December 9, 2016
The B.C. Mountaineering Club with more than 800 members has cited the actions of Cypress Mountain Resort in closing the backcountry access corridor to Howe Sound Crest Trail as harmful to public safety. Meanwhile, BC Parks has stood by doing nothing to prevent it but has endorsed the resort's backcountry access policy by reportedly stationing park rangers to help enforce it.
Here is the text of the letter the BCMC recently wrote to Mr. Jim Standen, Assistant Deputy Minister, BC Parks and Conservation Officer Division.
Dear Mr. Standen,
Re: Cypress Provincial Park backcountry access closure 10 PM to 9 AM
We want to bring to your attention an important access issue in Cypress Provincial Park.
We are writing to ensure you are aware of our club's long standing use of the Howe Sound Crest Trail during winter months for a ski traverse between Cypress Bowl and Lions Bay. The ski tour requires a full day and avalanche risk mitigation. Standard protocol requires an early start in order to complete the trip in daylight and to manage avalanche risk on west-facing slopes which must be descended to Lions Bay late in the day. The earlier the descent occurs on warm sunny days, generally the lower the risk from avalanches.
Simply put, a 9 AM departure from Cypress Bowl puts our parties at risk. Yet, based on a new policy that came into being last winter and being enforced, I am told, by park rangers and commercial ski area staff, that as of last winter persons are not allowed to transit the 300 meter section of the Controlled Recreation Area between Raven Lodge and Yew Lake before 9 AM. The policy is not sanctioned in the Cypress Provincial Park Master Plan of June 1997, which was approved by Mr. Ray Peterson, District Manager, BC Parks and Ecological Reserves Planning Branch for Lower Mainland District.
On page 38 under the heading of Access Strategy, the master plan states the following:
- To provide year-round public access to all parts of the park...
- To designate two public access routes through the Controlled Recreation Area
- To continue to provide adequate and varied vehicular and hiking access for visitors...
- Cooperate with MOTH in providing and maintaining year-round vehicular access to Cypress Bowl and Hollyburn areas
- Finalize backcountry access corridors to Yew Lake/Howe Sound Crest trail, Black Mountain and Hollyburn Mountain during the winter months through the CRA
- Continue to assess and review public access conflicts when they arise and work towards their resolution
We understand the policy of closing backcountry access is not sanctioned in the master plan and Howe Sound Crest Trail is a year-round public access route through the CRA without restriction.
Further, we obtained a BC Parks discussion paper regarding parking capacity in Cypress and Mount Seymour Provincial Parks dated August 2014. The issue is not about park safety, i.e. a hiker being squashed by a groomer, but about parking capacity.
On page 4 of the discussion paper, it stated under point #8,
The ski area operators do not wish to restrict backcountry access but to ensure that the CRA is used fairly, and that parking spaces accommodate ski area clients.
Any solution that will eventually be put in place to resolve the parking problem must respect the Access Strategy in the master plan. It seems to us that the ski area operator is using the backcountry access closure as a lever to pry further concessions on parking from its leaseholder, the provincial government. Gamesmanship and horse-trading on an issue of public safety is unacceptable to us. What is needed is open, honest dialogue and recognition of the need for public access through the CRA as authorized in the Park Master Plan.
I am asking on behalf of the B.C. Mountaineering Club that the current backcountry access closure policy be immediately ended. Our club members are intent not put our lives at risk and to continue to use the Howe Sound Crest Trail at our time of choosing as authorized in the Park Master Plan. While we believe the onus is on your office to work towards the resolution of this conflict, we stand ready to work with other affected parties to find a solution.