Ski season – only six weeks away!

Early-season skiing on Moraine Lake road at Lake Louise in 2017.

Last winter’s skiing came to an unceremonious and abrupt finish near the end of March with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Access to the ski areas was shut down on March 28. I skied in PLPP for the final time on the evening of March 27 on beautiful conditions

Last season was one of the best ever for snow and good conditions. We had early snow, and very little bad weather such as rain, excessive wind, or extended cold periods. I don’t recall any “defensive” skiing, luge tracks, or snow fleas. Probably the biggest inconvenience was occasional tree debris. In December, the ice storm brought down a lot of trees, but the trail crews were quick to clean it up. 

Nov 11, 2019 at West Bragg Creek

Lake Louise is usually the first location where we have groomed trails for skiing in early November. The Great Divide at Lake Louise was trackset on Nov 8 last year. Moraine Lake road soon followed. 

We are still awaiting word from the provincial government regarding grooming in Kananaskis Country(PLPP, Ribbon Creek, Mt Shark). A very attractive proposal has been put forward by Nordiq Alberta to continue with things as they are, with the addition of user fees. 

Frozen Thunder at the Canmore Nordic Centre opens for skiing on Oct 19. 

After the pandemic shutdown, I still got out skiing a few times at the “Hayfield” trails. I will now disclose their location. They’re better known as the Little Red Trails located near Olds, AB on the banks of the Little Red River. 

“Some of the most beautiful in the world”

The above quote is from the CBC interview this morning with Ken Hewitt of Nordic Alberta, referring to the trails in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. For those of you with questions about the proposal to continue grooming the ski trails, give this 8-minute podcast a listen. Ken gives an articulate, informative, detailed and factual interview. 

The interview starts at 10:43

Consequences of no grooming in Kananaskis

This letter which I received from Gaetan Turmel in Quebec should give some pause for thought:

To everyone concerned, I follow this debate from my far away Québec. The reason is that every winter, my wife and I spend a month in Canmore.

In our Quebec City area, we are well served with many centers and nice trails, but……we enjoy the overall Bow Valley experience and spirit. 

Also, I read about that 24$ billions deficit, no small matter. But as a retired analyst and portfolio manager, I know that expenses are only a part of an equation. The true test is revenues less expenses. Here, I’m used to pay an average of 17$ per day for skiing.

As an example, if I was offered a 300$ season pass for CNC, PLPP, Mt Shark and Ribbon Creek, I’d happily sign for that. As nice a center as CNC can be, I’ll never ski 15 times at  this sole place over a month (once or twice is OK). I know there’s Goat Creek, Spray River, Cascade, Lake Louise and others, but they aren’t on par. 700 skiers would suffice to cover that 200 000$ grooming expense.

I roughly estimate that we spend between 7000-9000$ every winter in Alberta, not counting plane tickets. We rent a car, a condo, buy groceries, gas, go to restaurants and get other conveniences.

Without a diversified and appealing offer of ski trails, it will be goodby to Crazy Weed, Iron Goat, Communitea, Sage Bistro, Nourish Café, Rocky Mountain Bagel, Arts Place and others.

Think revenues as well as expenses!

               Wishing us all the best while you reflect upon it,   Sincerely   

Gaétan Turmel    Ste-Pétronille   Qc

Letter to the Alberta Government

This letter was sent to the minister of Environment and Parks by my friend Chip Scialfa. Chip says you can copy and paste any of the information from this letter if you wish to send your own. The email address for Jason Nixon is aep.minister@gov.ab.ca

******

August 21, 2020

Mr. Jason Nixon
Minister of the Environment and Parks
323 Legislature Building
10800 – 97 Avenue NW
Edmonton, AB
Canada T5K 2B6

Dear Mr. Nixon,

I am writing in regard to the provincial government’s decision to end winter trail maintenance in Kananaskis Country, but for that taking place at the Canmore Nordic Centre. I’ve written to you before on this issue, but I believe that it is important enough, to myself and many other Albertans, that my discouragement be expressed again. As well, I would like to present counterarguments to the decision because I don’t believe that you, in your role as MEP, have considered them adequately.

First, let me start with an assumption of the cost of this trail maintenance.  I do not have a verified estimate at hand and I have not seen any mention of costs in the government’s statements on the issue. However, Bob Truman, entrepreneurial developer and owner the most popular cross-country ski web site in Canada (and perhaps North America) has given me an estimate of $200, 000 per year. Intelligent discussions of this issue would benefit from an exact statement from your office, but lacking this, I’ll continue my comments with this assumed expense.

Second, to my knowledge, the government has not gathered data on current usage of the trail system. Without such information, it is not possible to make detailed, informed decisions about the costs and benefits maintaining the system. However, because of the importance of this issue, I’ll express my thoughts now, acknowledging the lack of critical information at the start. 

Since you were born in Calgary, you must know about the value of cross-country skiing to the people of southern Alberta. Thousands of people make regular use of this healthy winter activity and thousands more are introduced to the sport each year. With the closing of the trail system at Canada Olympic Park and the intermittent, weather-dependent nature of track-setting within the city, the trails in Kananaskis have provided the only nearby setting for the sport. If there were only 10,000 visits per year (not unreasonable given more than 120 skiable days per year in an area with a population exceeding 1.5 million), this would be a cost of only $20 per visit.

To put this in perspective, the population of Rimbey, a town you represent, is about 2,700 people. Would the government close its hospital, certainly much more costly than trail maintenance in Kananaskis.  There are at least 3 other hospitals in larger nearby population centres?

The health advantages to maintaining the trails are obvious: Cross-country skiing is one of the safest winter activities, with clear benefits to cardiovascular, musculoskeletal and mental well-being. It is accessible to people of all ages and abilities, including those who are visually challenged, as demonstrated in the programmes at William Watson Lodge. 

Relatedly, cross-country skiing (and, I will add, the growing sport of snowshoeing) makes our rather lengthy winters not just tolerable, but a season of excitement and enjoyment for many. In this age of rising obesity, diabetes and otherwise poor health, it seems short-sighted to reduce access to and support of these outlets. 

Permit me to change the topic to economics. Admittedly, it is a domain in which I am not trained and, as mentioned previously, the lack of data make sound economic decisions…difficult at best. This being said, I believe that your government has neglected or undervalued the economic benefits of maintaining the trail system. If it were not for track-setting at Ribbon Creek, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park and Mount Shark, there would be significantly fewer people visiting these areas from November until April every year. These people buy fuel and food at the services along Highway 40. They stay at William Watson Lodge, Kananaskis Mountain Lodge, Mount Engadine and various hotels in Canmore. They rent or buy equipment at outlets throughout the region. These are not just a few folks in Calgary: They come from a huge region of Canada and around the world specifically because of the trail system we have had in Kananaskis. 

Do I think that the elimination of trail maintenance will impact these economic benefits? Absolutely. Far fewer people are willing to visit an area without track-setting, compared to an area where well-maintained tracks, skating lanes and trails are absent. There are many reasons for this. Travelling through unpacked snow is much more strenuous, the light, narrow skis that are most popular are not really appropriate for ungroomed trails and the risk of injury from natural hazards (e.g., deadfall) is much greater. The latter is particularly true for children and older adults. 

In closing, along with many others, I am asking that you reconsider this decision. Failing to do that, I would ask (and good government demands) that you provide the people of Alberta with a detailed cost/benefit analysis surrounding the decision. But, since such an exercise, if done properly, would certainly cost more than maintaining the trail system in its current form, perhaps it’s more sensible to avoid the costs and electoral fallout and keep this provincial treasure in place.

Sincerely,

C.T. (Chip) Scialfa, Ph.D.

Emeritus Professor of Psychology

Kananaskis Grooming Update

The following update is from Nordiq Alberta:

 

Aug 2, 2020: Further to previously provided information, we are aware that Fortress Mountain Ski Resorts has now submitted a proposal to the Alberta Government to keep cross country alive and healthy in Kananaskis. This proposal is based on a groomed trail user fee program that would have the direct users contributing to the grooming service in the three ‘zones’: PLPP Pocaterra, Mt Shark, and Ribbon Creek / Kananaskis Village. To date, Fortress has not received a response from the Government (nor has there yet been any response to the letter from MLA for Canmore-Kananaskis, Miranda Rosin).

Chris Mueller from Fortress notes that “Our main hope is that the service continues into the future, regardless of what entity is delivering it, as the tourism value that is provided benefits all Albertans, visitors to our province, and the many businesses in the Kananaskis area that rely on the service.”

Grooming and trail maintenance in Kananaskis country

“In February of 2020, Albertans were met with surprise when the provincial government announced it would no longer be funding trail maintenance and grooming in three areas in Kananaskis Country: Ribbon Creek, Mt. Shark, and Peter Lougheed Provincial Park.”

There is now a website dedicated to this situation. Kananaskis Trail Grooming

Here is another website which gives some ideas on how to stop the loss of Alberta’s parks: I Use Alberta Parks

Finally…a cougar!

Cougar on Bobcat trail. Photo by Alf Skrastins

We’ve had many wildlife photos submitted over the years, but never a cougar…until today. The photo was taken by Alf Skrastins at West Bragg Creek.

Alf remarked… “As you can imagine, I was a bit too busy getting my bear spray out to take a second photo with better focus. And when it decided to go up into the forest above the trail, I was happy enough to go in the opposite direction.

The photo was taken on the Bobcat trail.

I did see a bobcat crossing one of the ski runs at Nakiska on Saturday, but it disappeared too quickly for me to get a photo.”

Chuck was skiing at Moraine Lake road today and took 13 excellent photos including the spectacular shot of the Valley of Ten Peaks below.  

The view from Moraine Lake road. Photo by Chuck

Below is a gallery of photos of the animals we’ve seen:

Still skiing

Photo by Alf Skrastins

May 6, 2020

Thank you to Alf Skrastins for the following report(click on the link to see 46 amazing photos):

It was a fine day for a loop tour from the Burstall valley, around Mt. Birdwood and out via the Commonwealth Creek valley. There was even some powder skiing! https://photos.app.goo.gl/DpCEr8BQ3yvHbjy19

As long as most people drive out to trailheads on their own, we can expect to see a lot more vehicles in those parking lots. For the most part, it is a sign that people are physically distancing for the drive out to the trails.