Tag Archives: Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society

Sunshine Village Expansion Negotiations Confirmed

Canadians who may have thought the issue of ski area expansion in Banff National Park was over, are in for a rude wake up call.  It’s back !!

Only weeks after Peter Kent (Federal Minister of Environment) approved the development of Brewster’s Glacier Discovery Walk in Jasper National Park, media statements from both Sunshine Village and Parks Canada appear to confirm that negotiations are under way for expansion at Sunshine Village Ski and Snowboard Resort in Banff National Park.

In response to questions from the Rocky Mountain Outlook, Crosbie Cotton (Director of the National Parks Ski Area Association) stated that

“We’re in negotiations with Parks Canada to try and come up with what the future resort looks like. It’s premature to discuss anything we might be looking at.”

By “premature” he probably means he would prefer the public only gets a few weeks for comments, as occurred with the Glacier Discovery Walk.  Asked about internal plans at Sunshine Village to build a lift on Wawa Ridge, Cotton prevaricated.

 “I don’t think so. I don’t know if it’s in, I don’t know if it’s out,”

He wasn’t asked if it was in or out, he was asked if Sunshine has been looking at the option.  The answer to that should be easy – Yes or No!!

Wawa Ridge is at least a kilometre beyond the current lease boundary and the Wawa skyline is visible from the vicinity of the town of Banff.  Sunshine Village already has radio equipment installations located on Wawa Ridge that are routinely serviced by snowmobile and helicopter.  Internal planning discussions at Sunshine have included lift access to that area and the cutting of additional ski runs in the “Side-door” and ‘Back-Door” areas.

Cotton also tried to downplay the issue of Sunshine’s expanded parking operations on the public access road.

“A few times a year, during peak seasons like the Family Day weekend, Christmas and Easter, there’s parking on the road and we’re trying to manage the best of a bad situation,”

Cotton maybe needs to learn to count.  Sunshine uses the road for parking far more than a “few times a year”.  He  blamed the problem on previous governments instead of acknowledging that the problem actually exists because Sunshine has increased lift capacity far in excess of it’s parking capacity, and has failed to adopt the parking solutions and limitations established in the 2006 Parks Canada Ski Area Management Guidelines.

Consistent with what appears to be the new pro-development mandate at Parks Canada, Pam Veinotte (Banff National Park Superintendent) simply parroted Cotton’s disingenuous spin (much as her counterpart in Jasper did with the Glacier Discovery Walk even before it was “approved”).  If Veinotte actually believes Sunshine is only using the road for parking “about 10 times a year” she needs to get out of the office more.  It’s only a short drive and then she can hop on a Sunshine shuttle bus for the rest of the way to enjoy this so-called “world-class experience” with real park visitors.

Notably, Cotton is ruling out solutions, like a parkade, which would maintain the current footprint as is required by the 2006 guidelines, which means they must want to destroy more wilderness in Banff National Park to create a “solution” to accommodate the hundreds of additional cars that are parked at times half-way from Sunshine to Banff .  A parkade costs money while environmental destructive “solutions” are cheaper.   Sunshine has created the “problem” and now appears to be using the “problem” to demand more concessions from Parks Canada.  Parks Canada is conveniently allowing the problem to grow year after year and appears on-track to eventually use this fact to approve more deforestation, earthworks and environmental destruction in the Healy Creek Valley.

Both Sunshine Village and Parks Canada appear to have no regard at all for the 2006 guidelines that clearly state the following (emphasis added).  If Parks Canada won’t abide by and apply its own policies how can anyone trust anything the agency says about this or any other development in any national park in the country?

Use of mass transit will be the primary means to address parking issues. Parking lot reconfiguration and expansion within the existing Developed Area can be considered within terrain and ecological limitations. New skiing parking nodes will be prohibited. Use of existing parking lots off-site can be considered, preferably in the communities, in order to support shuttle bus services.

What this proves is that the problem is never going to go away.  The real problem is that Sunshine Village can’t and won’t live within its agreed lease area boundary.  It wants more and more and more.  The other problem is that Parks Canada has truly forgotten what its mandate is and can’t be trusted to draw the line.  In fact Parks Canada is helping Sunshine Village to ignore and avoid the agency’s own public policy.  By allowing Sunshine Village to encroach on what should be pristine protected land and/or to use a public road as an 8km long parking lot, Parks Canada is allowing unofficial expansion and “historical use” that will make it much easier to rubber-stamp environment-damaging “solutions” later on.

It’s time to wake up and draw the line – Brewster’s Glacier Discovery Walk is just the beginning of a new era of commercial development in Canada’s national parks and an ominous warning of bad things to come.  The issue of ski area expansion in Banff National Park is clearly back at Sunshine Village and it’s under negotiation right NOW!

What can you do today to help protect the future of Banff National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site)?

  1. Please sign the Avaaz petition to demand that Parks Canada draws the line with Sunshine Village.
  2. Spread the word via Social Media – and please link to this page.

Thank you.

3 Ways Sunshine Village is Trying to Grab More Protected Parks Land

Sunshine Village is apparently not content to operate within the well-defined confines of its lease and permit agreements. The ski resort’s insatiable appetite for more and more of Banff National Park and Mt Assiniboine Provincial Park land is clearly evidenced.  Here’s 3 ways that Sunshine is taking more than it should.

3 Areas of Sunshine Village Expansion
  1.  Wawa Ridge – Wawa Ridge is well beyond the lease boundary of Sunshine Village and yet it is the location of four radio repeaters that are owned by the company.  On a regular basis Sunshine Village employees leave the ski area lease boundary and use snowmobiles and occasionally helicopters to maintain and service the radio-communications installations.  Below Wawa Ridge is Wawa Bowl and the two out-of-bounds runs known as back-door and side-door that are so well used they become packed and bumped.    As always – giving Sunshine an inch leads to trying to take a mile.  Sunshine’s recent internal planning includes expanding the lease boundary to include Wawa Ridge and Wawa Bowl and possibly placing a lift from Bourgeau parking lot to the top of Wawa Ridge.  This lift line would be in full view from Banff.  Already Sunshine Village has extended its operations beyond the lease boundary through installation of the radio-communications repeaters.  Attempts by SSV Watch so far to find reference to a public consultation process and issued permits for these installations have turned up nothing.
  2. Sunshine Meadows and Rock Isle Lake.  During the winter season of 2010/11 Sunshine Village operated commercial snow-cat tours beyond its permit boundary with BC Parks.  These tours were operated mainly for the benefit of paying guests at the Sunshine Mountain Lodge.  Hotel customers were driven by snowcat into the world-famous Sunshine Meadows and to the shores of Rock Isle Lake where a fire was lit for their private enjoyment.  Sunshine only recently concluded a renewal of its permit with BC Parks and must have been fully aware that the only activity permitted in this area was for search and rescue and late-season cross-country ski team training.  They went ahead and did it anyway and in so doing seemingly breached the BC Parks Act.  BC Parks put a stop to the activity but so far Sunshine Village has not been charged even though the activity was unlawful and an offence under the Act.  It appears the owners and executive managers responsible for this have been given a free pass to avoid prosecution.
  3. The Sunshine Access Road.  For years now Sunshine Village has regularly overflowed it’s parking capacity with the lease area boundary at the Bourgeau base area.  Sunshine’s answer to this is to just keep parking cars all the way down a public road well outside the lease boundary.  Hundreds of cars are now routinely parked under direction of Sunshine employees along 8km of narrow, winding avalanche threatened public road with insufficient regard for public safety, environmental protection, wildlife and the legal limits of the lease boundary.  Parks Canada lets it happen and apparently does not even charge Sunshine Village a fee for the land use.

Until recently one Sunshine Village senior manager has been directly responsible for all three examples of Sunshine Villages expansionist conduct.  Ken Derpak has held the position of VP Operations and General Manager for the last six years.  During his time in this position Derpak directly oversaw the operations that include the Wawa Ridge repeaters, the Rock Isle Lake snow-cat tours and the overflowing parking operations on the access road.  In a recent press release, Sunshine Village announced that Derpak has now assumed the role of Senior Vice-President Planning, Development, Government and Regulatory Affairs.  

There was a time when environmental interest groups such as the Canadian Parks & Wilderness Society (CPAWS) took a very close interest in the affairs of Sunshine Village.  Lately however Sunshine Village has been flying under the radar and pushing it’s operational and environmental impact boundary with little regulatory or public oversight.  That needs to change.  Sunshine Village operates in Banff National Park and Mt. Assiniboine Provincial Park which are both part of a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.  We really need to start taking that fact seriously when it comes to commercial activity within the parks.  A good way to start is by holding Sunshine Village accountable to the provisions of its lease and permits and by demanding that Parks Canada and BC Parks do their job to regulate the company’s operations properly.

Do your part to protect our national and provincial parks – please share this information with everyone you know across Canada and internationally including environmental movements, politicians and media.  And let’s all keep a close eye on Ken Derpak in his new role with Sunshine Village.

Snow-Cat Tours to Rock Isle Lake

Update: April 27, 2011 – BC Parks states that a permit has not been issued for this type of activity.

Sunshine Village is again operating snow-cat tours to Rock Isle Lake in Mt. Assiniboine Provincial Park, British Columbia.  A large tracked snowcat with passenger box is being used to transport Sunshine Village guests from the Village area out beyond the Sunshine Village lease and across the park boundary to the shores of the pristine alpine lake adjacent to the world-famous Sunshine Meadows.  On arrival at Rock Isle Lake the Sunshine staff are reportedly lighting a fire in a burn pan for the guests.  These commercial tours were operated as recently as Easter weekend 2011

Rock Isle Lake Either Sunshine Village is conducting this commercial venture without a proper permit, or BC Parks has allowed a new permit in contravention of the 2006 Draft Management Plan and the stated submissions of major environmental groups.  Either way Sunshine Village Watch wants to find out why these commercial snowcat tours are being allowed into one of Canada’s premier provincial parks.  We also want to know what contingency plans for fuel spills are in place (it’s not uncommon for snowcats to break hydraulic hoses or leak fluids)  and if an environmental impact assessment and public consulatation process has been properly carried out.

Rock Isle Lake The draft 2006 BC Parks Management Plan for Mt. Assiniboine Provincial Park states as follows:

The management vision for the future of Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park is to see that it continues to stand as an international symbol of the pristine scenic grandeur of the British Columbia wilderness and the heritage of recreational enjoyment it offers.

The draft management plan identifies the Sunshine Meadows as among the largest alpine meadows in the Canadian Rockies and their feature significance is enhanced by the presence of several adjacent water features including Rock Isle Lake.

Key elements of the draft management plan includes prohibiting all forms of motorized access into the park except for management purposes and as provided for in the management plan .  This exception includes helicopter access and Sunshine Village access to water supply and downhill ski facilities as currently approved.  The downhill ski facility referred to is the Continental Divide Chairlift.  The water access is to maintain a pump facility and buried pipeline from Rock Isle Lake to Sunshine Village.

Notably there is no mention of allowing commercial snowcat tours to Rock Isle Lake or of lighting fires at that location.

The Sunshine Village Resort adjacent to the north park boundary holds a water license on Rock Isle Lake and has downhill ski facilities (a lift and runs) and a water supply system, all of which predate park designation in 1973.

As part of the draft plan development the Federation of BC Naturalists submitted that there “should be no exception for Sunshine Village permit areas regarding motorized access” and that BC Parks should “keep ATVs, ORVs, motorcycles and snowmobiles OUT”.

The BC Wildlife Federation indicated support for the draft management plan, especially in regard to keeping Sunshine Village operations under existing permit only with “no increase and review of permits”. The BC Wildlife Federation bills itself as BC’s original, largest and oldest conservation organization with 38,000 current members.

BC Parks has responded to these subnissons that the use of mechanized access by Sunshine Village to service its water supply facilities and downhill ski area is a legitimate exception as both tenures pre-existed the park’s establishment in 1973.

So the questions here are:

  • Why are these snowcat tours happening?
  • Is BC Parks aware of them?
  • Is a permit in place for commercial snowcat tours?
  • Has an Environmental Assesment been done?
  • Have the public been consulted?
  • Why are the wishes of major environmental groups being ignored, either by Sunshine Village or BC Parks or both?
  • If this commercial operation is permitted, what will happen next?  Will we be looking at snow-cat skiing on Quartz Ridge in the future?

The current Park Management Plan has been in effect since 1989.  The draft process has been in place since 2006.  Clearly it’s time this process was concluded and tightened up.

Sunshine Village Watch is making inquiries with BC Parks, the BC Wildlife Federation, the BC Federation of Naturalists and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS).  We intend to obtain copies of the actual permits currently issued to Sunshine Village and post them on this site.  Please subscribe to this blog to be informed of future updates on this issue.

In the meantime interested persons can obtain more information or make their views known by contacting the BC Environment regional office as follows:

Environmental Stewardship Division (ESD)/ Parks and Protected Area Division (PPAD)
205 Industrial Rd. G
Cranbrook,B.C. V1C 7G5
Phone: (250) 489-8540

or by contacting the BC Ministry of Environment

Enquiries regarding Sunshine’s position may be submitted to:
Ken Derpak
VP, Operations & General Manager
Sunshine Village Corporation
P.O. Box 1510
Banff, AB
T1L 1J5
Ph: (403) 762-6500
Email: kderpak@skibanff.com