With a recent Supreme Court decision in place, the year-round ski resort on Jumbo Glacier is one step closer to development. If built, the resort will be the first of its kind in North America. It will also likely be the last of its kind, ever, because at a fundamental level, it simply does not make sense.
If fully completed, the 20-year, billion-dollar development is expected to be the only resort in North America where patrons will be able to ski year-round. The project has been hotly contested since its inception 23 years ago. Throughout this period, it has faced significant local opposition from special interest groups, local communities, and First Nations. Most recently the Ktunaxa First Nations brought the resort before the BC Supreme Court, arguing that its development violated a sacred area for the Ktunaxa Nation. The court has now ruled in favour of the developer, removing one more barrier to the resort’s construction.
But does this development make sense?
Development happens, change happens, and there will always be proponents and opponents of specific projects. Yet, in the case of the Jumbo Glacier Resort, there are a few facts that appear to undermine the viability of the project.
First, the science is clear: The whole concept of a long-term, all-season ski resort is slowly but surely becoming a fantasy. Glaciers across BC are melting and Jumbo Glacier is no exception. It is expected that by 2100, Jumbo Glacier will be largely non-existent. In fact, just looking at the period between 1985 and 2005, the entire Southeastern BC glacial region lost, on average, roughly 15% of its mass. Yet while the science is forecasting increased melting, according to the developer’s own plan it will still take over 20 years to build the proposed resort. This means that by the time the resort is fully operational a further 20 years of melting will have also occurred. The fact is, climate change is eliminating the viability of year-round glacial skiing and as it does so, it is turning Jumbo Resort into an increasingly risky investment.
Second, the Jumbo Resort clearly lacks a social license to continue. Over the last decade, media, governing bodies and special interest groups have conducted several polls and surveys that serve to highlight the significant local opposition to this project. For example, in the 2004 Environmental Assessment over 90% of the thousands of comments received were in opposition to the project. There has been significant local opposition to the idea of the resort from its inception and there continues to be strong opposition from the Ktunaxa First Nation.
Finally, the fact that the provincial government has used $250,000 to create a municipality that has no residents and no infrastructure is troublesome, given the real needs that exist in our province. How this is a good use of taxpayer money or a sound investment decision are both good questions.
Until this week, Jumbo Resort had a deadline to begin construction by this fall, or it would have to undergo a new environmental assessment. Unfortunately, the provincial cabinet passed an order in council this week that may exempt Jumbo Resort from undergoing this assessment. This change is particularly troublesome given the advancements in climate science and in our knowledge of glacier melting, both of which have evolved significantly since Jumbo underwent its last environmental assessment in 2004.
The fact is, the more we learn about glacier science, the less a resort like Jumbo makes sense. Given this, it’s hard to understand why the provincial government is subsidizing and promoting the development of a project that faces significant local opposition and flies in the face of our best scientific understanding of climatic trends.
Twenty years ago we may have thought this project had a promising future. Now we know that future is bleak.