ASTRO TOURISTS ORBIT 'ROUND JASPER SHOPS
Louisa Balbi is a self-proclaimed space geek.
“I’m the type of person who likes to go out to see the night sky,” she said. “I’ve taken midnight excursions to see meteor showers and the northern lights.”
Not to mention, she’s a huge Chris Hadfield fan.
“I just think he’s in the elite of humankind,” Balbi laughed. “There aren’t that many people like him.”
All this is to say that when Balbi saw a Facebook ad for the Dark Skies Festival in Jasper starring Commander Chris Hadfield, she knew she had to attend.
“I looked into it and made the decision. Hadfield was definitely the big draw,” she said.
Balbi, 41, is a pharmacist from Kimberly, B.C. She and a friend made the not-insignificant six-hour drive to Jasper to take in the Friday night event and reacquaint themselves with the town. Originally from Calgary, Balbi had only been to Jasper once before.
But now she’ll be back again.
“It was a nice winter weekend,” she said. “We liked it, people were super friendly and the drive up was great.”
Balbi and her friend stayed in a local approved accommodation, had dinner, breakfast and lunch at local restaurants and—saving a bit of money by not paying a provincial sales tax—did a bit of shopping.
“We got some winter boots, some outdoor apparel,” she said.
Balbi is exactly the type of visitor Tourism Jasper is hoping to attract with its Dark Skies Festival.
“Astro tourism in general is gaining popularity,” said Nancy Gordy, media and PR specialist with Tourism Jasper.
While the event has grown exponentially in the past five years, its success is owed in huge part to the festival’s many volunteers, Gordy said.
“Without them, there simply wouldn’t be a festival,” she said.
Nicole Veerman was one such volunteer. The local newspaperwoman took a break from her editorial duties to clock in for three volunteer shifts over the weekend. She and 60 other volunteers, mostly from Jasper, took tickets, set up crafts and helped visitors experience the night sky viewing opportunities.
“We were super impressed with the number of volunteers who came out,” Veerman said.
Heading up the volunteer coordination duties was the Friends of Jasper National Park. Veerman, who sits on the board, said at Dark Skies, the benefits outweigh the work by a light year.
“It’s never a chore,” she said. “I got to do crafts with kids, I got to see Chris
Hadfield. It’s a pretty minimal amount of work for the amount of perks.”
And so what was the brightest star of the festival? As cool as the other programming was, for Veerman, it was all about the spaceman.
“He came into his own,” Veerman said. “He was joking and interacting with the crowd. You could tell he was going off script.”
Balbi agreed. After seeing her hero speak to the audience and relate to the crowd, she had a new appreciation for the international space station commander.
“His stories were incredible,” she said. “He was really personable.”
Even without Hadfield on the bill, however, Balbi said she’d be back for Dark Skies 2016.
“It was fun, it was relaxing. I’d definitely come again.”