Marquee image: The front side of the Lake Louise ski area will see development in the West Bowl area (top left) and ridge top. PHOTO: Craig Douce/RMO
Parks Canada approved controversial expansion plans Saturday that could nearly double the daily skier capacity at Lake Louise Ski Resort. It could allow Lake Louise to accommodate up to 11,500 visitors daily—up from 6,000—on every type of terrain, over the next decade.
According to the plan presented by the resort, the ski area will exchange 669 hectares of undeveloped land to wilderness designation for the opportunity to expand into backcountry terrain surrounding the resort, including West Bowl, Hidden Bowl, Richardson's Ridge, and West Juniper. A new reservoir to reduce water taken from nearby streams for snowmaking is also included in the proposal, in addition to a new lodge at Eagle Ridge to distance skier traffic from native grizzly habitat.
“I think it’s a really big win for everybody,” Lake Louise Ski Resort spokesperson Dan Markham told CBCNews.
Conservationists, however, disagree. During the public response period, the plan received more than 1,200 letters of concern.
Kevin Van Tighem, former superintendent of Banff National Park where Lake Louise is located, said he has several concerns over what he sees as a dangerous precedent in opening up legislated-declared wilderness for new ski terrain.
"I see a major threat to the integrity of wilderness zoning in all of Canada's national parks and an unbalanced giveaway of Banff's ecological well-being to a corporate interest," he told Canadian newspaper Rocky Mountain Outlook.
After they passed the plan, 11 former Parks Canada managers sent a letter to Environmental Minister Leona Aglukkaq asking her to fight for the ecological integrity of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
“It’s not good for the area, and if we want to protect this area into the future we need to put conservation first and this decision has not done this,” said Anne-Marie Syslak, a spokeswoman with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.
Located in Banff National Park, Lake Louise offers 4,200 skiable acres, making it one of North America's largest ski resorts and the third largest in Canada. The last time it's seen any kind of expansion was a new lift in 2003.