Opinion » Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor for the week of Jan. 31

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Patience with Mother Nature

“They were a group of experienced backcountry skiers.”

“They had all the equipment that they’re supposed to have.”

“They had emergency beacons to be able to call for help” … and finally the quote: “Unfortunately, even with that, this person died in this avalanche.”

The above statements have been said over and over in past years, usually whenever another unfortunate person loses their life in an avalanche.

As if being equipped with beacons, probes, ABS-packs and shovel would make an avalanche stop itself from burying you!

Yes, it goes without saying that all this equipment—and the knowledge of how to use it—is important, and one should never go into the backcountry without it. However, knowledge of terrain and snowpack are at least as—if not more—important than all this gear.

Quotes, such as those above, can so mislead a kid to think that because they have “the gear” they can now ski the “rad line.” I wish that people would become more aware that it’s the terrain (coupled with an unstable snowpack) that they enter that kills them!

To read the terrain correctly, you need courses, mentors and years of backcountry travel—and even then, sometimes, an accident can happen.

You can travel in the backcountry quite safely even in high-avalanche danger as long as you pick and choose the right terrain in which to travel.

This goes for uptrack and descent, as well as the neighbouring slopes that can set an avalanche loose to spill into your line of travel.

So please, all of you young (and not-so-young) whippersnappers out there who feel they have to prove something in the backcountry, educate yourself not only about the gear and how to use it, but start learning to read the terrain.

Sometimes you might just have to stick to a 25-degree slope instead of whatever other descent you had in mind.

That other descent will still be there for you on another day, maybe in the spring, where “maybe” the conditions might be a bit safer.

Patience in the backcountry is not only a virtue, it might save lives.

Helene Steiner
Mountain guide, Whistler

Snow-removal problems

For a town that relies on snow removal, Whistler’s (service) leaves a lot to be desired, and it’s not all the fault of plow or equipment operators.

I blame our council to a large degree. I was told all homeowners are supposed to store their snow on their own property. Just about everything but that is happening now.

The Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW), under council’s guidance, has allowed monster-size homes to be built and there’s nowhere to put snow because the entire snow allowance is a driveway. Some driveways are so steep they can’t even drive up (or park in) them in the winter, so they park on the street, sometimes for days at a time, without being ticketed or towed. These driveways shouldn’t have been allowed in the first place. 

Equipment operators pull all the snow out of driveways and leave half of it piled on the road. People do this even if there is room in their yard for snow, equipment operator or not. The muni plow goes down the middle of the road leaving streets as one lane.

Some people throw everything the plow dumps in their driveway into the middle of the road regardless of how frozen it is and leave big piles for cars to hit.

Municipal plows should be pushing the snow back on both sides, especially the even side where cars park, every time they come through in order to maintain two lanes instead of leaving dangerous driving conditions. But if they do that, private equipment operators just put it back on the road again.

If the RMOW is going to allow this kind of construction, it should increase the budget to have snow trucked away. And not just once at the end of the season. It should be done regularly, especially in places such as Whistler Cay Heights.

Instead, heavy-duty equipment comes around to push snow back as far and high as possible, crushing everything in its path. The RMOW is going to have to repair our fence again after this winter—good thing they know it’s there.

Illegally parked cars make snow removal difficult, not to mention a mess of the street, but there’s virtually no enforcement. If you phone bylaw, nothing happens. Cars can be in the same place for days, sometimes in blind corners.

When they do move, they leave a huge pile of snow you can’t drive over even if the plow clears it, and the plow may not be around for days.  I was told that bylaw prefers to educate, not enforce. The same houses have the same problem year after year, so I have to assume bylaw either doesn’t talk to people or it’s not working.

It could be completely different people living there the following winter, so it’s the same problem all over again. People park on the street even if there is room in the driveway.

Pedestrians are left to stand on the street in traffic because crosswalk intersections haven’t been cleared. People have to struggle through walls of snow the plow creates just to press a button and give them a safe place to stand.

The crosswalks in Alpine Meadows where students cross the highway were only done recently and the big storm was three weeks ago. If it was done in the interim, I didn’t notice.

Most residential neighbourhoods don’t have sidewalks leaving people to walk in the middle of the road because that’s the only place to walk.   Equipment operators are left looking for places to put snow, so they dump it anywhere, even if that means spreading it back on the road in an even layer, which I’ve seen them do, or dumping it in someone else’s yard. As if no one notices they’re suddenly bogged down in four inches of snow even though it hasn’t snowed.

Some of the things they do contravene bylaws, from what I’ve been told. Dumping snow in front of fire hydrants is popular since it gets cleaned out regularly, creating a different kind of hazard if there’s a fire.

All these things combine to make dangerous driving conditions as well as hazards for pedestrians and residents, not to mention generate complaints.

We were nearly hit head-on by a car speeding around a blind corner on our side. I’m pretty sure there’d be a lawsuit if something serious happens because of road conditions. I’d encourage anyone with similar complaints to contact the mayor’s office.

Erna Gray
Whistler


Looking more closely at Whistler’s emissions

In any discussion of Whistler’s responsibilities for climate-change emissions and the possibilities for significant reductions, a command of the key basic facts is useful. A (Resort Municipality of Whistler) website (whistler.ca/municipal-gov/community-monitoring/greenhouse-gas-emissions-0) states: “… per capita emissions [2017]… 3.6tCO2e/person, one of the lowest levels since monitoring began [in] 2000.”

King County (Seattle and surrounding areas) estimates its per capita CO2e responsibility as about 27 tonnes; the state of Oregon’s estimate, 25 tonnes.

Whistler’s calculations of climate-change emissions excludes the majority of Whistler residents’ actual emissions responsibility—the greenhouse-gas (CO2e) cost of producing the food, concrete, vehicles, etc. used in Whistler but produced outside municipal boundaries—and also the climate-change effects of trips by residents (and visitors) beyond Whistler’s boundaries, e.g. drives from and to Vancouver, flights from and to Europe and Asia.

(Whistler’s publications frequently employ the ambiguous feel-good term “community emissions” to describe its presented CO2e numbers. Nowhere, to my knowledge, does Whistler state what significant emissions responsibility is excluded from these “community” emissions numbers.)

And to get a stunningly low “per capita” CO2e number, Whistler divides the emissions it has chosen to measure not by its resident population but by an estimate of daily average visitor population (roughly 22,000) plus its resident population (about 12,000) plus its temporary worker population (about 2,000). No other community in the world adds visitors to its residents to derive per-capita greenhouse-gas numbers.

Divide the total of Whistler’s declared emissions (129,080 tCO2e) by its resident population and the total CO2e “community” emissions per resident becomes about 10 tonnes.

I asked a supposedly well-informed Whistler councillor who advocates making “climate action” a priority what they thought Whistler’s total resident per-capita greenhouse-gas responsibility was, and how much in percentage terms doubling Whistler’s bus ridership would reduce Whistler’s greenhouse-gas responsibility. The councillor had not a clue.

I suggest doubling bus ridership within Whistler is unlikely to reduce Whistler’s total greenhouse-gas responsibility by more than a few per cent, but the easier tasks of not encouraging short Whistler breaks from Asia or Europe, in general discouraging business-class air travel, and, further, encouraging bus rather than car travel between Whistler and Vancouver could have a significantly greater impact on world emissions than getting more people to employ buses rather than private cars for travel within Whistler.

Support for the above assertions: round-trip business class Vienna or Beijing to YVR has the same climate impact as about eight tonnes of greenhouse gases emitted at Whistler’s elevation; an economy flight, about 2.7 tonnes. And Snowmass (within greater Aspen; similar in lifestyle to Whistler) estimates its aviation fuel emissions as 3.9 tonnes per capita—more than the total of Whistler’s declared per-capita emissions.

I suggest if Whistler truly wants to act rationally to lessen climate-changing emissions, its first priority is to cease and desist circulating misleading statistics regarding its own greenhouse-gas-emission responsibility.

Again, King County and the state of Oregon estimate their total emissions footprint is well above 20 tonnes of CO2e per capita and Whistler claims “per capita emissions… 3.6tCO2e/person.”

It is highly improbable that the average Whistler resident has a substantially different emissions responsibility than the average King County or Oregon resident.

Jon Petrie
Vancouver


Praise for ‘Dosing the Divine’

What an utter surprise to find an article on Neem Karoli Baba and his students Ram Dass and Krishna Dass in Pique (Jan.17). Devotees asked Baba, “What is the way to self-realization?”

His answer would always be the same, “Feed people, serve people.” Thanks to all the volunteers in the Sea to Sky corridor whose help have been invaluable to the people in need.

Manishi KC
Squamish