The degradation of the Healy Creek area in Banff National Park continues due this time to negligent Sunshine Village snowmaking operations, which resulted in a large landslip into Healy Creek in December 2012.
The snowmaking system is used to increase capacity on the lower ski-out near the Bourgeau base area. The increased capacity is needed because Sunshine Village has increased ski-lift capacity elsewhere on the leasehold as well as expanding parking capacity along the Sunshine access road. The ski-out is used by the thousands of additional visitors as a means of egress from the ski area to the parking lot. So Sunshine has cast aside its former “100% Natural Snow” promise and has implemented snowmaking systems to accommodate the increased traffic. It’s not just the snow that is no longer natural at Sunshine Village.
As Sunshine just gets bigger and bigger, Parks Canada has repeatedly failed to properly manage the Sunshine Village Lease Agreement and has also failed to restrict Sunshine Village operations within the lease boundary as promised in the 2006 Ski Area Management Guidelines. As a result, Sunshine Village parking operations now extend almost all the way to the Trans-Canada highway 8 km away and well beyond the lease boundary. This expansion already causes environmental damage due to garbage left along the roadside for which Sunshine denies any responsibility to clean up.
The Healy Creek valley was already significantly impacted even before the landslip, which caused further environmental damage to an important bull and cutthroat trout habitat. Sunshine Village also removes water from Healy Creek for snowmaking. The creek flows right through the base area adjacent to the Bourgeau parking lot which has capacity for up to 1700 vehicles. Hundreds more vehicles are parked along the public road for an additional 8km along the waterway towards the main Bow Valley.
Parks Canada chose not to fine Sunshine Village for the environmental damage and instead made excuses for excusing the company’s negligence. Parks Canada has lost sight of its primary mandate and role to protect Banff National Park for future generations. Violations under the federal Fisheries Act can result in substantial fines and the risk of imprisonment. For some reason though, Sunshine Village rarely faces proper and adequate enforcement actions by Parks Canada.
This latest incident highlights the multi-faceted environmental pressures and damage being done by Sunshine Village operations but the company wants to increase parking capacity even further and to expand the ski area terrain near Wawa Ridge. Those plans will add further unsustainable and increasingly intensive impacts in the Healy Creek valley.
Healy Creek is an important watershed and tributary of the Bow River in Banff National Park. The area is also part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.