by Joshua Estabrooks
A number of local business owners and members of the public were shocked over the weekend as the police and commercial vehicle inspectors established two major check stops during what was one of the biggest sledding weekends in the Valley.
Resident, and sledding enthusiast, Val Barnes, said that from her conversations with sledders who were out in Valemount for the SnowandMud Mountain Mania event, felt that they were being unfairly targeted, some of whom vowed never to come back to the area. “Other communities cater to their sledders, they welcome them. This is our lifeblood throughout the winter, and now we’ve got the police and department of transportation people targeting them.”
Leslee Ballard, who operates The Great Escape restaurant, said that she has also heard many sledders state that they have felt harassed over the weekend, but she wonders if this kind of thing happens in other communities during sledding season. “If we’re the only community that does this then I don’t like it. If everyone is being policed equally then what can we do?”
Alpine Country Rentals employee, Mark Etty, said that the check stops have driven a lot of sledders to scramble to buy parts for their trailers so they can get up the hill, adding that many of them were disappointed that their riding time was significantly delayed by having to wait in long lineups just south of town. “They have been in and out of here all morning getting trailer parts, and it really pisses them off.” He did say that it seems like a strange coincidence that the check stops are occurring during Mountain Mania, and he hopes that it doesn’t drive too many of them away from Valemount with bad feelings. “It can ruin a guy’s day getting your trailer towed away. It is supposed to be a big busy weekend, so we want to make sure they come back.”
Best Western Manager, Christins Latimer, said that in her conversations with sledders, their frustrations haven’t necessarily been about the delays at the lineups but that they weren’t being checked for legitimate issues. “They are being asked about how many drinks they had the night before, and things like that. They feel harassed.” Latimer added that there are quite a few sledding groups that used to come to Valemount every weekend, but have started going to Revelstoke because there are less issues with police down there. “They feel targeted, and they don’t feel the same hospitality from Valemount that they used to a couple years ago, and that’s not the way we want to treat our guests.”
VARDA GM, Curtis Pawliuk, echoed the concerns of business owners, saying that the sledders feel they are being selected out and picked on, and it is reflecting negatively on the town.” He added that no one he has talked to has seen it to this extreme in other sledding communities.
Mayor Bob Smith said that he was notified of the issue, and plans to speak to the police to find out just what’s going on. “I am aware of the situation and I am looking into it. There is a perception that the sledders are being targeted but I won’t know for sure until I speak to the RCMP.”
Corporal Trevor Prosser, who was in charge of the operation over the weekend, said that the original plan was to organize the check stops last weekend, but the support staff couldn’t make it out until this weekend. “We had a lot of traffic in town both with the girl’s basketball tournament and Mountain Mania, so we decided to go ahead with it.” He said that last check stop they concentrated on commercial vehicles, and this time around they focused more on non-commercial vehicles. “We do have some issues with the sled trailers as it seems to be 40-50% of them have violations. That is a concern for us.”
Prosser said that on Friday alone he personally handed out over 30 tickets for various violations, which indicates to him that there is an issue on the highways. “We are checking pretty much everyone who comes through, not just sledders.” When asked if they could’ve handed out more warnings instead of tickets, Prosser said that they are not the warning police, and that laws are in place to keep all motorists on the highways safe. “We’re not doing anything in town, we’re focusing on the highways right now, in both the Valemount and McBride areas.” Reports do indicate that there was a presence in the McBride area on Saturday.
In an attempt to open the lines of communications, Prosser attended the meet and greet event that kicked off Mountain Mania, and had some lengthy discussions with those in attendance about what they were doing and why. A suggestion was made to work with VARDA to develop an easy to understand list of the differences between Alberta laws and BC laws so sledders would know if they were compliant when they travel between the two provinces.
by Joshua Estabrooks