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Sunshine’s long-range development plan out for public review

“These projects are all needed to deliver a quality visitor experience at the popular ski area,” said Dave Riley, Banff Sunshine’s chief operating officer and senior vice-president in a statement.
Sunshine Village
Sunshine Village

BANFF – A draft long-range plan for development plans at Sunshine Village over the next five years is out for public review.

The upgrades in the first long-range plan consist of construction of a day lodge at the top of Wolverine and Jackrabbit chairlifts, construction of a second chairlift on Goat's Eye Mountain and increased capacity on the Teepee Town chair.

In its long-range plan, the ski resort also proposes to retain some pre-fab buildings used to meet provincial public health restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic until that space can be redeveloped at some point in the future.

Ski hill officials say the new long-range plan conforms to the approved 2018 Parks Canada site guidelines – essentially a blueprint for future development – and the strategic environmental assessment.

“These projects are all needed to deliver a quality visitor experience at the popular ski area,” said Dave Riley, Banff Sunshine’s chief operating officer and senior vice-president in a statement.

“The resort worked diligently to design these projects to protect environmental integrity, as we hold sustainability to be a top priority.”

Parks Canada officials say the draft long-range plan for Sunshine Village ski area, which is a requirement under ministerial-approved ski area management guidelines, is a significant achievement because it represents the final outstanding initiative of the agency’s ski area planning process.

Kat Trivers, a Parks Canada communications, partnering and engagement lead, said the ski area planning process “ensures gains in conservation and enhancements to visitor experience in addition to creating long-term business certainty for Parks Canada and ski area operators.”

“The draft plan for Sunshine Village ski area is consistent with the approved 2018 site guidelines for the ski area and associated strategic environmental assessment, including respecting the permanent limits to growth,” she said in a statement to the Outlook.

In 2019, Parks Canada issued a new 42-year lease to Sunshine Village for the operation and development of the ski area.

Before that, and following a stalemate in lengthy negotiations, Parks Canada gave Sunshine an ultimatum to sign off on a new lease and site guidelines or risk losing the right to operate the national park business. One of the main sticking points was parking.

The 2018 site guidelines capped Sunshine with a total of 3,650 square metres of additional new commercial space.

The proposed Wolverine Day Lodge, to be located at the top of the existing Wolverine and Jackrabbit chairlifts, is for winter use only. The project also includes a 330-metre ski way to reduce congestion to the northeast.

The resort will not be proposing to develop another Goat’s Eye Day Lodge in the future as the allowed future additional commercial space for the Wolverine Day Lodge will consume most of the additional space available under the 2018 site guidelines.

“Facilities located at the top of Wolverine and Jackrabbit chairlifts will provide more food services and washrooms, which are desperately needed,” said Riley.

The second chairlift on Goat’s Eye is proposed to be a four or six-person high-speed lift.

On poor weather days, during high winds or decreased visibility, ski resort officials say the visitor experience can be challenging on the existing Goat’s Eye 1 chair, which extends into the high alpine.

“A second chairlift on Goat’s Eye Mountain which will be better protected from wind and extreme weather, and tree thinning,” said Riley. “The tree thinning proposed will reduce the fuel load from decades of fire suppression and improve the skier experience, which is a win-win.”

Riley said the ski resort has also been working with Parks Canada on other projects, which the site guidelines allow outside of a long-range plan.

“For example, last summer an underground stormwater management system was installed in the parking lot to treat runoff and prevent pollutants from entering Healy Creek, the environmental buffer between the parking lot and Healy Creek was enhanced, and the parking lot was regraded and widened,” he said.

Sunshine also plans on improvements to the existing wastewater treatment plant to meet Parks Canada leadership targets for treatment.

“Wastewater treatment plant upgrades will be completed as soon as the designs are completed,” said Riley.

“A phased parkade located on the existing parking lot has been proposed to address the parking shortage, while significant transit improvements have been implemented recently.”

The Bow Valley Naturalists, a local conservation group that formed in 1967, says it is difficult to provide detailed comments at this stage because of the size of the documents and tight timelines.

But Reg Bunyan, the group’s past president and current member of the board of directors, said what does jump out is the draft long-range plan and detailed impact assessment appear to be status quo documents very much focused on the mechanics of expansion, skier experience and mitigating development impacts.

“What's missing in all of these documents is a distinct lack of imagination and a future best vision or how a model ski area fits into a national park and world heritage site framework,” said Bunyan.

“We are in an era where there is widespread concern about the loss of secure wildlife habitat, increasing carbon emissions, climate change impacts, wildlife corridor impacts and even the impacts from spiralling visitation.”

From an ecological perspective, Bunyan said much of the draft long-range plan focuses on proposals that are based on industry standards and commercial balance, resulting in documents that seem to be based on a retroactive business argument rather than an ecologically forward looking document.

“Nowhere in the documentation, other than specific areas where Parks Canada has legally forced the ski area’s hand, is a future ecological best ski area described,” he said.

Within the detailed impact assessment, Bunyan questioned how the ski area will improve habitat security, reduce carbon emissions, improve wildlife corridors, the associated impacts from increasing visitation and the cumulative effects of development.

“To be fair to the ski area, part of the accountability for this lays with Parks Canada but both parties seem woefully out of step where most Canadians seem to be leaning,” he said.

Riley said that during the 2018 site guidelines process, substantial land was removed from Sunshine's leasehold and returned to wilderness zoning.

“This created substantial environmental gains and cleared the way for the projects included in the site guidelines to be proposed in a long-range plan or plans,” he said.

“This long-range plan is simply the second phase of that ongoing regulatory process. A detailed impact assessment has been completed to make sure the projects are fully analyzed and understood.”

Parks Canada says the detailed impact assessment, the agency’s most comprehensive assessment process, concludes that key issues can be addressed through additional measures to protect the area.

“With those measures in place, it can be expected to achieve the desired outcomes,” said Trivers.

A spokesperson for the Association of Mountain Parks Protection and Enjoyment (AMPPE) was not available at press time.

The public is asked to visit engage.skibanff.com to review the draft long-range plan and detailed impact assessment. The deadline for public input is July 18.

“Feedback heard through the public and Indigenous reviews of the draft long-range plan and draft detailed impact assessment will be used to inform the final versions of the documents,” said Trivers.