May 24th, 2009

Snowmobiles Banned from Backcountry??

Call made for B.C. backcountry snowmobile ban.
MAY 4, 2009

VANCOUVER- The owner of B.C.’s largest heli-ski operation is calling for a ban on snowmobiling in British Columbia’s mountains, following 19 deaths this year.

Drastic measures need to be taken to prevent further fatalities, says Mike Wiegele, a founding member of the Canadian Avalanche Association.

“It’s totally unacceptable that people are dying in large numbers. It’s an epidemic,” he said Sunday. “Snowmobilers are out of control. They go into closed areas without caring about anybody else.”

Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing operates between Jasper, Alta., and Kamloops, B.C.

Wiegele said search and rescue staff were traumatized by one fatality last year in which the coroner was delayed recovering a body.

“We found (the victim’s) face chewed off by wild animals,” Wiegele said. “It was very upsetting to staff.”

He called for provincial snowmobiling guidelines, an “expert inspector” hired for all commercial operations using Crown land, more monitoring stations with info on snow stability, and steps to hold all snowmobile groups responsible for back-country accidents.

Wiegele said there is a world of difference between heli-skiing, which his company has worked in for decades, and snowmobilers heading blithely to uncharted steep terrain.

“Years of experience in the back country are needed to be safe. We have medical people on staff and belong to international mountaineering organizations,” said Wiegele.

Vancouver Province