Many concerned Nelson area citizens believe they will have to say goodbye to peace and quiet in their backcountry should a land tenure application by Kootenay Heli-Ski inc. be approved.
While many people wrote in a response to a call for public submissions that they see the value of heli and cat skiing operations, they also believe there are already enough in the area.
A freedom of information request by the Star for submissions to FrontCounter BC between March 28 and July 3 resulted in 383 pages containing 258 separate comments regarding the application.
Of those, all but three opposed or strongly opposed the tenure being awarded. One asked for careful evaluation and two were in favour, citing economic benefits.
BC Parks Kootenay Lake area supervisor Hugh Ackroyd wrote that he had been contacted by a number of park users concerned their backcountry ski experiences will be disrupted in the Gibson Lake area as well as by skiers who stay at the Kokanee Glacier cabin as they tour the park.
Lawrence White of the Alpine Club of Canada wrote that the tenure would be “detrimental to guest experience at Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park,” adding that there are approximately 2,000 user nights between Dec. 1 and April 30 each season and 3,200 year round. The popularity has led to a lottery draw over the past 10 years to reserve a place in the facility.
Kootenay Mountaineering Club president Doug Clark voiced the club’s concern that the proposed landing sites may conflict with backcountry ski areas frequented by their 350 members and other skiers, as well as with wilderness values in the park.
The tenure application specifies the Arlington and Outlook areas which appear to be on the park boundary, adjacent to, or near areas frequented by Kokanee Glacier cabin users. Clark also stated that all sites in the west Kokanee Creek drainage listed in the proponent’s application are commonly used by Nelson area residents. For these reasons they oppose the application although “We appreciate the importance of heli-skiing and other commercial recreation to the economy of the West Kootenay.”
They also requested the opportunity to meet with the proponent and ministry staff, preferably in a public meeting.
Letters of opposition were also received from Friends of the West Kootenay Parks and Wildsight, whose executive director cited impacts of mountain goats and wolverine populations as a particular concern.
David Reid wrote on behalf of the West Kootenay Eco-Society, which was supported by dozens of form letters on the society’s behalf. The Duhamel Watershed Society and Valhalla Wilderness Society also wrote in detail their reasons for opposing the application.
Joan McKay of Rocky Tour Adventure Ltd. responded as a current operator who believes the proposed tenure may overlap with hers but stated that the lack of map detail or specific coordinates of proposed landing and pick up sites make it hard to tell. Regardless, she said her clients will likely run into Kootenay Heli-Ski’s clients at the end of their runs.
Valhalla Mountain Touring owner/operator Jasmine Caton, who operates a short distance northwest of the proposal in a well-established recreational ski touring area, said many of her clients remark on the “silence and tranquility that these mountains offer” when they visit the park on separate excursions. She said current tenure holders are doing well but another tenure would dilute the market.
Area F director Tom Newell wrote that several crucial aspects are missing from the application.
There was no formal public meeting with the proponents, no details of the potential impacts on water residents use, no defined helicopter routes and times and what citizens can expect regarding noise pollution, he said. He added that other concerns residents have may not be raised without a full public meeting.
“This operation will affect residents and their collective voice is not being heard through this process,” wrote Newell. “For these process reasons I cannot support the project proposal.”
Neighbouring regional directors Ramona Faust, Walter Popoff and Aimee Watson also expressed concerns and posed questions they felt the proposal did not address.
In June, the Regional District of Central Kootenay formally asked FrontCounter BC for a public meeting with the proponent.
Regional district planner Mark Crowe specified additional requirements the proponent must incorporate along with all the recommendations made in a consultant’s wildlife assessment, preventing flights from landing and activity from occurring within 1,000 meters of wolverine dens, instead of 500m and stay 1,000 meters away from mountain goats, rather than 100m.
The majority of the submissions had names and addresses redacted. Only clubs, regional district directors and staff, private business owners and societies were left visible.
Most of those opposed to the application took issue with the location bordering a provincial park close to Nelson, rather than the idea of heli-sking.
Common concerns included helicopter noise over residences, disturbing park animals, and taking away the backcountry feel from a popular recreation area.
A decision by the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations on the application should be imminent, as a land officer had 140 days following the March 11 application, which put the deadline at July 29.
A sampling of comments
• “One flight leaving in the morning and coming back in the afternoon is a small price to pay for the economic benefit of this application. Even if they come back to fuel up I believe it is good for Nelson good for tourism and will help give Nelson more economic stability.”
• “We do not want visitors to Kokanee Park to leave complaining about another heli-ski outfit poaching their lines!”
• A long time Kokanee Park user: “We need to keep the park quiet and relatively undisturbed for the animals who live in the area (they don’t know park boundaries) as well as for the people who use the park in the winter. I know how unpleasant ongoing helicopter noise can be in a pristine mountain setting when camping near Assiniboine Park for a week in the summer.”
• “It’s ironic that Kootenay Valley helicopters is the company that currently flies visitors into Kokanee Glacier cabin for an enjoyable ski touring vacation … if this application is approved they would then spoil that vacation by flying helicopters in ski terrain adjacent to the most used west side of the park. I’m sure people will vent their opinions directly to KVH on their flight out.”
• “Any tenure consideration should be restricted to areas which are too remote to be accessed by these existing businesses and people of the region.”
• “There are plenty of heli/cat ski tenures in the area and public use area are at a premium. As a snowmobiler and backcountry skier I oppose this.”
• “This is a sledding area and should stay as one.”
• “The economic benefits to this project will not outweigh the ecological impact.”
• “Greedy generations are going to be the death of our planet.”
• “There are enough tenures in this area already.”
• “There are more and more heli-ski operations popping up in this province that cater to an extremely small percentage of the population. It does not seem like a fair allocation of public crown land.”
• “This proposal makes no mention of the fact that Sitkum Creek Watershed is the water source for the Sitkum Creek Water Improvement District. Major disturbances in this watershed have compromised the ability to provide potable water to the community. The statement that human waste will be buried in the snow leads to the logical conclusion that during snow melt that this waste contaminate Sitkum Creek and create health problems for the users of the Sitkum Creek Improvement District.”
• “There are already many active tenures in the area and several said there is not much area left that does it not touched by a tenure of some sort.”
• “I work in the in the ski industry, and the market does not need another operation.”
•“A heli skiing operation would introduce overhead avalanche hazards to ski touring groups below, on access roads and natural openings in the forest.”
• “All heli-skiing operation create pollution … After several years of operation the amount of discarded stakes is substantial.”
• “Helicopter skiing belongs in the back country far from human populations.”
• “Mt. Cornfield tenure is too close to residential areas.”
• Regarding Crusader and Redfish areas: “For the applicant to say that the area they are applying for has minimal use is far from accurate,” wrote a frequent Redfish area snowmobiler adding they have “met groups of sled skiers heading up in to the heart of the tenure application area.”
• “I live in this water shed… please keep this away from us.”
• “A ski touring lodge would be more appropriate.”
• “As this winter has shown, we already don’t have the carrying capacity to keep all of the current operations busy.”
• “[Content whited out] … so I do understand the appeal and the dream that is trying to be achieved here. However, I strongly believe there are enough cat and heli-ski operations in the this area for people to chose from. I think it is really important to leave some ground for the touring types and the animals.”
• “If we all want to keep enjoying snow sports, the last thing our climate needs is to cut down trees and fly frequent fuelling, extremely loud and obnoxiously noisy helicopters that contribute to the climate change disabling the snow. Stop the craziness!”
• A nearby resident: “Incredible waste of fossil fuels and only made for the elite.”
• “The assertion that KHS proposed ski areas have minimal public use is false. Nearly all of the proposed heli-ski terrain is within or adjacent to areas used throughout the winter by the public. The Redfish, Crusader, Outlook, West Kokanee areas are all regularly used by snowmobilers and back country skiers.”
• “If this application were filling a gap in the supply of mechanized operations in the West Kootenay, I would be much more inclined to support it, however, with half a dozen operations within a short drive from Nelson that is simply not the case.”
• “I’m sure many won’t write but know there’s a large group of locals opposed to this.
• “Good idea but not a good location unfortunately.”
• “No, just no.”