The Fine Line Between Safety And Disaster

The difference between safety and tragedy is often a fine line.  Especially when it comes to avalanches.  Especially in seasons of unusual avalanche activity.  Especially when an area intended for use as a roadway is instead an intensive use parking area and the agency responsible for public safety turns its back on the situation.

Here’s the proof !!

On March 6th, 2012 a large destructive avalanche hit the Sunshine access road following control work by Parks Canada public safety staff.  The following video demonstrates the reality that the March 6th avalanche took down mature timber and hit and buried the road well beyond the usual path.


A few days after this avalanche the March 15, 2012 issue of the Rocky Mountain Outlook reported Crosbie Cotton (Director of the National Parks Ski Areas Association)  stating that Sunshine Village “works hard to give people safe parking” and “does not allow parking in avalanche zones”.

Then Parks Canada hastily placed signage prohibiting parking in the same area that had previously been used by Sunshine Village to park guest vehicles and pick-up and drop-off shuttle bus passengers.   In the following photos it’s still possible to see the Sunshine signage designating parking area #3 right in the middle of the new no-parking signs. (Click on thumbnails for larger images)


 Parks Canada Parking Prohibition Signage

The photo above shows the Sunshine Village parking locator sign (#3) situated BETWEEN the two Parks Canada signs that were placed to prohibit parking in the avalanche path that ran on March 6th, 2012.  Prior to that, Sunshine Village regularly parked guest cars and operated a shuttle bus stop in the area designated by sign #3.

This is what happens when informal “arrangements” take the place of formal transparent public process and due diligence.  Lines get blurred, accountability and responsibility gets fudged and the buffer between safety and disaster gets narrowed and lost.

The road is NOT intended to be used for intensive parking and shuttle bus stops.  It is intended to be used as a ROAD (go figure!!) with vehicles passing THROUGH avalanche areas and NOT being delayed, stopped and parked bumper-to-bumper in their vicinity.   The avalanche path was there all along and the potential hazard was as well.  Fortunately, this potentially KILLER avalanche came down as part of planned avalanche control work when the road was closed and when it was not being used as a parking lot.  But things could easily have been different.  Avalanches don’t always wait for human triggers and Sunshine’s parking lot attendants are not trained to evaluate avalanche hazards.

The avalanche hazard is only ONE of the public safety issues arising from the parking expansion.  There are others, as well as environmental, wildlife and visitor experience issues.  All of which Parks Canada ignores in its effort to bend over backwards to accommodate Sunshine Village.

This problem would not exist of Sunshine Village abided by the terms of its lease and Parks Canada policies.  The public roadway is outside Sunshine Village’s operational lease boundaries and well beyond the allowed parking footprint.   Parks Canada is responsible for regulating the road and protecting public safety but the agency instead turns a blind eye to Sunshine’s activities, makes excuses for the corporation and allows private corporate profits to supersede public safety due diligence.

Banff National Park superintendent Pam Veinotte describes the situation as a “short-term measure” that “isn’t ideal”.   That’s one way of spinning it.   The truth is it has been going on for years.

When will Parks Canada put public safety, environmental protection, wildlife and visitor experience FIRST ??  When will Parks Canada enforce the Sunshine lease agreement and its own public policy guidelines instead of solely serving private corporate interests on the Sunshine access road?  Don’t hold your breath – it’s becoming clear where Parks Canada priorities rest.

Meanwhile, heads up – next season, think twice before blindly accepting where a Sunshine Village parking lot attendant tells you is safe to park the family car….and the people in it.

Please sign the Avaaz petition to make Parks Canada enforce the lease and its own policy on the Sunshine access road

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