Backcountry skiers were witnessed entering the winter prohibited area Macdonald West Shoulder on Dec. 3.
The following day Parks Canada temporarily closed NRC Gully trailhead parking and the adjacent area in West Rogers, including Macdonald West Shoulder #4 and NRC Gully.
The winter permit system in Glacier National Park separates skiers from artillery fire and the resulting avalanches, which is a part of the avalanche control protecting the highway and railway traffic from natural avalanches.
The temporarily closed area will remain closed “at minimum” until there has been enough snowfall to cover the ski tracks leading into the prohibited area, Shelley Bird, external relations manager for Parks Canada, explains.
“But given that this is a recurring area we have had issues with previously, we definitely have to think about what the next steps are,” she said.
“The issue is that once you have tracks [leading into a prohibited area] it’s easy for people to just follow those tracks, and you end up with more people in that area,” Bird said.
Macdonald West Shoulder is one of the areas in Rogers Pass used for avalanche research to forecasts for the highway corridor. The area is therefore permanently closed.
This is not the first violation of the winter permit system in Glacier national park this winter. Less than two weeks ago, on Nov. 22, skiers were observed going from an unrestricted area (which is always open) into a restricted area that was closed due to avalanche control at the time.
“We can’t do avalanche control for the highway if we’re not a 100 percent certain that nobody is in that area,” Bird says. This incident was a bit different than the most recent violation, as there are always tracks in that area, she says.
Bird has not yet spoken to their law enforcement officer, so she does not know if the violators have been caught or not. “But they can face fines up to $25,000 dollars as it’s a violation of the Canada National Parks Act,” Bird said.
All trailheads have signs explaining the daily winter permit system, and there are updates of daily closures available on Parks Canada’s website, or you can call or visit Roger Pass Discovery Centre in person (max 1 person at the time).
“The important thing for people to understand is that Rogers Pass is not beginner terrain, no matter where you go in the pass you need to have the skills and experience, including route finding and knowing how to travel through avalanche terrain. We want to make sure that people aren’t going into places they don’t have the right level of experience for. Especially right now it’s not the time to take unnecessary risk,” Bird says.
Parks Canada reminds all backcountry users that the winter permit system requires 100% compliance. “This is not something we can have happen at all,” she says.
“We have to make sure people look out for each other. If you see someone who doesn’t look like they know what they’re doing, be a good ambassador and help them out because it helps everybody in the long run,” Bird says.
This season there will be more staff presence at car parks in Rogers Pass to make sure people have their permits, and to help answering any questions visitors may have.