BANFF – Parks Canada officials say Mount Norquay’s current pitch for a two-station gondola and facility redevelopment at the ski hill is not covered in the company’s existing long-range plan and must be advanced through a new one.
Officials with the federal agency say the ski area operator delivered a single, hard copy version of a “draft long-range plan” to Parks Canada for “discussion purposes” on Sept. 29, requesting that it should not be considered a formal submission for review and decision.
“We are advised by the operator that the document contains a two-station gondola and facility redevelopment, neither of which is covered in their current long-range plan,” said Kat Trivers, strategic communications advisor for Banff National Park, in an emailed statement.
“Parks Canada has not reviewed the document. We have, however, reminded the operator of the process to be followed for a new long-range plan, described in the Mount Norquay site guidelines section 6.0.”
Earlier this month, the local ski hill, owned by Jan and Adam Waterous' Liricon Capital, launched its Norquay 100 Vision plans to replace the North American chairlift, which was originally built in 1946, with a two-station gondola running from the main lodge area to the Cliffhouse restaurant.
Under the ski hill’s proposal, the replacement of the outdated chairlift would also tie in with the removal of the North American lodge, an expanded and restored Cliffhouse, relocated ski jumping judging towers, an accessible via ferrata route, and an enhanced shuttle system.
Trivers said lift replacement or realignment within the developed area of a ski area may be considered subject to certain constraints.
However, she said if it is part of a larger proposal – such as redevelopment or expansion of facilities or changes in use for example – it must be advanced through the long-range planning process.
“This is essential so that new ski area development is consistent with applicable policy and legislation, environmental and visitor experience objectives, and prescribed commercial capacity and skier limits, as described in the resort’s site guidelines,” she said.
“This process also ensures the engagement of Canadians in advance of any decisions that may affect the park, and the proper evaluation of any impacts to natural and cultural resources.”
National park ski areas are managed in accordance with Parks Canada’s ski area management guidelines, approved resort-specific site guidelines, and long-range plans.
Norquay, however, argues the facilities and lift replacement project does align with the current 2013 long-range plan, as well as conforms to the 2011 Norquay site guidelines and supports the new 2022 Banff National Park Management Plan.
Ski hill officials say the significant upgrades to out-of-date facilities at the hometown hill are part of a larger plan, dubbed Norquay 100 Vision, which aims to modernize ski and sightseeing opportunities with energy-efficient lifts, integration of new and heritage buildings, and more.
“For nearly 100 years, Norquay has served as Banff’s backyard, an iconic destination for skiers and sightseers, often providing visitors their first introduction to Banff National Park,” said Andre Quenneville, general manager of Mount Norquay in an Oct. 4 press release.
“As we start to look towards our second century of operation, we are putting plans in place to improve the visitor experience and make ourselves more accessible as well as environmentally and economically sustainable.”
Ski hills officials say the initiative will restore sensitive wildlife habitat, decrease Norquay’s built footprint, reduce the potential for human-wildlife conflict, and concentrate visitor services and educational opportunities.
They say the project also includes a wheelchair accessible via ferrata, a relocated tube park, self-guided alpine hikes, and will provide Norquay the ability to fund the replacement of its other existing infrastructure with modern facilities and lifts.
“Without this project, Norquay is not economically sustainable because it does not generate enough funds to replace its existing lifts at the end of their life,” said Quenneville.
Trivers said Parks Canada looks forward to commencing the long-range planning process with the ski area operator.
“The long-range planning process for national park ski areas is a transparent and thorough one that typically takes a minimum of two to three years to complete,” she said.