A Critical Examination of the Valemount Glacier ‘Decimation’ Project

By Rebecca Lerch

The Valemount Glacier Destination (VGD) project is currently moving ahead at an alarming rate. While talking with other Valemount residents it became apparent to me that this is a controversial project, which makes it an essential topic to address and one that I think Valemount’s residents should consider. 

To the supporters of the VGD project I ask: Will the charm that brought you and your family to Valemount still be present with the introduction of a ski hill? Do you realize the impacts this project will have on the glaciers in the area, which, even without the aid of recreation on them, have been projected to be gone by the end of this century? Are you aware of the fragmented habitats a ski hill will create for species, including listed ones such as grizzlies, wolverines, and northern goshawks? Rather than introducing another obstacle for conservation groups, such as those occupied with constructing the Yellowstone to Yukon connector, is it not possible to simply stop digging into the little remaining nature and rather provide assistance to these preservation projects? 

Ski hill advocates have attempted to convince me that the introduction of a ski hill will hinder other land uses from occurring and will concentrate tourism onto one mountain rather than an entire valley. Contrary to this though, land use activities such as heli-skiing, logging, mountain biking, snowmobiling, dirt biking, quading, and numerous others, will continue and will grow as more people discover our community. This will simply be a large addition to all those activities already occurring, increasing our impact on the environment. Some supporters have also accused opponents for being selfish, in refusing to share the backcountry. It is not that we are against having others enjoy the area, but we are aware that this will alter the landscape in an irreversible direction. A ski hill will disturb wildlife, impact vegetation, and introduce garbage, while at the same time be providing access to this wild area to many who do not even appreciate and value the nature around them. So where does the selfishness really lie? Is it in those of us who want to protect the natural environment and have identified that this construction is simply a matter of undeniable human greed, or is it in those who chose to be ignorant of these facts and only care in gaining potential economic value?  

This project is not necessary to make Valemount a popular tourist destination. Tourism in Valemount is currently thriving both summer and winter. Restaurants are busy and hotels/bed and breakfasts often have no vacancy. I have talked with hundreds of international tourists travelling through our town and most are in awe and admiration of the laid back atmosphere of our community along with the fact that we do still have a mostly wild and untouched nature around us. If they were looking to visit a town with ski resorts and areas bustling with tourists, they would find enough of these in other locations around Alberta and BC. But Valemount is a gem of the Rockies. Do we want to lose the originality of our town? Do we want to trap ourselves in a future of increased property taxes, unreasonably high food prices, and the potential of a rise in crime rates, drug use, STI levels, and prostitution as tends to be the result of approvals of projects such as the VGD? And what will become of the current unique aspect of our town?

At the start of this year the Jumbo Glacier Resort project, near Invermere B.C. finally got cancelled. This controversial proposal spanned over a 24-year period. 90% of the people in the Kootenays, including the Ktunaxa First Nation, were against the development and managed to protect the Jumbo Valley by voicing concerns to the public for the environment, which we all know cannot speak for itself. Do we not realize that this same situation has now come to Valemount? Is it not sad to see how some individuals in our community have had their values and beliefs overshadowed by the thought of pleasure and economic value for themselves?

Proponents for projects tend to exaggerate the positive impacts of their intended developments while failing to acknowledge the irreversible results. I am certain that many residents of Valemount have not considered the numerous negative impacts of a ski hill.

I urge citizens to consider these issues and gain a much-needed understanding of the consequences of the VGD project before forming an opinion. I am hopeful that our town will not come to this:

“When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realize that one cannot eat money.”- Native American saying