Spearhead Huts System: public seems to approve, proposal to BC Parks, survey results analysis

Some time ago I participated in a public survey conducted by BC Parks regarding potential future development in the Garibaldi Provincial Park, BC. The questions ranged from general to more specific: about hut-to-hut system or heli-skiing.

Two weeks ago (May 31, 2012) a proposal was submitted to BC Parks (Ministry of Environment) that outlines “…a system of three mountain huts and connecting summer trails in the Spearhead and Fitzsimmons Ranges of Garibaldi Provincial Park.” Simply put, this is the back country beyond the Whistler-Blackcomb ski area (Whistler, BC).

  • Would you want 35-40 people size huts?
  • How much would you be willing to pay per night?
  • How rustic/luxurious you would want them?
  • Are you fine with the locations?
Spearhead Huts System map

All credits for this map are due to Spearhead Huts System proposal.

Public survey participation

Detailed results of the public survey were also submitted along with the proposal, and are available in full on this page – http://www.spearheadhuts.org/proposal-spearhead-huts-system-submitted-bc-parks . In fact, all documents regarding this proposal are available there.

From studying the survey it seems like that more-or-less about 340 people answered majority of questions. Therefore, 340 people participated in the survey from the 360 that chose to participate.

A question could be raised whether this is a sufficient number of people to conclude what the public opinion is?

340 is not much and my feel is that the survey wasn’t promoted (known about) enough. On the other hand, like with so many other causes, it could be said that those that cared enough took time out of their lives and did their part – participated. “Complain now or lose your right to bitch later.”

Patisson Hut on the Spearhead Traverse

Proposed Patisson Hut on the Spearhead Traverse. All due photo/rendering credits go to Spearhead Huts System proposal.

Survey results summary and analysis

My answers/opinions are in italic at the end of each question summary.

Demographics – understanding who were the participants:

Over 80% of participants live in the corridor from Greater Vancouver to Pemberton. It is great that out of 340 total about 275 live in the area that will be affected by future development the most, whether recreationally, environmentally or economically. Most of the year I live in this area too.

83% or 279 of participants were male, which I think is a bit off for representing female opinion because based on “my field observations” I believe there are more than 17% of women regularly enjoying backcountry skiing, mt biking, hiking, or other outdoor activities within the proposed area.

Participants age ranges were widely represented with majority in these four:

  • 19% in 20-29
  • 29% in 30-39
  • 20% in 40-49
  • 22% in 50-59

Based on activity levels the participants are “heavy” backcountry users. 39% answered they spent 29+ days per year skiing or hiking in the backcountry. I qualify as a heavy user too.

38% said they would like to volunteer with the Spearhead Huts Project, meaning actual labour or volunteering their skills and capacity in other areas. 62% said No. I would be willing to put in some hours for sure.

People participate but they don’t:

The second to last question revealed something potentially scary as 38% of participants said NO to “Would you like to receive updates about the Spearhead Huts Project by email?” despite the fact there was no other choice to receive updates on this. That almost questions the whole survey for me, or maybe I am reading too much into it.

MacBeth Hut on MacBeth Glacier on Spearhead

Proposed MacBeth Hut near MacBeth Glacier on Spearhead. All due photo/rendering credits go to Spearhead Huts System proposal.

Current area use by participants:

Very interesting results (to me) came from three closely related questions that reveal that around 75% hiked or skied (or both) in the Spearhead or Fitzsimmons Ranges. That could mean that 25% cared enough to participate yet never visited the place, perhaps because without huts there was never enough encouragement/safety/comfort to go there. I see that as a valid reason considering the vastness of Canadian wilderness, however, that is not to say snowmobiles or helicopters should roam there.

Next set of questions dealt specifically with skiing in those ranges:

  • 77% of participants skied in the area,
  • 43% completed the whole Spearhead Traverse,
  • from which 70% took 2-3 days to complete it.

I completed the Spearhead about 7 times, only once as a 2-day trip though, and couple of times as fast few hours mission.

New Russet Lake Hut.

Proposed Russet Hut. All due photo/rendering credits go to Spearhead Huts System proposal.

What participants think about the huts:

76% are in favour of building the Spearhead Huts of which 56% are strongly in their favour. To me, this clearly shows that public is ready to accept new huts in the two ranges. I am in favour if no more than 3 huts are on or near the Spearhead Traverse route.

From a seasonal-usage point of view majority would use the huts mainly between December to June, however, usage between July to September would be high too. That shows backcountry skiers would benefit the most. I would use them mostly Jan to May.

95% of participants would use a web-based reservation system if it comes to it. I would too.

Hut fees will be a hot issue as 46% agreed on the $20 – $29 per night range but 39% is willing to pay only $20 or less.

I am on the $20-less wagon ;) but all depends on the amenities the huts will provide, so $27 a night would be acceptable.

One thing that could raise the price here is a potential overnight permit (should something be introduced in the future) like in the national parks. When you go to Asulkan Hut at Rogers Pass you end up paying almost $40 for the hut to the Alpine Club of Canada, then $13 for overnight permit to Parks Canada, all this on top of a visitor’s park day pass! Overall about $55 per night!

Huts sizes will also be a hot issue. 81% of participants don’t want the huts sleep more than 30 people with majority preferring around 20. This is in odds with the official Spearhead Huts System proposal which says the huts would be “Designed to comfortably accommodate 35-40 people each with a private room for a custodian.” I prefer the “up 20” option as it makes the hut more wilderness-like and somewhat limits the traffic.

85% said their party would likely be a private group of family or friends, and that they would be either a group of 1-2 (34%) or 3-4 people (53%). Only 2% indicated they would use them for “a guided trip or course”.

With this knowledge, it seems that the huts should be built mostly for public use. I agree with that, however, that means they would need to be built then mostly with public money (taxes, donations, volunteering…).

Quoting from the proposal about the actual building costs:” The proposed huts will cost approximately $1,640,000 to build. This includes $580,000 in volunteer labour and donated materials and services which are valued at market rates. Some of the remaining $1,160,000 will be contributed by the members of the Spearhead Huts Committee. Most of the funds will have to be acquired by fundraising. The trails and campsites costs have yet to be determined.”

Custodian or no custodian – another opinion that is somewhat at odds with the official proposal. 56% of participants said NO but custodians are favoured by the Spearhead Huts System Committee, hence the proposed custodian rooms. Even though, I am used to custodians from Europe I cannot say I prefer huts with them. It doesn’t really matter unless it raises the fee.

My comments about the Spearhead Huts System

Growing up in Europe I am used to lots of “backcountry” huts, all with custodians. Coming to Canada gave me the opportunity to realize how beautiful skiing on pristine slopes with no people in sight can be. And that’s why I chose to live in Canada.

On the other hand, whenever I go to Europe I am the last one of the group to praise all the huts. Born adventurous Canadians seem to be loving a bit of comfort in the backcountry. So I grew back to liking it along them.

In my opinion, the development of huts is coming either way. Thus I rather have it in places that receive lots of traffic already, leaving other areas still hidden from the casual backcountry skier.

I support the three huts development in the proposed locations given they would be built mostly for public use. Maybe 7 out of every 10 beds should always be reserved for public, unless there is no booking the day of the guided party departure.

And I would rather see smaller (up to 20 people) huts built with only cookware (gas stove, pans) than 40-bed gasthauses with saunas.

What do you think?

Do you agree or disagree? Share your (dis)approval below.

And once more, I encourage all caring enough to take a look at documents on this page – http://www.spearheadhuts.org/proposal-spearhead-huts-system-submitted-bc-parks .

The proposal has everything in it and answers lots of questions and concerns. You could like the answers or not but it’s all there.

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