In particular there has been a tremendous growth in backcountry skiing in the Spearhead area and BC Parks is proposing to allow backcountry huts in the Spearhead Range. The draft amendment should say, "To explore whether BC Parks should be phasing out heli-skiing in the park." It is essential that any amendments to the Master Plan give BC Parks staff the ability to assess whether continued heli-skiing in Garibaldi Park is compatible with hut development and the goals of the park.
The development of a hut system in the Spearhead area will elevate this area to a world-class backcountry ski destination comparable to the internationally renowned Wapta Traverse in the Canadian Rockies or the famous Haute Route in Europe. Backcountry skiers will come from all around the world to experience the unique natural setting and beauty that this area offers. Heli-skiing in the Spearhead area will have a very significant negative effect on the quality of experience that these visitors will have. No other world-class backcountry ski destination overlaps with heli-ski tenure.
The current draft amendment will also severely restrict BC Parks in its efforts to develop a successful hut system. It has been suggested in the analysis behind the amendment that conflict between backcountry skiers and heli-skiing could be mitigated through appropriate hut positioning. A well-developed hut system needs to consider a wide range of issues regarding hut location such as appropriate spacing between huts for backcountry skier's safety. I feel strongly that if BC Parks is required to relocate huts to avoid conflicts with heli-skiing that it would result in very inappropriate hut locations. Perhaps it should be the other way around and heli-skiiing could be relocated to accommodate hut locations?