British Columbia doesn’t need another mega-resort; British Columbia needs glaciers and grizzly bears.
By Assistant Editor Kiran Herbert
For most people, the idea of wilderness is just that, an idea. Often, when we camp our cars are close by, and when we’re truly in the middle of nowhere—where the landscape is unmarred by industrialization—we’re in a commercial airliner. Wild places like the Jumbo Valley, nestled deep in British Columbia’s Purcell Mountains, a core habitat for grizzly bears, with no roads, and a human population of zero, are increasingly rare.
That’s not to say that the Jumbo Valley sees no visitors. Also known as Qat’muk, the valley is sacred to the Ktunaxa Nation indigenous peoples, who’s members visit throughout the year and believe the land is where the grizzly bear spirit was born, goes to heal itself, and returns to the spirit world. The remote valley ringed by 10,000-foot peaks is also a beloved backcountry skiing destination for those willing to pay for a helicopter tour, or fit enough to navigate the tedious 10-hour plus backcountry approach through avalanche run-out zones.
For the past 24 years, however, a group of investors has lobbied to develop a year-round $1 billion destination ski resort in Jumbo Valley—23 lifts! 14,826 acres! Access to four glaciers! Better skiing than the Alps! 5,627 feet of vertical!—despite overwhelming opposition from just about everyone, including many prominent Canadian skiers.
It’s estimated that it could take up to 50 years to complete the construction of Jumbo Glacier Resort, a time period that flouts the science of climate change: The glaciers, in case you haven’t heard, are melting. The proposed resort is also a two-hour drive from the 3,000-person town of Invermere, making construction and eventually skier travel to and from what will be North America’s largest ski area even more taxing on the land. And it should be readily apparent to other Canadian ski area operators that such a massive destination will only serve to siphon visitors away from BC’s under-capacity resorts. For Leslie Anthony, a writer, editor, biologist, skier, and photographer based in Whistler, “Even the most minimal environmental impact to this pristine area couldn’t be justified by the most optimistic economic outcome.”
All this serves as backstory and backdrop to Jumbo Wild, a Patagonia-backed documentary by Sweetgrass Productions to premiere in Invermere on October 6, followed by a North American film tour.
The film is part of Patagonia’s The New Localism, an initiative to inspire global audiences to get involved in local environmental threats. Although Jumbo Wild is undoubtedly anti-development, the film is also balanced in it’s reporting, offering insights from the likes of Oberto Overti, the Vancouver-based architect at heart of the Jumbo Glacier Resort project. The debate forces viewers to ask, regardless of where they live, how we as recreationists can reconcile protection of and access to our mountains. For Director Nick Waggoner, “The battle is about much more than a ski resort—it’s about ideology.”
While filming Waggoner and his crew were especially conscious of their environmental footprint, preferring to film by ski tour so as to minimize impact and better absorb the forested landscape, a sea of momentous white peaks and sky. “I encourage anyone who is for developing the Jumbo Valley to take a walk up there,” says Backcountry Skiing Canada editor and BC resident Andrew Creighton, “It’s breathtakingly sublime and pristine. Imagining machines, buildings, lifts, and noisy people on that terrain may change your mind.”
And now for some good news: This summer, BC’s Environment Minister Mary Pollack rescinded the development entity’s Environmental Assessment Certificate (EAC), necessary for construction, on the grounds that the project had not been sufficiently started within the allocated timeframe; so far, the resort has only built the preliminary foundation for its base lodge. It was a huge win for all those involved in the struggle against the resort, but not the end. The Jumbo Glacier Resort group continues to push forward with new plans to bypass the environmental review process and resume construction. Meanwhile, the Canadian government has shown no signs that it’s moving to permanently protect the land.
The editorial team at Mountain magazine stands with the collected opponents of the Jumbo Glacier Resort, including the Ktunaxa Nation: “We are happy to have visitors to the area to experience the beauty,” says Ktunaxa Nation Council Chair Kathryn Teneese, while emphasizing that her tribe’s spiritual concerns, the health of the grizzly population, and climate change are nonnegotiable. She continues, “We will remain steadfast in our opposition to any development that includes permanent habitation of the area.”
See for yourself: For those who don’t live in any of the mountain towns privy to a screening, Jumbo Wild will be available for purchase through Vimeo and iTunes on December 11. A shorter version of the film will be available on Patagonia.com on October 12. Visit Keepitwild.ca to join the cause.