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Regulation of Snowmobiles - Proposed Set of Rules #2287
Back To Discussion List Written: 2009.03.29 by: Robin Tivy

We respect the interest of motorized users to pursue their sport on Crown Land. In turn we ask for the same respect for the needs of non-motorized users. In most areas of BC, the areas set aside for pure non-motorized use are less than 5% of the total land base. What we want is to ensure that these areas are protected in a manner that motorized users do not "stray" into them.

In addition to having certain areas such as parks designated as completely non-motorized, what we need is a set of buffer areas, wwhere snowmobiling is not prohibited outright, but there are some restrictions such as requiring mufflers.

We need to frame the discussion such that "reasonable" snowmobiler users are not alienated, yet the problem users are restricted. By making a distinction between stock production touring machines versus fringe noise machines, we can perhaps expand the areas which will remain enjoyable for the back country skier, and at the same time, get more support from "reasonable" snowmobilers and politicians.

Snowmobile spokesmen usually describe the snowmobile users they represent quite differently from the screaming mufflerless two cycle machines that are ruining so many ski touring destinations. The spokesmen talk about families out enjoying a ride along forested trail, perhaps taking children out to a cabin where they can play in the snow. There is little mention of high powered 200 horsepower machines screaming up mountain sides. See this video of a snowmobile near Valemount triggering an avalanche. The majority of the population don't understand the problem. They have no idea that a small group of machines can dominate the whole countryside for several kilometers in every direction.

So let's make a set of rules which cause very little restrictions on snowmobiles used for touring. We need to distinguish between types of machines, just as they now do in the national parks in the United States. A screaming two cycle engine engaged in high pointing is quite different in its impact on surrounding areas from a quiet touring machine. This is a lot easier to sell than just banning all snowmobiles from large areas.

Our rules must also vary depending on the area. We need different rules for a heavily populated area such as the Sea to Sky Corridor versus sparsely populated areas in Northern BC or Alberta.

Another requirement of any set of rules is that they must be designed to make enforcement easy. For example, in protecting areas such as Manning Park, it may be necessary to designate the area just to the west as being a "buffer" zone.

Now that we've discussed the requirements for a set of rules, here is a quick set of rules to give you the general idea.

1. In heavily populated areas, such as the "Sea to Sky Corridor", machines must be equipped with the production mufflers. This rule makes it easy for law enforcement right at the trailhead, right when they are being unloaded from the trucks. I'm sorry, you can't use a machine with no muffler in this area, you'll have to go to a different area.

2. Any national and provincial park where "rogue" users have been known to "stray" over the border must be protected by "buffer" areas, such that there is no possibility of "straying" into the park. For example, consider the problem at Manning Park. To the east of the park is an area called Copper Creek, which in itself is of very little interest to the hot rod snowmobiler. Its primary interest is to gain back door access to Manning Park. Although it is very difficult to enforce the park boundary, it is fairly easy to prevent the machines from being unloaded at the trailhead in the adjacent area.

3. In buffer areas where there IS a good reason to allow snowmobile access for touring, only models of machine that meet certain noise and emission standards should be allowed. That way, users of the park can enjoy the park without hearing the whining pitch of snowmobiles. The lists of which models qualify has already been prepared in the USA, and is well known to the snowmobile industry. These requirements are referred to as Best Available Technology requirements for snowmobiles, and is in effect at various US national parks such as Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.

4. Noisy two cycle machines designed for the high pointing "sport" use can only be used in areas more than 200 km from major population centers. Specifically, machines with sound emmissions more than 80 dB at 10m distance. A normal passenger car is between 60 and 80 dB.

5. Only licenced snowmobiles with a visible plate number can be used in certain areas, such as areas adjacent to parks. It is hoped that such a rule would be more acceptable to snowmobilers than requiring all machines to be registered.

In summary, I think the above rough set of rules look much more modest to politicians, and are easier to defend. Of course, they would require refinement, but the idea is that they would cause very little restriction on the type of snowmobile usage so often cited in examples. People who are really buying the machines to go touring will have little problem with the above rules. In fact, the industry may support such rules. The people who will object will be the people who use the screaming two cycle engines. These machines are already banned in US parks. They are a fringe industry, because they can't be used in most of the US. However they are the machines that are causing most of the problems in Canada. Now there will be people who will argue that they have every right to have these machines, and to go "high pointing", as that is their "passion". However, that is a different argument from simply banning all snowmobiles. It is a lot easier to convince politicians that we need restrictions on modified hot rod machines without mufflers, than it is to convince them to ban all snowmobiles. They've won this argument in the USA, why can't we in Canada?

Discussion Guidelines: What I want in this discussion are ideas as to what might be the problems with this specific proposal, so as to improve the proposal, and make it more acceptable to everybody.


Comments

#6138 - 2017.11.02 Robin Tivy - Report on Snowmobile problems by Jeff Corbett of Ozalenka
Today I got the following email:

For the time being I (Jeff Corbett) would be the best contact for Ozalenka Alpine Club. Glen Stanley is my wife's father. He was in a very bad car accident a year and half ago, but is doing very well (like still able to do Berg Lake as a day hike (38km)). Larry Stam now lives in Dunster. Following Glen's accident I became president of the Ozalenka Alpine Club.

Glen is very non-confrontational, so has not been aggressive in promoting designated space for non-motorized recreation. That worked well when it was a big land and there was room for all. But we now have one group that takes everything that can be accessed in the winter. About 20 years ago both Glen Stanley and Dave Sylayka (of Dunster) tried hard to get the Ministry of Forests to act just when the impending explosion in snowmobile use in this area was beginning. Their efforts fell on deaf ears. Now the "cat is out of the bag". For all practical purposes there have been no restrictions placed on snowmobilers in this area. There are a number of areas closed for mountian caribou, but enforcement is infrequent and penalties are usually weak. One snowmobiler is on record bragging that the sledding was so good it was worth the fine. I think the ministry told me they did four patrols in the McBride/Valemount area last winter (by helicopter?). But 4 days out of a 150+ day season, and I'm sure those patrols only covered a few of the areas that snowmobilers use - your chances of being caught are pretty slim. On one of those patrols they did confiscate two snowmobiles from violators in a closed area. And I did file one formal report with photos of snowmobile tracks in a caribou closure area on the RAPP website.

Here's an update on the Ozalenka Alpine Club (OAC). For years the club and all cabin bookings were managed by Glen and Elsie Stanley. There was no advertising of the club or our trails/cabins, only mention in places such as Chic Scott's books. We are now in the process of creating a website, and it should be online before spring. There will be maps and descriptions, etc. Eventually we will have an online booking and payment system for the cabins, but at present that is still managed by Glen and Elsie. We have also increased cabin fees to $15/person/night, and will likely go to $20 within another year or two. The reality is those cabin fees are our only source of revenue (even though we theoretically should get some government funding as part of the BC Rec Sites and Trails system and for Ozalenka because it is now a provincial park, but we don't get any reliable funding from the government) and without that revenue we could not maintian the trails and cabins. And while the fees collected over the years ($10/person/night) are adequate for day to day maintenance, they are not adequate for the larger items such as a major renovation or rebuild of a cabin (such as Ozalenka will need in the next few years).

#6129 - 2017.10.23 Robin Tivy - Problems encountered by Ozalenka Alpine Club near Mcbride
Today I received the following email:

I am the president of the Ozalenka Alpine Club, our local hiking/climbing/skiing club and the primary advocate for non-motorized backcountry recreation based in McBride, B.C. As you are well aware, conflict between backcountry skiers and snowmobilers is a major issue here, to the point that it has been several years since I have found any quality backcountry skiing. The only reliable backcountry skiing we have is now a multi-day trip. Otherwise plan to ski on snowmobile tracks with plenty of noise and foul air (exhaust) to breath.

Over the past 30 years the Ozalenka Alpine Club has built a about 45km of trails and 2 back country cabins providing access to 4 alpine areas that are wonderful for summer hiking, ridge walking, and camping, and winter back country skiing. We are in the process of trying to get a third cabin built, but really have no location where we are completely free of snowmobile harassment, even in areas closed to snowmobiles on account of mountain caribou. Some people say "if we didn't have snow mobiles we wouldn't have anything". I say it would be more accurate to say "because we have snow mobiling we don't have anything else." Snow mobiles have definitely had a negative impact to the growth of skiing on our area (I'd say skiing, except for some foolhardy locals, has been all but exterminated).

I just came across your proposal from some years ago regarding regulation of the snowmobile problem. I am in essential agreement with your comments and those of many of the respondants to your post (https://bivouac.com/DsxPg.asp?DsxId=2287), except that I think the noise restrictions should apply everywhere not just within 200km of a major population centre. We routinely hear the howl and whine of snowmobiles up to 8+km away.

For me the main points are: snowmobiles are not compatable with any other winter backcountry users due to their tracks, noise, and air pollution. They also have a much greater environmental impact than is commonly portrayed, eg. look at the treeline areas in a popular riding area - it looks like all the shrubs, especially subalpine fir trees, have been mowed off about 2-3 foot tall. And that is exactly what has happened by being repeatedly run over. Not to mention their impact on wildlife, the garbage they leave all over our alpine meadows, air pollution, etc.

I am strongly of the position that, because snowmobiling is not compatable with any other winter backcountry users and has significant environmental impacts, snowmobiling should be limited to specifically designated areas only. That is, they can not go anywhere they want, only where specifically permitted.

#1288 - 2009.06.16 Robin Tivy - Canada West Ski Areas Association
Today I received an invitation to sit on the "CWSAA Snowmobile Advisory Safety Committee". (SWSAA is "Canada West Ski Areas Association"). Although I am flattered in this invitation as some sort of backcountry mountaineering representative, the real people that should be handling this type of thing are the hard working people in the Federation of Mountain Clubs, and other organizations who have worked on the Land Use Management Plans (LRMP) for the past years. Bivouac members see the snowmobile problem to be primarily a land use issue, not a safety issue. However, I think we should support other groups in areas where we have a common interest. For example, I know that snowmobiles have rampaged over various backcountry lodge operators areas, and would definitely support more enforcement. A general level of enforcement of snowmobile activity would benefit all of us. I know that some Bivouac members are worried that such discussions about snowmobile restrictions could backfire and affect us negatively. However, I think the need for regulation of backcountry machines is quite different from any need for regulation of self-propelled users, much the same as automobiles are under more regulation than pedestrians.

In any event, here is the email I sent in reply to the invitation:

1. Our members have told me that their main interest is for us to pursue the snowmobile problem as a land use issue, not a safety issue. The need for regulation is based on their impact on other users of the backcountry. The governments primary role is to protect other people's rights, not to protect them from themselves. Our members support me in working with you to bring the "wild west" atmosphere of snowmobiling under better control. They would agree that there must be effective enforcement of land use boundaries. They would probably agree with requirements for visible licence numbers on the machines. They would agree that a minority of snowmobile owners must realize they can't just make their own laws because they have the power of the machines.

2. The role of http://Bivouac.com (Canadian Mountain Encyclopedia) is mainly a support role in this campaign. My goal is to support various organizations such as Trails BC, Federation of Mountain Clubs, and your organization. I did the programming and support to get the snowmobiile infraction database established, and also to do a certain amount of publicizing this issue. I am hoping that this database will be useful to any organization that needs documentation of the problem. The database still needs to be larger. I hope your members can help all of us by putting in more entries. You can put the entries into the database yourself, or you can phone me (Robin Tivy at 604 669-7004 Ext 111 and I will help you.

#1262 - 2009.05.20 David Campbell - Regulating snowmobiles based on safety?
Personally, I don't think we should be regulating snowmobiles because of their recent safety issues. I think education is probably the best approach. Registering snowmobiles might be a good start, so that we can deal better with enforcement.

While I would like to see a ban on snowmobiles, it probably isn't a realistic dream. The best we can to is work together to try to figure out ways to share the backcountry.

A leader in the heli-ski industry calling for a ban on snowmobiles because they are unsafe seems pretty ridiculous to me. If we start casting the "dangerous" tag onto certain activities, it won't be long before there is a reasonable argument that all us unsafe folks (backcountry skiers, heli-skiers, mountaineers, snowmobilers, etc.) should keep out of the backcountry.

Mike Wiegele also seems to be complaining about the costs of rescuing snowmobilers as reason for their ban and regulation. He suggests they should pay for rescue operations. First, if you don't want to incurr the costs, don't rescue them. GO through the proper avenues-call the police and have them co-ordinate a rescue with PEP. Yes this will take time, but if the snowmobilers are doing stupid things, then they need to deal with the consequences. Second, if we start imposing rescue charges to snowmobilers, the rest of us will next.

Clearly Mike is looking at this from his business perpective. SNowmobiles are noisy and track up the wilderness and probably detract from the "wilderness" experience his clientele are seeking. Second, it sounds like less people come out to heli-ski when there are other people (snowmobilers) dying in the same mountains. Third, it sounds like he is footing the bill for rescuing snowmobilers. Helicopters are expensive. As I suggested, stop rescuing them, and go through the proper avenues. You are not Search and Rescue. Finally, he stated that having his people have to dig out dead bodies is traumatic on them. Is it less traumatic than when his guides have to dig out a dead client? I don't know the specifics of Mike's operation, but this certainly isn't much rarer of an occurrence in the heli-ski industry than a snowmobiler dying in an avalanche.

As for the snowmobiles, registering them is a good start. Then backcountry zoning and illegal activity can be cracked down on and enforced. I think regulations on snowmobiles should be because they are noisy and smelly, and create significant environmental impacts. I don't hink we should be regulating/banning them because they like to high mark and kill themselves.

#1261 - 2009.05.19 Sandra McGuinness - Perhaps I'm a cynic ....
But I wouldn't be getting too cosy with commercial operators who are seeking to keep the public, whether on sleds or skis, out of their tenure areas. These guys would be only too happy to keep everybody out. I suspect the number of sled fatalities this year is just a handy hook for Weigele to push through his agenda of keeping Joe Public out of his tenure area.

On a side note, although the mechanized ski industry sees few fatalities compared to their number of skier days, they seem only too happy to point out how reckless backcountry users are - this year it's sledders, but another year it could be ski tourers - in getting involved in avalanche incidents, while at the same time, consistently failing to report their own avalanche involvements. Can you say "double standard?"

#1260 - 2009.05.19 Scott Nelson - Another rant from Mike Wiegele
Wiegele calls for ban on snowmobiles

#1259 - 2009.05.19 Robin Tivy - Discussions Continue with Mike Weigle
I just talked to Mike Weigle again for an hour, and he's going to call back again. He's really following up on the issue of snowmobile regulation. At first I thought perhaps he would just blow off a lot of steam, then forget it, but it seems I may be wrong. I've got to admire his drive, and I wish I could report that we were making more progress than him. He's out there fighting a battle, and I can imagine that its not easy to fight that battle when living in Blue River or Valemount. I find it depressing enough to work on the problem myself, I'd rather just put my head in the sand and work on improving Bivouac. We've all got competitors, so its easiest if somebody else fights our battles. And we've got to admit that we've made poor progress in regulating snowmobiles so far.

Anyway, in my discussion with Mike Weigle today, one of my goals was to make the position of backcountry skiers as clear as possible. So I read to him some of what people have been saying. He wanted to clairify that he's not talking about excluding all snowmobiles from the backcountry (as the Vancouver Province portrayed it). It may have made good headlines, but the thing he's talking about today is the 5% "hoodlum" factor in the snowmobile community. He says that snowmobiling should be in designated areas allowing snowmobiling, but that they shouldn't be allowed to just go anywhere on crown land they please. That is a little bit differnt from "banning all snowmobiles in the backcountry". The problem in Valemount/Blue River is that Valemount has created "designated areas" but he says that the "underground" message is to ignore that, and just go outside the boundaries and into crown land, the wild west, where he who has the machine makes the rules.

The other problem he talked about is that there is a minority of snowmobilers who intimidate lodge operators by threatening to "trash their areas" if they stir up a lot of trouble. This is not his imagination, I've had lengthy discussions with backcountry lodge operators who've said the same thing. One operator told me: "You don't want to piss them off by requiring them to be registered, or you'll have trouble". The basic idea is to not stand up for your rights, because they have the power.

As Scott Nelson has pointed out, Mike Weigle is still putting a lot of emphasis on the safety argument, saying that the snowmobile clubs and dealers had a duty to do something about enforcing safety. However, I pointed out to Mike that we had a certain amount of concern about making that the main issue, because it could end up causing a lot of regulations for self propelled users.

Our position is that the snowmobiles are a different problem from ski touring. Our number one argument is a land use argument: to address the noise and degradation of the backcountry experience as the areas are overrun by unregulated snowmobile users. This is our prime motivation in supporting the enforcement of designated area boundaries for snowmobiles. Backcountry skiers don't want to end up being subjected to a bunch of inappropriate safety rules and regulations, such as those currently being forced on backcountry skiers by Whistler-Blackcomb.

#1236 - 2009.05.04 Scott Nelson - Article in the Province today
Here is a story in The province.

Mike Wiegle is throwing around some big words like "banning snowmobiles from the backcountry". I don't think this sort of exclusionary attitude is one we want to support. Next, we will be the ones who will be excluded.

#1232 - 2009.05.02 Robin Tivy - This discussion is about regulation of snowmobiles
This discussion is about rules for licencing and controlling snowmobiles. We need to work with anyone who is willing to put considerable valuable effort into the campaign. For too long, the mountaineering community has looked for reasons to fight against each other, or against potential allies, meanwhile a well organized and cohesive snowmobile lobby makes alliances, and wins the war.

The fact is, there are other interest groups besides ourselves making a valuable effort on this problem. They believe snowmobiles need to have some sort of regulation. I think Mike Weigle is advancing the conversation, and taking the issue to a new level. It was refreshing to me to hear someone not just accept the idea that regulation is impossible. He pointed out to me that hunting is potentially a lot more difficult to regulate, yet society is able to do that. This "wild west" free for all that the unlicenced snowmobiles are currently enjoying is out of line. His main concern seems to be safety - with his helicopters being obligated to attend to 50 or 60 rescues of snowmobiles a year. Nineteen died, but many more were dug out and saved. He's not talking about tenures and land use. It is myself that is talking about zoning. There are, all sorts of regulation of the heli ski business - the machines are licenced, the pilots are licenced, and the guides are licenced. If there is a problem with helicopters, we at least know who to go after.

Furthermore, I think its a bit early to assume that the provincial NDP has any intention of regulating snowmobiles. I have not heard any announcements from them in that regard. And their plan to "scrap the carbon tax" is certainly not a move in the right direction.

#1230 - 2009.04.28 Steve Grant - More Thoughts on This
Perhaps it's best to work with the heli-ski companies when it's beneficial to do so, and not work with them, or work against them, when the situation calls for it. I believe they have certainly shown themselves to be more considerate of the self-propelled crowd than the snowmobilers. At this point in this issue, they would appear to be more influential than the mountaineering community.

We also have to be careful not to paint all snowmobilers with the same brush. We tend to run into the assholes. But there are mountaineers using them to access backcountry cabins, support trips etc. There are also commerical operations that drive around in noisy and polluting but contained convoys, and people who use them for utility purposes. I expect all those groups would support licencing and enforcement, and they may also make good allies.

It seems to me that at least one MLA in the Campbell government is an ardent snowmobiler. (Don't blame me, I've never voted for them.)

Ah, found the information. The MLA is Pat Bell. This link regards the Mountain Caribou issue near Prince George. Mountain cariboo.

MLA Bill Bennett has also gone out of his way to support snowmobiling: Support snomobiling.

#1229 - 2009.04.28 Sandra McGuinness - Of course he does have a vested interest ...
. ...in keeping sleds off his heli-ski runs.

In someways, this issue is a double edged sword. If tenure holders are given carte blanche to police their tenures they will undoubtedly begin to restrict public access. First it will be sledders, then ski tourers, then hikers and climbers. Just about every interesting alpine area in BC is now someone's tenure. Too much control to tenure holders will only result in the public being locked out of public land.

There are plenty of tenure holders who also act like this is the "wild west" claiming dominion over their tenure areas and restricting access - illegally.

#1228 - 2009.04.28 Robin Tivy - Conversation With Mike Weigle
In efforts to get the snowmobile problem under control, it is sensible for the encyclopedia to work with any other stakeholders who have similar interests. For that reason, I initiated contact with Mike Wiegele, one of the largest heli-ski operators in BC, in Blue River. I talked to him for an hour or so, and we discussed various aspects of the problem. He finds the unregulated situation regarding snowmobile regulation in BC "bizarre and almost unbelievable". Like most tenure holders, they have a considerable problem with the machines. He says that the province of British Columbia is long overdue in coming to terms with snowmobile licencing and enforcement. He says any other province or country is well ahead of British Columbia in dealing with the problem.

In his words, it's like the wild west. Anyone can get a machine and then go anyplace, any time and any day. Without licences, nobody has to pay any attention to any laws, land use agreements, or wildlife concerns. He does not accept the typical government excuse that they "can't do anything". Nonsense. The government doesn't just throw up its hands when it comes to enforcement of hunting laws, which are potentially much more difficult to enforce. He says all they need to do is get serious. They got serious in Alberta, and seized a few snowmobiles and trailers, and gave a few people hefty fines, and suddenly things changed considerably. Just because somebody has a machine doesn't mean they are beyond the reach of society in general and law and order.

He is currently talking to the media concerning the unregulated snowmobile problem, hoping that the government wakes up. In addition to the land use violations, he feels that the province may become liable in some future snowmobile death. With 19 deaths this year, he hopes the government may wake up. His company has had to do 4 expensive helicopter rescues of snowmobilers in the Blue River area, for which they have not been compensated. In addition, their rescue caches are broken into.

#1217 - 2009.04.08 Scott Webster - Another video
Here is another, uh, "entertaining" video of snowmobiling in BC.

#1214 - 2009.04.07 Robin Tivy - Video of Snowmobile triggering avalanche near Valemount
See this video of a snowmobile at the near Valemount triggering an avalanche. Here is an article published April 07, 2009 Vancouver Sun.

You can find dozens of videos in YouTube showing snowmobilers high marking and triggering avalanches. I only wish that we could effectively communicate to politicians the incredible noise that accompanies this activity, and the extent to which it is displacing people trying to enjoy the quiet solitude of the mountains.

A handful of snowmobiles engaged in high pointing make it really miserable for anyone in the same watershed. For example, a few machines highpointing on the south side of Rainbow lake can be immediately heard all the way to Rainbow mountain, more than 5 km away. The whole valley then becomes dominated by this activity, more than 25 square km for a few people. The same valley can easily accommodate a much larger number of people without motors.

#1212 - 2009.04.02 Andrew Wong - Snowmobile licensing and insurance in BC
As Paul said, all snowmobiles in BC must be registered. However, a snowmobile needs to be insured and licensed in BC only if it travels on any portion of a public road or parking lot. Snowmobiles don't need insurance to use industrial roads like forest service roads. If you're curious, visit http://www.icbc.com/registration/reg_spec_veh_snowmbl.asp or http://bc.rcmp.ca/ViewPage.action?siteNodeId=50&contentId=7342

#1211 - 2009.04.02 Jesse Mason - Off Road Insurance
It is mandatory to have third party liabilty insurance to ride any off road vehicle on a FSR. ITs a 350$ ticket if you do not have this, I am not sure if snowmobiles are exempt

#1210 - 2009.04.02 Antje Wahl - Registration for all snowmobiles
Regarding the use of licensed snowmobiles only near parks, I think it is better to ask for all off-road vehicles (ORVs), including snowmobiles, to be registered and licensed. The provincial government has not yet adopted the ORV Coalition's recommendation to register ORVs, but since the coalition includes one of the two BC snowmobile club federations I think that there is a good chance that this will eventually go through. Many snowmobile and ATV clubs support registration, as do ranchers and environmental organizations. The ORV Coalition recommendations are here: Coalition Recommendations.

#1209 - 2009.04.02 Paul Kubik - Decal but no licence
There are two acts that govern snowmobiles: (1) Motor Vehicle Act and Regulations (2) Motor Vehicle (All Terrain) Act and Regulations.

Currently, legislation does not allow registry of any off road vehicle other than snowmobiles unless it's a farming or industrial ATV.

Because there are two acts, there are two types of snowmobile registrations: (1) off highway use - governed by the Motor Vehicle (All Terrain) Act (2) travel on or across highway - governed by both acts.

Obviously, we're only concerned with the off highway use.

Off highway use is registered with Driver Service Centres, government agents or appointed agents.

There is no licence plate but there is a decal. If you can locate the decal you'd have some chance of identifying the perpetrators of illegal actions. Probably not much chance of that though unless the rider is too stoned or drunk to care or maybe loading the sled at the trailhead. But then he'd probably be belligerent and aggressive as it goes with the stereotype.