After two decades of research on the environmental, cultural, and economical impact of a proposed four-season ski resort eight miles north of Squamish, the British Columbia government awarded the Garibaldi at Squamish ski area its environmental assessment certificate on Jan. 26.

This stamp of approval is big. Though the $3.5 billion project still needs a handful of provincial, federal, and local permits and approvals to move forward, the EA is one of the most rigorous reviews that the Canadian government performs. Researchers tackled concrete environmental concerns like the destruction of wildlife habitat and the demand that a full-season resort will place on the local aquifer. This certificate represents BC officials’ belief that the adverse impacts of this large development are mitigable.

Ever since it was proposed in the late 90s, the idea of a 6,817-acre resort on the steep and rugged Brohm Ridge has drawn local concern. Protests revolve around potential damage to "what’s long been considered to be a pristine wilderness and recreation area," according to CBC News.

As a group called Save Brohm writes on its website, Brohm Ridge "is marked by two beautiful lakes… old growth forests, high lookouts boasting extraordinary views… and prolific rivers and streams." The land is, the site continues, "the jewel of the Sea to Sky Corridor," and it offers backcountry users "a refreshing change from the commercialized outdoor recreation" elsewhere.

Proponents hope to build a "unique and truly special skiing experience" on the ridge, as the master plan reads, thanks to "the majesty of its natural terrain and long distance views." The plan calls for 23 ski lifts and 124 ski trails on at least 2,400 acres of skiable land, about the size of Snowbird in Utah or Jackson Hole in Wyoming.

But the proposed ski area has come under fire from opponents like Whistler Backcomb, which cited rainy weather patterns as one reason among many to kill the project. It's easy to dismiss Whistler's beef with the development as a business interest in avoiding competition—the new resort would be smaller than Whistler (as most are), but it would also sit about 45 minutes closer to skiers traveling from Vancouver or Seattle on the Sea to Sky Highway.

Locals have voiced similar objections. In over 320 pages of publicly filed comments, only seven statements mention support for the project. Skeptical about the quality of skiing the resort could offer, many residents disparage the proposal as a thinly veiled scheme to capitalize on developable land. "The fact [is,] this project is really not about skiing and it is simply a massive subdivision with some ski lifts acting as justification for a major sell off of Crown lands," Tennessee Trent, of Squamish, said in a comment.

It will likely be another two decades until the ski area nears completion, if it receives the requisite permissions. In the meantime, the proponent estimates that construction demands will provide almost 2,000 local jobs.

Marquee Image: Brohm Ridge, the site of the proposed Garibaldi at Squamish Ski Area. PHOTO: Save Brohm