To share the alpine, greater responsibility lies with those who have the most options.
I recently had a backcountry experience that brought three interest groups into close quarters. I was on a terrific three-day backcountry tour run by Coast Mountain Guides at the glorious Journeyman Lodge at Ski Callaghan.
Saturday (Feb. 2) dawned peaceful and golden for our eager pack of turn-earners. Avalanche risk was low, but recent warmth had baked the south-facing slopes, reducing our snow options. Our guide, Guillaume Otis, worked hard to find a north-facing slope within reach of our party. As we climbed Journeyman Ridge, the sound of engines let us know we were not alone.
To the west, high-powered snowmobiles buzzed across the end of the valley. Apparently, they traverse from Brandywine area to access terrain on the other side, but are not allowed within the Callaghan Country zone. The noise did distract somewhat from our peaceful ascent, but they were keeping their distance. And I must say it looked like they were having a great time.
Then came the chopper. A Whistler Heli-Skiing bird circled directly above us, scoped out our run and headed straight for the same summit. Obviously, we were disappointed not to be able to lay down first tracks, but we figured there would by plenty for everyone. I even waved the first few times the chopper sped past, imagining excited heli-skiers looking down at us and sharing this beautiful day.
After the fifth or sixth time the chopper ferried groups past us, I stopped waving.
We crested the ridge to see multiple sets of tracks marching across the bowl. Then, unbelievably, a group of three sleds ripped right up the remaining open snow in the middle, obviously well outside their permitted motorized area. All we could do was sigh, shrug and have a reasonably awesome run off to one side of the slaughter. Sloppy sevenths as our reward for hours of climbing.
I appreciate that heli-skiers and sledders have a right to enjoy the mountains too, and many people from these groups have worked hard to establish tenures and dedicated areas.
I would be happy to share a few runs with heli-skiers, but when Whistler Heli-Skiing shredded one of the few north-facing bowls all day long, it was a bit much. Helicopters have hundreds of square miles to choose from. An experienced heli-ski guide should have been able to find other north facing options on a low-risk day. Likewise, snowmobilers can rapidly access many valleys in an afternoon There is no need to encroach on non-motorized terrain.
So to all you heli-guides and sledders out there, when you see a touring group, maybe consider that a few extra minutes of travel in your machines might just give them some well-deserved breathing space, at little cost to you.