Skiing in closed area, again

For the second year in a row, ski tracks have been found in a prohibited zone in the Rogers Pass backcountry ski area, putting the Glacier National Park winter permit system at risk.

National Parks Canada found the tracks in the MacDonald West winter prohibited area this past weekend. The culprits were not found. 

The area, across the Trans-Canada Highway from the Rogers Pass Discovery Centre, is permanently closed to backcountry skiers to give Parks staff an untouched area to assess avalanche dangers.

“The closed areas are snow study areas ... they're able to assess those to determine when avalanche control is needed to protect the highway,” said Shelley Bird with Parks Canada. “When you have tracks going through that, it can compromise the ability to accurately assess the avalanche conditions.”

Furthermore, closed areas can be the scene of extremely dangerous avalanche control.

“The Canadian Armed Forces use howitzers to fire explosives and trigger those avalanches,” Bird said.

Rogers Pass, within Glacier National Park, is one of the most popular backcountry ski and snowboard areas in the country, attracting thousands of users every winter. 

While the five prohibited areas in Glacier National Park are permanently closed to backcountry users throughout the winter, there are many “restricted areas” that are closed periodically for the Armed Forces' avalanche control. Bird says skiers flouting the rules put the whole program at risk.

“Allowing access to some of the restricted areas is a privilege, and it's taken a lot of work between interested stakeholders,” Bird said. “We've worked with backcountry users, with the Canadian Armed Forces, in making sure we can safely do this.”

She says they're now considering permanently closing the area.

“Its the same area we had issues with last year as well,” Bird said, noting tracks were found in the same area almost exactly one year ago, on Dec. 13, 2017.

Bird acknowledges the majority of the “fantastic community of backcountry users” abide by the rules in place, but a few bad apples can spoil the bunch.

“It's an effort by Parks Canada ... to let us ski cool stuff while not getting blown up by howitzers,” wrote one backcountry skier on the Revelstoke Ski Tourers Facebook group. “How about we show a bit of gratitude and respect it?”

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