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Mixed reactions to Sunshine ski area guidelines

BANFF – Controversial new guidelines that pave the way for future development and use at Sunshine Village are drawing mixed reactions.
Sunshine Village is heading to court to fight Parks Canada’s ban on parking along the access road to the ski hill.
An investigation is ongoing after a skidoo incident at Sunshine Village Tuesday (Apr. 9) morning.

BANFF – Controversial new guidelines that pave the way for future development and use at Sunshine Village are drawing mixed reactions.

The Association for Mountain Parks Protection and Enjoyment (AMPPE) fears the skier experience will be eroded because of non-viable parking solutions, while Bow Valley Naturalists (BVN) would have preferred a no-growth scenario.

New site guidelines, a blueprint for future development, allow the number of daily skiers to go from 6,500 to 8,500. There’s also potential for increased commercial development, including up to eight new ski lifts and 80 hectares of new ski terrain and facilities.

Generally speaking, no new development that increases skier capacity generally will be allowed until the ski resort meets Banff National Park’s wastewater treatment standards and has water conservation, transportation and staff housing plans in place.

Parks Canada turned down a 730-stall satellite parking lot proposed by Sunshine to deal with the ski hill’s parking problem, but would consider a parkade at the base of the hill and an array of transit options to encourage people to leave their vehicles at home.

“Our goal in doing any set of site guidelines is to land in a place that’s good for the environment, good for skiers and good for the business operator in that it provides them with certainty,” said Sheila Luey, acting superintendent for Banff National Park. “In all cases, there was potential for new growth.”

Sunshine Village was the only remaining ski area in the mountain national parks without site guidelines completed. They must be completed before the ski hill can advance a long-range plan. Parks Canada mandated long-range plans 20 years ago for ski resorts.

After lengthy negotiations, Parks gave Sunshine 35 days to decide whether or not they wanted to enter into a new lease for the ski resort with the new site guidelines, or risk putting the operation of the ski resort out to public tender.

Sunshine Village officials say a properly designed first-class ski resort is based upon the principal of balancing the capacities of lifts, terrain and parking, as well as commercial, administrative, operational and maintenance space so that the experience is safe and comfortable. The resort should also be designed in a way that respects all environmental and economic constraints and realities.

“If one or more of these components are out-of-balance, it creates stress on either the visitor or the staff, or both,” said Dave Riley, Sunshine’s chief operating officer and senior vice president.

“With these site guidelines, I believe it will be challenging for Sunshine Village to achieve balance particularly with respect to parking and commercial space. We will do the best we can given the constraints that have been placed on us by Parks Canada.”

Riley said Sunshine’s strategy is based on three things – protection of the natural environment, providing first-class visitor experience, and doing this while being economically sustainable.

“Ski areas are very capital intensive and visitors are price sensitive,” he said. “These site guidelines have put us into a position of having to make some tough decisions going forward.”

Local conservationists would have preferred Parks Canada to have come up with a no-growth scenario for the ski area, but say they’re pleased that the final site guidelines did not allow for the expansion of the parking lot and additional parking pods.

The Bow Valley Naturalists welcomed a requirement for an immediate riparian buffer for Healy Creek to reduce the amount of sand, salt and inadvertent litter going into the creek.

Reg Bunyan, BVN vice-president, said the major attractions in Banff National Park are struggling with peak parking and traffic problems, noting this will not be solved with new parking lots.

“A combination of parking and vehicle disincentives, car pooling, convenient mass transit alternatives and limits to growth all have to be part of a future discussion, no matter what our personal or business preference may be,” he said.

Casey Peirce, AMPPE’s executive director, said the group is disappointed by the “imposition of Parks Canada’s one-sided site guidelines” on Sunshine Village, noting Sunshine has been providing a spectacular experience for almost 100 years.

“Unfortunately, this is now under threat with almost certain erosion of the visitor experience due to non-viable parking solutions and restrictions within a federally imposed lease ‘non-agreement,’ ” she said.

“AMPPE believes that it is beyond shameful that Parks Canada is willing to jeopardize this iconic rocky mountain asset with such heavy handed and short sighted regulations.”