No to commercial development on Mount Begbie. That was the message sent loud and clear from a standing-room only crowd to proponents of a backcountry chalet and ski hut on Revelstoke’s iconic mountain.
More than 70 people showed up for the September 25 information session at the Revelstoke Community Centre.
Organizers said the meeting was intended to provide the public with the plans and gather feedback on the proposed Begbie Alpine Chalet.
For background on the plans for a private hut and chalet development on Mount Begbie, see our Sept. 18 story:
The big turnout meant the meeting moved to a larger room. While it was clear the proponents and the public in attendance agreed on very little when it came to the proposed development, they did agree on the need to ensure Mount Begbie remains a pristine location, with efforts needed to maintain hiking trails and ensure human waste and garbage are better managed as growing numbers of both tourists and locals make their way to the Begbie Glacier.
The proponents have not officially submitted any type of application for a chalet and hut on Mount Begbie. The open house was held to gather feedback and gauge the public’s response.
Residents raise concerns, suspicions as proponents lay out their potential development plans
The Begbie Alpine Chalet is the brainchild of three individuals: Ian Tomm, Nick Holmes-Smith and Tom Ebbern.
Tomm is perhaps the most well known of the three proponents. He has worked in various high-profile backcountry tourism industry positions in Revelstoke over the past few decades including Heli-Cat Canada and the Canadian Avalanche Association. He’s also the only proponent who makes his home in Revelstoke full time.
Holmes-Smith runs Revelstoke Mustang Powder Lodge, a catskiing lodge located 30 kilometres west of Revelstoke. He lives in Chase. The third proponent is Tom Ebbern, a semi-retired energy and finance industry worker who divides his time between Revelstoke and Canmore.
Ebbern, Holmes-Smith and Tomm are proposing the creation of a year-round hut and chalet on Mount Begbie. Each building would accommodate up to 16 people. Holmes-Smith said the first building, which is being referred to as ‘the hut,’ will be fashioned after the Alpine Club of Canada Huts. The self-catered hut would have a foot print of 28×48 feet and bunk-beds allowing for two to four people per room.
The second building, a chalet modeled after higher end catski lodges, would include high end food and accommodations, boasting everything from bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms, five-course gourmet meals, a massage therapist on staff and a sauna and hot tub.
A third building would also encompass some of the proposed four-acre parcel in the shape of a shed intended to house firewood as well as the propane generator which would power electricity to the chalet. A septic field would be dug in order to accommodate showers and toilets for both the chalet and hut. Holmes-Smith said he anticipated Begbie Alpine Chalet creating up to 10 jobs, two full-time jobs in town for bookings and eight on site mountain lodge jobs.
During the presentation all three men spoke about their passion and love of backcountry recreational tourism, speaking about their own experiences in the mountains surrounding Revelstoke. Tomm told the audience his guiding mantra for the proposed Begbie Chalet is a “meaningful, thoughtful, cultural investment in Revelstoke.”
“Mountain huts, no matter where you are in the world bring together and create connections … it’s a big focus of mine, that mountain culture connection. My mind is saying no this is not about recreation, this is not about tourism, this is really about culture. Think that links to why a lot of people are here tonight because Begbie is important to the culture,” said Tomm.
Attempts to connect with the audience on a more personal level seemed to backfire, however, with audience members raising concerns and suspicions over the proponents true intentions, including questioning if they would pursue rights for exclusive use of the area.
“Isn’t it suspect that because one of your partners is a cat ski expert that that probably is what you’re damn … intent is to do,” one member of the public blurted out during the meeting. “I’m very suspicious about what is your long-term intention with this area, because frankly I think most of us are here tonight because we want nothing.”
Tomm said the proponents intend to apply to the provincial government for what is referred to as an “intensive use site pursuant to the adventure tourism policy.” In layman’s terms, the group is applying for permission to develop a wilderness lodge on Mount Begbie.
In response to public concern over commercial recreational development that starts off as intensive use before the developers apply to have the land become privatized through the provincial government’s fee simple process, Tomm noted it was not the group’s intention to block public use of the area.
“We understand the value of this area,” he said.
Public feedback includes designating Mount Begbie as a protected area, calls for non profits to partner with Trails BC
The current recreation site on Mount Begbie consists of three tent pads and an outhouse. There is no bear-safe food storage, and the growing popularity of the site has seen an increase of free camping when the tent pads are fully occupied. Tomm spoke to concerns that an increase in summer and winter tourism activities calls for a better management plan on Mount Begbie.
“Public activity in this area is going to increase over time, guaranteed,” said Tomm. “The whole idea here with these plans is realizing with the huge movement in tourism growth in last decade or so is communities and infrastructure is getting pressured and we need to come together and work as a community and group to move things along.”
Ben Wilkey, a founding member of the Alpine Club of Canada’s Revelstoke section, spoke to the crowd during the question and answer portion of the evening. Speaking from an individual perspective, Wilkey presented an alternative option for care-taking the trails and campsite on Mount Begbie. Wilkey said he had spoken with local representatives from the Recreation Sites and Trails BC Program.
“They are dying to find a non-profit society that will care take the hiking trails in our area. They’ve got the Revelstoke Cycling Association, the snowmobile club, they’ve got people for all the other recreational trails, but the hiking trails have been forgotten about. If we approach them and said we want to be partners in being stewards of these trails, there is a ton of funding out there for infrastructure,” said Wilkey.
North Columbia Environmental Society coordinator Kate Borucz went a step further, asking for members of the public to sign a petition that would make its way to the federal and provincial ministers of environment, the provincial minister of transportation, and the provincial minister of forests, lands, natural resource operations and rural development, city council and the Columbia Shuswap Regional District. The petition calls for Mount Begbie to become “protected from unnecessary commercial development by designating it a protected area and we wish to see continued advocacy for conservation and sustainability of sensitive ecological areas.”
Borucz, like Wilkey, attended the meeting mainly out of personal reasons. Borucz said she remains concerned about the glacier receding at “an exceptional rate.”
“If anything the glacier is a species at risk,” she said.
Revelstoke City Councillor Steven Cross cautioned the public to remain aware of outside factors when it comes to attempts to protect Mount Begbie, pointing out Revelstoke has little control over decisions on Crown land, including Mount Begbie, saying the provincial ministry of lands that oversees decisions on land use on Mount Begbie. Since they’ve already awarded both logging and mineral rights, getting the provincial or federal governments to make a move towards classifying Begbie as a protected site could take an exorbitant amount of effort.
“I care about this mountain, I want it left pristine […] we all share the same vision for Mount Begbie … the only way we’re going to really protect this place is to get it made into a park, I think that’s the only way,” said Cross. “If province was serious about protecting it they wouldn’t have awarded logging and mineral rights.”
Proponents next steps yet to be seen
It’s clear Tomm, Holmes-Smith and Ebbern remain keen on the idea of creating the Begbie Apline Chalet. Public members attending the open house, however, cautioned others to remain aware of the proposal and it’s intended outcomes.
“I just want to put out a word of caution that we’ve had this pie in the sky presentation that none of us can quite fathom put in front of us, and there may be other ideas involved here … I just want to make sure none of us get lured down that path. I think we need to not be bait and switched into something different here,” said Alice Weber. “What makes me sad is all of us have better things to do with our time right now. I just wish that we didn’t have to be having this conversation. So it would be nice if that application didn’t get submitted so we could all invest our time in more positive, constructive things for our community.”
The Mountaineer will continue to follow developments on the proposed Begbie Alpine Chalet.