Sunshine Village has tried for many years to work with Parks Canada on Site Guidelines and have worked in good faith to create a mutually acceptable outcome. We understand the need for site guidelines. It is intended to provide a framework and certainty for everyone going forward. Our goal is to achieve the triple bottom line:
- Provide an exceptional world-class visitor experience
- Protect the ecological integrity of the leasehold area
- Provide for a sustainable and viable business with predictability
Parks Canada recently issued draft documents and has given 60 days for public comment (deadline August 19, 2018). We have identified several critical gaps and deficiencies in their draft documents. They have said that the public comments and Sunshine Village comments will be taken into consideration in the final documents when they are approved and signed by their CEO. We received these documents at the same time as the public and we are being given the same 60 days to comment. This executive summary outlines our concerns and comments. We are asking for you to hear our side of the story and submit comments to Parks Canada so that problems in the Site Guidelines will be corrected and the resort will achieve the triple bottom line.
Master plans for ski areas have been around for decades. All major ski resorts use them to guide development and operations of the resort. They usually get updated periodically as visitor expectations change over time and the sport/technology evolves (such as lift design, terrain parks, restaurant preferences, etc.). Typically, the components in the master plan are phased in over several years due to the high capital costs of these facilities.
In the 2006 Parks Canada Ski Area Management Guidelines they decided to manage national park ski areas differently. They are requiring a plan that was “final” and called it “Site Guidelines”. It will last at lease though 2060, maybe longer. It includes a permanent cap on the design capacity, outlines a new leasehold boundary, and stipulates other conditions that limit what can happen in the future. In that context, this is the last chance to help define what the resort will look like at “build-out”, so we better get it right.
Proper ski area planning is largely based on balance. For any ski area to work properly, the major components all need to be sized so they work together. Lift capacity, terrain capacity, parking capacity, commercial space, employee space, and operational facilities all need to be sized correctly. None of the major components should be too big or too small for the build-out design capacity. The design capacity is the starting point for planning and is usually described as PAOT (people at one time). If any one of the above components is out-of-balance, the resort doesn’t work well which causes stress for visitors and the ski area operator. Over time, an imbalance can threaten the sustainability of the resort in many ways.
Normally, the PAOT is determined based on ski area planning parameters. There are several consultants around the globe that do this specialized work. In summary, they map and digitize the terrain to develop the optimal PAOT calculation based on the terrain, optimal density of skiers per hectare, the desired mix of terrain difficulty (beginner, intermediate, advanced). They also take into account the flow of people throughout the day. Once they understand the capacity of the terrain, they design and locate the right kind of lifts to service that terrain in order to balance the uphill lift capacity with the downhill terrain capacity. Then, they size the parking, commercial space, and operational space to balance with that maximum PAOT.
Ecological integrity is another filter that ski area planners take into consideration in planning a resort. Constraints may emerge that impact the plan such as wildlife corridors, water availability, cultural resources, sensitive ecosystems like wetlands, etc.
We have hired many professional consultants over the years to help us and Parks Canada understand the appropriate design lay-out and PAOT at build-out. We have presented these plans to Parks Canada and had numerous meetings. We have always tried to “step into the shoes” of Parks Canada and present plans that should be acceptable based on the laws, regulations and environmental constraints. We also have hired many professional environmental specialists to help all of us understand these constraints and have always shaped our plans to address those issues. Sunshine Village has an excellent record protecting the environment within the leasehold area we operate and we understand that a healthy environment makes for a great ski area.
Our consultants have told us that the design capacity of the resort would accommodate approximately 12,900 PAOT at build-out. By comparison, Lake Louise Ski Area’s Site Guidelines were recently approved for 11,500 PAOT (from a previously approved 6,000 PAOT). We believe Lake Louise initially proposed a much higher PAOT but settled at that level. We are currently approved for 6,000 PAOT, although we have parking for only 4,500 PAOT in our parking lot (obviously, parking is currently out of balance with our currently approved PAOT which forces us to park cars down one side of the access road on peak days).
We submitted detailed plans and documents to Parks Canada in November, 2014 which showed all the components for 12,900 PAOT at build-out. Parks Canada’s recent draft site guidelines calls for 8,500 PAOT. There was discussion over the last few years and we reluctantly agreed to 8,500 PAOT. We did so knowing that the resort would be under-utilized based on typical planning parameters. We agreed on 8,500 PAOT to settle this matter amicably. But, our ask in return was that we be given the things necessary to properly balance to the 8,500 PAOT in a reasonable way (terrain, lifts, parking, commercial and operational space). We also asked that we be given the ability to build a secondary access lift from the base area so that we are not entirely dependent on the existing gondola.
The 2006 Ski Area Management Guidelines directs the Site Guideline process. This allows for certain new development to occur if substantial environmental gains are simultaneously provided. Normally, a reduction of the land from the existing leasehold boundary is used to allow for new lands and development to provide reasonable balance to the facilities and an excellent visitor experience. In the case of Lake Louise, Marmot Basin, and Norquay, this process worked as designed. In the case of Sunshine Village, Parks Canada is taking every hectare of land that is not currently being used and in exchange not giving us the reasonable things we need to balance to the 8,500 PAOT. This is over-reaching and not fair to skiers and snowboarders, or to the ski company.
Parks Canada’s draft site guidelines comes up short in providing balanced facilities in many ways. They are not providing adequate parking for 8,500 PAOT. They are providing for a secondary access lift from the base area but in a way that is less desirable from and environmental point-of-view and is not as desirable for the visitor experience compared to our proposal. They are eliminated four new lift/terrain pods that were previously accommodated in our existing plan. They are not providing for reasonable glading and trails to balance to 8,500 PAOT. They are not providing the necessary commercial space to balance to 8,500 PAOT. They are not providing for adequate maintenance and operational space. They are trying to limit summer hikers without a reasonable basis.
This website will demonstrate why this is the case, and how you can help provide meaningful input to Parks Canada to help fix these gaps and deficiencies in their plan before its too late.