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Shredding the environment

For many of us, winter is a time of year to break out some cool downhill gear and hit the slopes. 

Let’s face it, when the winter lasts for what feels like an eternity, it helps to have an activity to get you by until spring.

As you are swooshing down the slopes next time, take a look around you and contemplate what exactly it takes to put a whole ski resort together, and then consider the compromises the environment had to make.

There are the obvious components—cleared out ski runs, erecting of ski lifts, litter that enthusiasts drop from the lifts, several large structures and a parking lot (or several) full of cars. 

Then contemplate the less obvious components, such as, making snow and the water and electricity consumed to do so, grooming the trails each night and the noise the groomers make.

Needless to say, a ton goes into the creation of these resorts, and the worst part is that it runs directly through the heart of most mountain parks. They know it too.

The 2000 Canada National Parks Act demonstrated this awareness by putting a ban on any new ski resort development within park boundaries.

It can only account to protect land within national parks, but a good portion of what makes skiable terrain happens to exist in the parks.

This act also demonstrated a wide range of elements towards ski resort management and environmental considerations.

The Southern Alberta chapter of Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS SAB) has a long history of
working on national park management issues including fighting the expansion of existing ski hills within the
mountain parks.

“While we respect that these areas have been grandfathered into our national parks, what people don’t know is that today, they would no longer be allowed because of their locations in sensitive alpine and sub-alpine ecosystems.” said Anne-Marie Syslak, Executive Director of the Southern Alberta chapter of CPAWS.

“These are important habitats in the parks, especially for threatened species such as grizzly bears.”

“Grizzly bears in Banff have the lowest reproductive rate documented for the species in North America, and grizzly bear mortality in Banff is higher than in any other Rocky Mountain Park, particularly in the Bow Valley where human development is the highest.”

“We are not suggesting that ski areas within the national parks cease to exist, we are simply asking that they stay within their existing footprint and adhere to national park management standards to maintain the integrity of the wilderness values of these areas.” said Syslak

Ski resorts must also adhere to a number of park management standards exercised by the Parks Canada Agency, including water standards. 

Syslak mentioned that as a long-standing issue, there are an incredible number of different angles to consider.

“It’s complicated.”

The fact cannot be ignored that while there are environmental issues surrounding this recreational past time, resorts are seemingly being made aware and must adhere to certain protocols.

It is an activity that also encourages people to get outside and to the mountains, giving cause to feel more passionately about these mountain areas. 

“Downhill skiing is an activity enjoyed by many in Banff National Park,” said Sylak.

“Similar to all park activities, all visitors, including skiers, need to respect that they are in a national park, which means that nature comes first and value and steward these areas.”

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