There is already a few feet of snow on the high country around Sicamous and the local snowmobile club is gearing up for the season while preparing for wrinkles created by highway construction projects and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sled Sicamous general manager Gord Bushell said some young and adventurous sledders have already been testing out their machines on the fall snow, which he said has been measured at four feet near the top of Queest Mountain. Meanwhile down in the valley below, Bushell and other leading figures in the sled club are preparing for what is bound to be a unique season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bushell said there will be upcoming seminars offered by WorkSafeBC providing guidance on how to operate during the pandemic while keeping everyone safe. He added they have been in contact with Rec Sites and Trails BC officers for further guidance. Bushell said Rec Sites and Trails will also be providing signage reminding trail users of practices to avoid spreading COVID-19.
According to Bushell, the four cabins operated by Sled Sicamous are expected to be open as usual, but he said capacity limits to ensure physical distancing will likely be in place. He added the capacity limits would be monitored but he didn’t expect the cabins to be anywhere near full except right around Christmas.
At the trail heads, Bushell said Sled Sicamous plans to collect trail fees in cash with precautions similar to the ones exercised at banks and restaurants. They also plan to expand their ability for payment using credit and debit cards.
Along with the unique conditions created by the pandemic, Bushell said the club would also be dealing with interruptions on Highway 1 traffic due to construction near Golden. A clear route to the Alberta border is important because Sicamous is a destination for Albertan snowmobilers.
As part of upgrades to the Kicking Horse Pass portion of the highway, daytime closures of two hours or less as well as overnight closures of up to 10 hours are expected over the winter. Closures of up to 24 hours are a possibility on the project but the provincial government said they would only be in the months of April, May, September, October and November. Disruption on the highway will be the new normal as the project is not expected to be complete until the winter of 2023/24.
Bushell said he saw lot of Albertans still visited the Shuswap over the summer despite the uncertain environment created by COVID-19 and said he thinks the same will be true in the winter regardless of detours on the highway.
“Sledders are very determined people, they’ll drive two days for a day of sledding in the mountains,” he said.
Bushell added that Sled Sicamous would be stepping up their marketing to sledders from outside the local area in order to keep up traffic on their trails.
-With Files from Liam Harrap