Lake Louise ski hill may trade half its land for new lodges, lifts

Lake Louise Ski Resort wants to build up instead of out.

The site has hosted World Cups and millions of tourists over the years. Now the public has been asked to submit comments on a plan for the resort's future in Banff National Park.

A nearly 500-page draft plan, posted online this month by Parks Canada, details long-range ideas for new lodges, ski runs, animal protections — and less land.

Should the plan go through, the resort would give up half of its leasehold, amounting to 30 per cent of its ski area.

In exchange, the resort would get permission to build two new day lodges, add trails, a warming hut, eight new ski lifts and other services for guests.

"What we've got was the ability to do some major upgrades and improvements to the existing facilities that we have at the resort: some new lodges, some new lifts and some new runs, all within the remaining footprint of that remaining part of the leasehold," Lake Louise spokesperson Dan Markham said Tuesday.

Markham joined the Calgary Eyeopener to discuss the proposal ahead of a series of open houses scheduled this week for the public. People can review the proposal and offer comments at events in Lake Louise, Banff and Calgary, and online until June 13.

Hear more from Dan Markham about how the ski hill could change:

The proposal would see Lake Louise relinquishing nearly 1,000 hectares of its 2,190-hectare leasehold, to be returned to Parks Canada for wildlife. It would also reduce its use of West Bowl and Hidden Bowl to winter-only licences.

The ski resort would be allowed to build a new mountain-top day lodge and interpretive centre at Eagle Ridge, as well as a new day lodge next to the original Whiskey Jack lodge. 

There would be new ski patrol facilities, a new daycare, eight new ski lifts and a warming hut.

"It'll be a little spot. Maybe you can get some hot chocolate, get out of the wind," Markham said.

Preparing for the future

An accompanying detailed impact assessment suggests more frequent melts and a shorter winter season is likely in store for the resort due to climate change.

Models cited in the report predict that climate change could cause the ski season to be delayed by five days at higher elevations to three weeks at the base by 2085.

To prepare for that, the resort would add more reservoirs of water from which to make snow, in order to reduce the drain on natural resources.

It would also see the resort build a new Eagle Ridge day lodge to divert people away from the existing Whitehorn Lodge and Whitehorn wildlife corridor, to reduce pressure on grizzlies and other species expected to be further disturbed due to temperature changes.

Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

If climate change progresses as predicted, the resort predicts increased indoor winter crowding problems, so the new lodge would address that issue, as well.

Lake Louise is home to many species of animals and plants, including the endangered whitebark pine trees, which can live more than 500 years. The report noted those are expected to decline 70 per cent by 2030, due to climate change and warming.

Ecological integrity, visitor experience

Parks Canada declined an interview request from CBC News, instead offering a statement that all public feedback will be considered and used to make changes before approving any final plan.

"Ecological integrity is Parks Canada's first priority in decision-making and the agency is committed to protecting the natural environment of the Lake Louise Ski Area, while providing exceptional visitor experience opportunities," Parks Canada said in the written statement.

"Carefully planned and managed ski areas complement the conservation objectives of Parks Canada and provide meaningful visitor and learning experiences."

The negotiations with the federal national parks regulator were positive, Markham said, and the resort supports the changes.

That's a contrast to the recent site guidelines and lease signed by Sunshine Village in nearby Banff. The resort opposed Parks Canada's parking plan and argued it was pushed into agreeing to site guidelines under threat of closing. Parks Canada said the guidelines protect wildlife and offer long-term predictability for the operator.

"How other people manage themselves is a different story," Markham said, not commenting on Sunshine's experience. "Lake Louise has worked definitely very well with Parks Canada through this entire process, and we're looking forward to doing so as we carry out the long-range plan."

Local communities and Indigenous governments were consulted in the preparation of the proposal, both Lake Louise and Parks Canada said.

The draft long-range plan and detailed impact assessment can be read online.