Wiegele concerned for backcountry safety

Heli-ski guides and others with Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing have documented at least 20 incidents involving snowmobilers this season,

  • Mar. 31, 2012 10:00 a.m.

An article titled “Helicopter skiers monitor wildlife” in our Mar. 19 issue generated quite a few online comments from snowmobilers.

One incident in the article was a report by a heli-ski guide of seeing a group of eight to 10 snowmobilers going past a sign into an area closed to snowmobiling.

Several of the comments on the Internet questioned the veracity of the reported incident.

In fact, the incident was just one of at least 20 reported and documented by heli-ski guides and other workers with Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing so far this season, according to the Mike Wiegele.

“People are going anywhere, anytime,” said Wiegele. “I don’ know what to do about it. We report the incidents but they just keep on happening.”

The first apparent violation of the season was on Dec. 11 in an area called Norbert’s Nose (North Bowl). Bob Rankin saw seven snowmobilers in a caribou closure area. He was not able to talk with them as they avoided him. They were snowboarding after using snowmobiles to gain access.

The next incident was on Dec. 16 at Cardiac East. Guide Tim McLean saw tracks that indicated a violation of the Wildlife Act or a Section 58 closure. He reported the incident to the radio room but no further action was recorded.

On Jan. 2 Tim McLean and another guide saw tracks in the area of Schnelle Bump run. There did not appear to be a violation and it was only reported during the daily guides’ meeting.

On Jan. 16 guide Bob Sager saw snowmobile tracks and riders in the area of Miller Country run. They appeared to be in violation of the Wildlife Act or a Section 58 closure. He reported the incident during the guides’ meeting and it was reported to the RAPP line, a resource compliance technologist with the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources in Clearwater and a local conservation officer. The map location was sent to the CO and was plotted and saved on GoogleEarth.

The list goes on. The final entry, before the incident reported in our Mar. 19 story, occurred on Mar. 2 at 1:13 p.m. Guide Elias Ortner spotted seven snowmobilers near Miledge Creek Tree run. He believed they were violating the Wildlife Act or a Section 58 closure and reported it to Mike Hamault in the MWHS radio room. Barb Quinn called in the report on the Ministry of Environment’s RAPP (report all poachers and polluters) line and called a local conservation officer.

The problem is a small minority of snowmobilers, many of them commercial operators, who take people into terrain where they should not go, according to Wiegele.

“It isn’t just a question of protecting mountain caribou habitat,” he said “It’s also a question of safety.”

According to Wiegele, two years ago he saw a group of at least 60 snowmobilers gathered in the Smoke Creek drainage for what appeared to be an organized high-marking event.

Avalanche conditions were extremely unstable at the time, he said. In fact, if they had held the event at the same time the following day, all or nearly all those taking part would have been buried alive when the snow slid in the area.

 

A few days later he called Kevin Krueger, who was minister of tourism at the time, warning him of the danger of disaster. Not long after that dozens were buried and two people killed during an organized high-marking event near Revelstoke.