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Snowmobile Infractions at Rainbow/Sproatt/Gin/Tonic #4134
Back To Discussion List Written: 2013.02.29 by: Steve Grant

Background, LRMP

20 years ago, BC's winter backcountry was a relatively peaceful world mostly visited by a few backcountry skiers. Since then, a binge fueled by cheap gas, disposable income and marketing arrived in the form of helisking, catskiing and snowmobiling. Not to mention helisnowmobiling and sledskiing and sledboarding. This led to conflicts with the increasing numbers of backcountry skiers and the new armies of snowshoers, plus conflicts with wildlife and watershed concerns.

A huge effort in the form of Land and Resource Management Plans (LRMP) brought together the various "stakeholders" and divvied up the winter backcountry pie.

When the 2010 Olympics came along, a major venue for nordic sports, Whistler Olympic Park, was placed in the middle of Callaghan Valley near Whistler. In conjunction with the LRMP and stakeholders including snowmobilers, new boundaries were drawn up for various user groups. Non-motorized here, Whistler Olympic Park there, Callaghan Country here, motorized there. "Non-motorized" basically means no snowmobiles, and "motorized" means everyone in theory, but in practice self-propelled users avoid motorized areas.

In addition, the Rainbow Lake watershed is Whistler's municipal water supply, so it made sense to keep motorized users out of it. The southwest side of Rainbow Mountain plus the Gin and Tonic Lake watershed are in the watershed.

It seems to be difficult to locate a detailed map of the zoning around Rainbow/Sproatt, but one clear criteria is that anything draining into Rainbow Lake and Rainbow Creek is closed to motorized use.

Official Zoning Map for Callaghan/Rainbow/Sproatt

Overnight camping, long a valued tradition at Rainbow Lake, was banned because of watershed concerns.

It could not be more clear that snowmobilers regularly violate the boundaries. For example, I was able to pick out dozens of snowmobiles in the current Google Satellite view for the Rainbow area. Here is a link which plots the individual snowmobiles:

Here is the satellite view: SnowmobilePoints.ssv

Or you can use this map.

Satellite view of the area

Red line is approximate location of boundary between motorized (west and south) and non-motorized (east and north) areas.

Blue circles correspond to points of interest below. Purple line is outer extent of snowmobile tracks.[/photo]

You can then compare that to the official zoning map above.

Here is a list of the snowmobiles that are on the image.

 a) 50.111820,-123.113399 - 4 parked at Canadian Snowmobile Adventures, with two more nearby, apparently moving

 b) 50.107230,-123.111221 - 3 snowmobiles coming from south, turning off Callaghan Creek FSR road onto the groomed snowmobile track
 c) 50.127559,-123.091421 - 3 snowmobiles on groomed road to Canadian Snowmobile cabin
 d) 50.125904,-123.081806 - 6 snowmobiles leaving cabin area, on groomed road
 e) 50.114758,-123.074019 - 3 snowmobiles in meadows sw of Tonic Peak
 f) 50.125933,-123.063833 - 4 snowmobiles in meadows nw of Tonic Peak*
 g) 50.131858,-123.06335 - 6 snowmobiles upstream from Gin Lake*
 h) 50.132295,-123.062867 - 2 snowmobiles upstream from Gin Lake, skier*
 i) 50.14748,-123.067877 - 2 snowmobiles on Gin Peak, snowboards*
 j) 50.15431,-123.067896 - 2 snowmobiles on Rainbow Lake, snowboard*
 k) 50.164405,-123.067638 - 1 snowmobile headed up Rainbow Mountain*

*Snowmobiles marked with (*) are illegally in the non-motorized zone which is Whistler's water supply.

Other points of interest are:

 p) 50.143673,-123.099951 - snowmobile track near WOP

 q) 50.166025,-123.071688 - 4 skiers heading up Rainbow

 r) 50.129159,-123.083316 - Canadian Snowmobile Adventures cabin

Canadian Snowmobile Adventures maintains they comply with the zoning. This would mean the 17 snowmobiles in the non-motorized zone belong to private snowmobilers.

The imagery also displays 10 pickup trucks parked for unloading private snowmobiles. One is at the intersection of the Callaghan Valley Road and the Callaghan Creek FSR. The others are parked on the Callaghan Creek FSR near the Highway 99 junction.

Pickup trucks without a wide deck or trailer usually carry only one snowmobile. Any trailers visible with these trucks have room for only two snowmobiles. Counting the private truck capacity reveals room for less than 17 snowmobiles.

  l) 50.069363,-123.096251 - no trucks at Highway 99 (off to the east of this map)

  m) 50.071582,-123.098316 - 9 trucks on Callaghan Creek FSR south end

  n) 50.118072,-123.120267 - 1 truck with double trailer at Callaghan Creek FSR and Callaghan Valley Road junction

  o) 50.111589,-123.113468 - 1 van at Canadian Snowmobile Adventures base

If we discount Canadian Snowmobile Adventures snowmobiles as being within the permitted area, this leaves ALL private snowmobiles trespassing in the non-motorized area. And the math suggests Canadian Snowmobile may have had snowmobiles in the prohibited area.

When snowmobilers are accused of habitual violation of their boundaries, their response is always to claim it is a small rogue minority. Unless it was "Bad Apples" day at Sproatt/Callaghan, this is proof that private snowmobilers typically, not rarely, violate boundaries.

Regarding the track distribution, note that this is just a snapshot of snowmobile tracks since the previous snowfall before the images were taken. Location of tracks taken over a season no doubt would reveal more extensive violation of boundaries. In addition, glare from the snow probably hides even more tracks. The Snowmobile Infraction Log on reveals continual violations in this area, year after year.


Note also that noise pollution from the snowmobiles adversely affects an area for kilometers in all directions beyond the actual tracks.

The potential harm to the Whistler watershed must also be emphasized. One fuel spill, such as a snowmobile sunk in a lake, would contaminate the water supply. And particulate matter, especially from 2-stroke engines contaminates the snow.

It would also appear many of the snowmobilers in the area are engaging in sled-skiing and boarding. Many people doing this ride to the top of a slope and release their machine to travel riderless back to a collection area such as a lake. They call it "ghost riding". This poses a hazard to other parties in the area and is arguably a pretty jackass activity.

  Other Recent Infractions

Two other notable events are closely connected with the Rainbow problem. As reported in this topic, 4 snowmobilers were seen on Garibaldi Lake on Feb. 11, 2013.

And on Feb. 19, 2013, photos taken by and posted by Dave Norona show snowmobile tracks in Garibaldi Park.

I reported this to Parks BC, as per their advice in the opening post of the Garibaldi Lake topic, on Feb. 22. Even after sending a reminder, I have not had so much as a confirmation they received my email. So far as I know, there has been no indication from any authorities that these complaints have had any followup.

So, assuming there has been no followup, or any such followup has been ineffective, what is the bottom line? Well, the bottom line is that an absence of enforcement is equivalent to handing snowmobilers the freedom to do whatever they want. The further implications of that, besides impact on other users and values, is that the LRMP process was ineffective at best and a sham at worst.

In the case of the Brohm Ridge incident, there was photographic evidence of the violation, and a person who said in writing they knew who had done it, and this same person volunteered contact information for anyone interested in following up. If, in these circumstances, nothing was done, one can only wonder what it would take for something to be done, and if the offer from Parks BC to follow up, was sincere.


The conclusion from all this is that the current land use boundaries are hopeless. The fact snowmobile access is allowed in the Callaghan/Sproatt area merely provides a foothold to proceed into the Rainbow Lake area. There is no practical way to directly police the border between user areas. Snowmobilers already have unrestricted access to the vast areas to the west of the Callaghan Valley Road, and rampage over the entire Pemberton Icecap and adjacent drainages. Snowmobilers don't need the tiny area around Gin peak, except as a jumping off point to get into the Rainbow Lake drainage.

The only feasible solution is to prohibit non-commercial, or perhaps all snowmobiles from the east side of the Callaghan Valley road. If their record of compliance is genuine, Canadian Snowmobiles could perhaps be allowed to continue using the area except that the boundary would be changed to remove all snowmobiles from the Gin Peak/Hanging Lake/Beverly Lake area. This is a very small area by snowmobile standards, withdrawal of an area as a consequence for habitual violation of the rules is in order, and it would serve as a warning for the numerous violators in other parts of BC. The means to effect this change at Callaghan is to ban parking where private snowmobilers park, and tow violators.

It's high time something was done by the people we trust with the power to enforce regulations.


#1764 - 2013.12.18 Steve Grant - Escalation
I had a confrontation with a snowmobiler near Gin Peak last winter. I was on skis, and basically made him stop. I told him he was in a prohibited area. He disagreed, and went down to join the rest of his group on Rainbow Lake. I hope the measures being pursued resolve this problem, because otherwise people may conclude physical confrontation is the only way to make the point. Whether this is seen as passive resistance or taking the law into one's own hands may not matter much.

#1763 - 2013.12.17 Mitch Sulkers - You are correct, Steve...
Yes, most of the promotional videos show the flags removed, but those that are actually showing the groups with guides do have the flags in place. It is apparently a liability issue and another contractor in the valley had a collision that resulted in a lawsuit because more could have been done to provide visual clues...if I understand the issue correctly.

Regardless, I agree that many of the riders do originate locally, as the gear is sophisticated and they know exactly where to go to get the goods.

It looks like matters are heating up with BC Parks on this issue as well as there were some high-profile confrontations in Callaghan Provincial Park and previously discussed infractions in Garibaldi Park last year. This could very well result in further enforcement in the corridor.

I would suspect the matter will be dealt with in another press release before this season...

#1762 - 2013.12.17 Steve Grant - More on this
Excellent work, in the context that people shouldn't have to spend their free time dealing with things like this to begin with.

Of course it's not certain proof, and perhaps CSA removes the flags for promotional purposes, but almost none of the snowmobiles pictured on their website have safety flags.

I agree with your depiction of the worst offenders at Sproatt/Rainbow. I further believe most of them live in Whistler. I've seen their trucks southbound in the morning just south of Whistler and then coming back into Whistler in the late afternoon - with the skis and snowboards.

#1761 - 2013.12.16 Mitch Sulkers - Response re: Canadian Snowmobile
Steve, I do remember your excellent article from last year.

While I'm not an apologist for Canadian, I have worked closely with the operations manager in a human-powered guiding operation years ago and with one of the current owners on issues related to human-powered access on Sproatt. Both folks are stand-up guys and have nothing to gain by breaking the rules: they would have much to lose, however.

The Canadian product is guided snowmobile tours. Most of their tours go the cabin they built at "Sproatt" Lake and tour around the area with guides as a group. I believe their longest tour is four hours, which includes a stop at the hut.

The most singular identifying feature for Canadian's product is that all the machines have a long whip with a flag so that the users have a chance of seeing another user's machine on the other side of a roll; as well, they don't venture far from the group--kinda like ducks heading to the pond.

While I am certainly not a fan of motorized use on Sproatt, I have not seen any of the guided Canadian groups over the boundary lines; generally their clients are fairly challenged on anything not groomed, and by far the favourite play area for them would be heading southeast from the cabin into a low and gentle bowl that would have made a great x-country ski area...

Many of the sleds I've encountered the past two years at Gin or on Rainbow have had purpose built ski racks for toting skis back to the top of the peak and then "ghost riding." Since I've seen many of the same people and sleds on numerous occasions, there clearly is a local group that has been happy to go over the boundary whenever possible.

A part of the plan for this season is that there will be a call number so that descriptions of sleds, reg #'s if possible, or the like can be relayed to the folks at the parking lot kiosk. Most of the area has excellent cell coverage. The intention was that it would be possible to identify which users actually went into the non-motorized areas and there could possibly be a reception committee to meet them when they return to their vehicles. This could, in turn lead to loss of privileges to access from the parking area for the rest of the season, in addition to the other matters suggested in the newspaper articles.

While I don't have the telephone number yet, I'm sure that as soon as one of us gets it we will post it on links like this so non-motorized users have that resource to pass on the information.

While it could be genuinely said that no one was completely happy with the terms decided upon during the meetings with the representative groups, we all agreed to give this approach a try for this season, with the understanding that incursions by motorized users into the watershed could result in a rezoning of the entire Sproatt massif.

For the moment, this is the closest we've come to getting some control over motorized use since before the Olympics, when the motorized tenure was relocated to Sproatt alpine in return for taking Canadian's original valley tenure.

#1760 - 2013.12.16 Steve Grant - Reply to Mitch
I welcome your input on this matter, Mitch. I'm aware of the scope of the efforts related to this issue, and that many people have put tremendous amounts of time and effort into these things. However, my focus was the more narrow issue of the ongoing problem at Sproatt as opposed to revisiting the history of the wider subject.

I have never put it beyond conjecture that Canadian Snowmobile Adventures' snowmobiles were in the non-motorized zone in the satellite views I posted. However, there is plenty of circumstantial evidence. If you add up the number of snowmobiles in the prohibited area, and add up the capacity of the (presumably private) pickup trucks parked in the area but NOT at the CSA base, there is a substantial shortfall.

I also posted this information on ClubTread, and the resulting discussion was wide-ranging. Eventually someone joined ClubTread with the id "jlive" and posted once on CT, on this topic. The person claimed that the discrepancy is explained by the fact that some people unload large snowmobile carriers at the parking area just off the west side of Highway 99, and then park on the forestry road on the east side of the highway.

The problem with that claim is that in the photos in question, there is available parking on the west side (thus no need to park on the east side), and there are no trucks or trailers on the east side. If a commercial snowmobile tour or rental operation is dropping off clients on the west side and then taking their vehicles elsewhere, then CSA MUST be fully aware of that going on in their tenure area.

I had a look at the CSA website and noticed that one of their principle staff is a J. Livermore. I exchanged private emails with Livermore. My communications were mindful of the possibility that someone not connected to CSA had chosen the id "jlive" in order to impersonate Livermore at CSA. Despite the opportunity, Livermore did not confirm or deny that he is "jlive". My personal opinion from all this is that CSA snowmobiles were in the prohibited area.

Other than my private emails, all of this is here:

You mentioned that you can recognize CSA's snowmobiles. Is there some key to this? I understand snowmobiles have registration numbers, but they're either absent or too small to note in the field. Perhaps CSA owns distinctive snowmobiles, but I doubt if any model they might own would not be available to other buyers.

Even registration plates do no good when these things are zooming around, or, in the case of the snowmobiles on Garibaldi Lake last year, take off when they see they're being photographed. Or the case with Norona and Brohm Ridge last winter, when the only evidence was tracks.

#1759 - 2013.12.16 Robin Tivy - Will be progress if the snowmobile operator can help with enforcement
The snowmobile grooming fee might be progress if the tenure holder can help with the enforcement of the boundaries, and be responsible for making the plan work. If that is not possible, then I would still stick with my previous opinion that the Sproat area is too small for snowmobiles, and the area should be closed to snowmobiles.

Every time I talk to BC government representatives, they talk about snowmobile tourism. They talk about what a wonderful tourism activity it is because we have more wilderness than in the USA. I think encouraging machine sports is the wrong idea. The big picture is that motorized activity is displacing self propelled activity. We've all heard that snowmobile use is the fastest growing "sport", and growing much faster than backcountry skiing. Certainly there are some people who snowmobile that would not consider self propelled activity, but many of the young people currently being attracted to snowmobiles would have in the past been attracted to self-propelled activity. Just look at them at the gas station. Young males in their 20's and 30's and perfectly capable of propelling themselves. But snowmobiling is "what's happening". But if the only way to access many of the powder runs was to go in under your own power, that is what they would do. By considering snowmobiles to be a better tourism activity just because they have more money is wrong. Not only does such an activity burn fuel, but it transforms the backcountry activity to machine sports. This is not good for the environment and is not healthy for humans. When you look at the big picture, every type of activity is not equal. The "dollars made" argument is just plain wrong. If dollars made was the only criteria, then why does the BC government not make more efforts to promote sex tourism and child prostitution?

The BC Government should be encouraging and promoting self-propelled recreation, not machine sports.

#1755 - 2013.12.15 Mitch Sulkers - There's a bit more to this than you suggest, Steve...
There's a whole committee, including RSTBC, FMCBC, ACCWhistler, RMOW, several local snowmachine clubs, that have met on this issue in the past year and tried to work together. It is true the fee is meant to support grooming into the tenure area, as the tenure holder's trails are groomed for his guests but normally trashed by public users. At the intercept (parking lot) the understanding is that the motorized users will also be given information regarding the boundaries and the risks of crossing those boundaries for motorized usage in the area. I'm curious as the the proof you have of the tenure holder crossing the boundaries? As I live a stone's throw from the area, I'm in the area regularly and I've yet to see the tenure holder's machines over the boundary; in fact, it is my understanding that, if the tenure holders' machines did cross the boundary, sanctions would result. I have sat on a committee with him for the past two years and found him to be very sympathetic to the non-motorized users' interests.

#1756 - 2013.12.14 Steve Grant - A Bit of Progress: Snowmobilers will have to pay $20.
I heard on Mountain FM today that a trial measure to get snowmobilers under some control and try to keep them out of places they're not supposed to be, they will be charged $20 each at Sproatt and Roe Creek. The commercial operations are supposed to collect the money. That's a bit ironic as it seems pretty clear the commercial snowmobile operation at Sproatt was violating the boundaries itself. And given the mentality of rogue snowmobilers, they'll either regard this fee as an incidental expense, as giving them the right to go anywhere, or giving them exclusive use of the areas. Where will the fees go? To pay for grooming the snowmobile trails, natch. Here is a link: province bringing in new fees for snowmobile trail grooming.

#1757 - 2013.03.01 Robin Tivy - Satellite view showing snowmobiles
If you look at Google earth or the Bivouac satellite maps (GMap) for the Rainbow Lake watershed, you can pick out numerous snowmobiles that are illegally in the watershed area. Steve Grant studied the current google satellite map and gave me a set of Lat-longs for most of the snowmobiles on the image. Here is the satellite view which plots the snowmobile locations on the map: SnowmobilePoints.ssv

The snowmobiles appear as distinctively shaped dark shadows with two skis at the front.

Once you are looking at the satellite view in GMap4, you can change views so you are looking at a topo map. Here is what you will see: SnowmobilePoints.ssv

The day this satellite photo was taken was just a random day, almost any sunny day you'd see the same thing. If you look in the bivouac infraction log, you'll see a long list of encounters with snowmobilers for the past 5 years. Rainbow Lake is almost always covered with illegal snowmobile tracks.

My conclusion from all this is that the government does not have an effective plan for controlling snowmobiles. It is simply not possible to police the existing boundaries. The fact that snowmobile access is allowed east of Callaghan valley road merely gives them a foothold to park their trucks, and then proceed into the Rainbow lake area. I assert that the only hope for enforcement is to prohibit the snowmobiles from the east side of the Callaghan valley road. It is a very small area by snowmobile standards. The machines already have unrestricted access to the vast areas to the west of the Callaghan road, and rampage over the entire Pemberton Icecap, Soo river. They don't need the tiny area around Gin peak, except as a jumping off point to get into Rainbow Lake drainage.

In talking to the government or snowmobile club members, it is important for them to realize that there is no other effective plan. It's not going to work to put boundary poles up there. Its not possible to have a "police snowmobile" waiting up there. Signs don't work, because they tear them down. It's not possible to cell phone infractions, because you usually can't get closer to the machines.