Sharing BC’s backcountry

The backcountry of British Columbia has a unique, one-of-a-kind resource in the winter — vast regions of mountainous, wilderness terrain covered with snow. This pristine environment plays a significant role in the $1.2 billion adventure tourism industry in the province — drawing visitors from around the world to backcountry snowmobile and participate in commercial helicopter and snowcat skiing.

Canada boasts the largest and most successful helicopter and snowcat industry found anywhere in the world. According to the 2016 HeliCat Canada socio-economic impact assessment, the HeliCat industry hosts more than 110,000 skier days each year, with a three per cent average annual growth between 2013 and 2015.

At the same time, advances in snowmobiling technology have helped introduce more and more people into the BC backcountry. Backcountry snowmobiling is one of the fastest growing winter outdoor recreation sectors in the province today. Canadians bought more than one-third of the 151,000 snowmobiles sold worldwide in 2015, according to the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association.

Sharing the backcountry

While both sports are huge draws for international and regional visitors looking for a true Canadian experience, there are significant challenges with respect to land use and other conflicts that can impact the experience and safety, for not only guests but for the outdoor adventure tourism industry as a whole.

Recognizing the importance of cooperation and collaboration in addressing these issues, HeliCat Canada entered into a Memorandum of Understanding in 2013 with the BC Snowmobile Federation and the Association of BC Snowmobile Clubs. The relationship was established — and continues today — as a partnership to promote a common approach to resolving issues as well as improving how everyone works together on issues of mutual interest.

Promoting best practices

Three-quarters of BC is mountainous, providing vast areas around the province for organized snowmobiling and commercial helicopter and snowcat skiing.  

Continued conversation and communication goes a long way to ensure everyone can enjoy the backcountry of BC in a safe and collaborative way. The more often local stakeholders get together to define a problem and work through it, agreements are made.

These agreements and MOUs enhance the relationship between the organizations. Some HeliCat operators have embraced snowmobiling groups. Operations have been known to welcome snowmobiles to their tenure and ski areas after they have closed for the season, renting out their lodges or offering food and gas for purchase.

Local snowmobiling clubs and organizations continue to stride forward in leaps and bounds to promote best practices in their industry and encourage individuals to be educated and engage at the club level.

HeliCat remains committed to continually improving and promoting high operating standards and best practices in the adventure tourism industry, promoting growth that is economically, environmentally and socially responsible for all parties.

While there are significant challenges and discussions to be had, safety for all remains the top priority as we all look to enjoy the pristine wilderness environment in the BC backcountry.

-Ian Tomm, Executive Director, HeliCat Canada

This article originally appeared in the BC Snowmobile Federation monthly newsletter.