Planning initiatives explore increasingly busy Revelstoke-area backcountry

Revelstoke's surrounding area is a multi-sport mecca for backcountry skiing and sledding, but the land holds value for many others too. As the backcountry becomes an increasingly busy commodity, we look at emerging backcountry planning efforts.

Backcountry skiers at popular backcountry recreation site, Gorge Creek. Photo: Nora Hughes

This story is part of a feature that first appeared in print in Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine’s January 2023 issue. Read the entire e-edition here:

One of the beauties of living in Revelstoke is that you can access the backcountry almost anywhere — if you can see it, odds are you can ski, sled or shred it.

In the interest of managing and developing a sustainable tourism economy, the City of Revelstoke has begun work on Backcountry Recreation Access Planning. The project, led by the city’s Community Economic Development (CED) Department, provides a forum for collaboration between First Nations, regional government, provincial ministries, commercial tenure-holders and recreation groups.

CED contributed funding towards a research project on the State of the Backcountry, led by a Selkirk College research team. The study compiled publicly available data on existing tenure and uses to populate maps, which can be used to inform discussions with stakeholders, says CED in a document published in September 2022. After reading the document, we reached out to CED Director Ingrid Bron for an update on the project’s status but didn’t receive a response.

The document says the project’s next steps are to develop a values-based approach to understanding and assessing commercial and recreational land uses in the region, led in conjunction with First Nations partners and with support from the province.

The goal is to develop a plan to guide recreational land use in the backcountry. With participation in backcountry activities like hiking, mountain biking, skiing and snowmobiling increasing in recent years, adventure tourism now makes sizable contributions to many local economies. Still, there are concerns about the impacts of recreation on ecosystems, communities, and the quality of the recreational experience.

“Diverse groups representing industry, conservation, local government, First Nations, and citizens have expressed a desire to address these concerns by engaging in more careful management and planning of how, when and where humans recreate on public lands,” writes former city staff member Jamie Mayes, Economic Development Officer, in a report to council in January of 2021.

Backcountry use planning at the Gorge

Gorge Creek, located west of Revelstoke outside Malakwa, is a popular recreation, logging and commercial tenure area. The Gorge is the subject of early backcountry planning efforts.

The Gorge Ski Touring Association (GSTA) formed in early 2021 with a dream to preserve backcountry skiing by creating a non-motorized area for ski touring.

About an hour from Salmon Arm and Revelstoke, the Gorge is accessible, sheltered, sub-alpine terrain. Accessing the Gorge requires driving an active logging road for several kilometres. Driving the winding road requires an appropriate vehicle for the task and the use of a radio. It is illegal to snowmobile on an active forest service road (FSR). The area’s proximity, tricky access and sheltered terrain give it immense value to skiers and snowmobilers. It’s close to home, not crowded and an alternative to Roger’s Pass’s windswept alpine for ski touring.

Interim GSTA Chair Gordon Bose said that before the association, there were just a bunch of unorganized skiers with many different opinions. The formation of the GSTA has given non-motorized recreationists a voice in the future planning of the area.

In the late ‘90s and early 2000s, there was an unspoken assumption that the Gorge was strictly non-motorized terrain. As sledding in the area became increasingly popular, there was pushback from the ski-touring community. The belief came from a provincial plan that designated Gorge Creek area as non-motorized. However, the plan was never implemented.

“You know, we’d like to have this sandbox only for ourselves,” says Bose on behalf of the GTSA. “But it turns out we have to play nice in the sandbox with other people. So how are we going to make that happen?”

The GTSA developed a two-pronged approach to improve safety awareness in the area and interact with other recreational users.

Improving safety in the area means providing safety resources such as avalanche forecasting and safety tips for travelling FSRs. Although there are several stakeholders in Gorge Creek, such as K3 Cat Skiing and Eagle Pass Heli Skiing, the association engages most frequently with Eagle Valley Snowmobile Club.

“We’ve had a couple of meetings with them,” says Bose. “Just to discuss what the value of that area is to our user group and how other user groups impact our activities and vice versa.”

Bose says the club and the association have learned a lot about the value of the area for both parties that they were primarily unaware of before. Ski tourers value the area because of its pristine, safe terrain, and sledders value the region for the challenging terrain.

Bose says that there will be no big decisions made anytime soon, but beginning this winter, the GSTA is implementing a monitoring system and asking members and other users to record their experiences recreating or travelling through the Gorge Creek area. The association will use this data in future backcountry planning efforts in the Gorge.

A process that takes time

For Revelstoke’s backcountry planning efforts, the process promises similar hurdles working towards the same goal of backcountry planning.

“This process will take time and expertise to guide conversations, identify diverse land use interests and enable the engagement of a wide diversity of stakeholders and user groups.” Mayes, former Economic Development Officer, says in the report to the council in January 2021. “If executed successfully, these efforts will result in local, regional and provincial economic benefits while supporting community values, mitigating negative impacts on the environment and on adjacent land uses, and minimizing user conflict. This endeavour will position our community, including residents of the municipality and CSRD Area B, to enjoy the long-term benefits of sustainable economic growth that go together with high-quality visitor experiences and the development of world-class recreational assets.”

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Nora Hughes is a recent graduate of the Thompson Rivers University Interdisciplinary Program, where she combined her passions for Adventure Tourism, Communications and Journalism. With a strong interest in community news, Nora is passionate about giving a voice and face to the people of Revelstoke through storytelling.