Snowmobiling on Vancouver Island seems to be growing in popularity despite the pandemic, prompting officials to ask new riders do their research before heading out into the backcountry.
On Jan. 24, the BC Conservation Officer Service, RCMP and BC Parks held a joint enforcement and education day for snowmobilers near Mt. Washington.
“The primary objective was trying to promote compliance through education and outreach,” said conservation officer Steve Petrovcic. “We want folks to be doing their research, making sure they know what’s required for their desired operation and the land base they want to be operating on and to certainly be aware of where park boundaries are so they’re not operating within the provincial park.”
The RCMP were concerned with operators riding on Strathcona Parkway, the road leading up to the Mt. Washington ski area from Highway 19. BC Parks and BCCOS were concerned with where operators were riding. Strathcona Provincial Park is off-limits to snowmobilers, but the lands adjacent to the park fall under different jurisdiction. The Mid-Island Sno Blazers snowmobile club has an agreement with Mosaic Forest Management to allow riders to access certain lands.
Petrovcic said the officers met with a dozen snowmobiler operators, only one of which was in compliance.
“Some had openly admitted they hadn’t done any research, they weren’t aware of the land status and thought it was crown land. Clearly some folks had not done any homework.
“The folks we spoke with on that particular morning, only one or two were somewhat familiar with the avalanche and backcountry snow stability concerns,” Petrovcic added. “When we get these funny temperature changes it’s a melt-freeze layer and it can really create a serious unstable snowload and it’s something that’s really important that backcountry travellers are aware of.”
With more people venturing out into the backcountry, it becomes more important that they are aware of the risks associated with those kinds of activities. Vancouver Island has had multiple avalanches within the past few months, and the rapid changes between low and high temperatures can create unstable snowpack in the alpine and sub-alpine regions.
Russell Janssen, president of the Mid-Island Sno Blazers recommends a minimum of an avalanche probe, beacon and shovel when riding. He also says that avalanche safety gear is one thing not to skimp on.
“We’re mentioning to people about avalanches,” Janssen said. “We try to keep people aware, making sure they’ve got the proper equipment…You can buy a $30 shovel or the $100 shovel. What’s going to have better results?”
Despite COVID-19, the club has seen a jump in membership. The Mid-Island Sno Blazers saw a jump between around 112 members in 2019/20 to over 200 this year. The North Island club saw a similar jump. With the recent snowfalls and cold weather, conditions are improving for snowmobilers on the Island.
“It’s been good,” Janssen said. “We’re starting to get the snow we wish we had in early January and December. The season’s not over yet.”
Though not all the riders stopped on Jan. 24 were club members, the clubs are looking for more riders to join. This year, there seems to be a large number of people who are interested in snowmobiling on the Island.
“We’ve seen a huge influx of riders this year,” said Janssen. “A lot of it is to do with COVID, people are not travelling and either buying sleds or going backcountry skiing. All winter activities are going up.”
New riders can join their local snowmobile clubs online.