Results from two studies commissioned by the Federation of Mountain Clubs of B.C. (FMCBC) released this month should confirm what most Whistlerites already know: non-motorized outdoor recreation is of tremendous benefit to British Columbians.
The first study, conducted by Simon Fraser's School of Resource and Environmental Management, examined participation rates in non-motorized outdoor activities and their benefits to the B.C. economy.
Research showed that the direct economic contributions to B.C.'s economy from non-motorized recreation participation in 2012 topped $3.5 billion. This amount came before factoring in equipment purchases, with single-day trips accounting for $2.5 billion, and expenses from multi-day trips making up the remainder.
Climbing activities generated the highest single-day expense average, at $117 per person, while hiking, the most popular non-motorized activity in B.C., generated expenses of $74 per person per day. Winter activities such as skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing, produced average single-day trip expenses of $76 per person, and $310 per person per day for multi-day trips. This compares to bicycle activities, at $66 per person for a single-day trip, and $231 per person for multi-day trips. Non-motorized sports such as kayaking and canoeing generated $69 per person for one-day trips, and $181 per day for multiple days.
"As much as these activities have a reputation as having a low economic benefit ... there are people who are spending more money on these activities even though they don't necessarily require it," said FMCBC president Scott Webster, who cited other economic benefits from outdoor recreation as a result of related spending on things such as accommodation, travel, camping and food and beverage.
The most popular recreational pursuits with respondents were hiking, fishing, snowshoeing, kayaking and trail running.
Unsurprisingly, staying active was also shown to have tremendous potential benefit to the Canadian health care system, according to a second FMCBC report using data compiled from third-party research, including a 2009 Canadian Health Measures Study. The report estimated that Canada spends roughly $7 billion a year on health care costs due to physical inactivity and lost workforce productivity.
With the results in hand, Webster said he hopes to use the studies to further the message that non-motorized recreation plays an essential role in our society.
"Now that we have a little bit more concrete evidence, the plans are to use this information to try and work with government and other stakeholders to encourage these activities and maybe try to increase funding ... to improve access and facilities," he said.
Non-motorized activities in B.C. are under no immediate threat in the foreseeable future, Webster added, but with growing interest in a number of non-traditional outdoor recreation activities — both motorized and non-motorized — he said it's crucial that user demands are balanced.
"There's definitely new pressure, but at the same time I think the general interest in non-motorized activities in B.C. remains strong," he said. "There's no real danger to hiking's existence but it is changing, so I think that what we're trying to do as part of our organization is make sure that change occurs in ways that work for everyone."
Managing the demands of a growing number of user groups will be foremost in the minds of BC Parks as the province seeks input from outdoor enthusiasts on a new policy that aims to improve ski resorts within Cypress, Mount Seymour and E.C. Manning provincial parks.
The park use permits that govern the three independent ski resorts were issued nearly 30 years ago and require updating to reflect modern resort operations, as well as the growth in popularity of certain activities, like snowshoeing and mountain biking.
Victoria has said the new policy will seek to establish a consistent direction for the three resort operations, while improving management, addressing new business opportunities and providing tools for operators to adapt to changing needs and climate conditions in B.C.
"It's obvious that you've got a lot of different stakeholder viewpoints," said Canada West Ski Areas Association president David Lynn. "As a ski association we want to create an environment in which those ski areas can be respectful of other stakeholders interests but also achieve some success within the parameters of the deals they've signed with the province."
Comments on the ski hill resort intentions paper will be accepted until June 29 at www.env.gov.bc.ca.