Tag Archives: Water Licence

Sunshine Village Snowmaking Damages Important Fish Habitat

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.

Healy Creek and Bourgeau Base Area at Sunshine Village
Healy Creek and Bourgeau Base Area at Sunshine Village

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.

Additional Information:

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