A study which heaps praise on the Alpine Club of Canada’s backcountry huts has potential lessons for a Jasper ski cabin proposal.
“The [ACC] hut system received rave reviews from key informants…all over the world,” said Mary Benjamin, a specialist in environmental management and visitor experience.
Benjamin was a presenter at the recent Thinking Mountains conference, held over four days at the Sawridge Inn. The University of Alberta-led symposium brought mountain experts from all over the world to promote dialogue about how mountains, and those who interact in them, are understood.
Benjamin’s paper viewed Canada’s mountain parks through the lenses of mountaineers and ski tourers. The rich repository of mountaineer literature and the fact that most mountaineers spend days at a time experiencing the parks they visit gave Benjamin a strong, qualitative data set, she said.
“Mountaineers generally have really protracted experiences with the environment,” she said. “It makes it interesting to manage for them.”
Benjamin’s paper made 31 recommendations to management bodies such as the ACC and Parks Canada. With respect to alpine huts in mountain parks she believes there is room for limited expansion—but not just because mountaineers benefit from them.
“[The ACC hut system] seems to support the experience of a variety of user groups,” she said.
In January, The Jasper Local reported on two local skiers’ proposal to build a new ski cabin near Rink Lake, in the northwest corner of Jasper National Park. Since then, Dana Ruddy and Sean Elliott have formed a non-for-profit club to help execute that plan.
Last week, the club submitted a revised proposal to Parks Canada. The new version updated the proposed cabin’s location and acknowledged the group is talking about an area which could lie in critical caribou habitat.
Benjamin, who hadn’t heard details of the proposal, offered that apart from wildlife concerns, the proponents ought to be considering a broader base of users than skiers alone. Despite growing numbers of backcountry skiers in the mountain parks, shrinking budgets at Parks Canada has meant that the federal agency can’t afford to manage for one small user group.
“Financial restrictions dictate they focus on more common user groups—hikers, bikers, tent campers and snowshoers,” she said.
Moreover, Parks Canada is more likely to partner with a group with whom they are already meeting their mandates, Benjamin said. At the February 26 Rink Lake presentation, the proponents were resistant to the suggestion that they form a coalition with the ACC.
Benjamin, however, considered it a potential way forward.
“I wonder if the best way to get another hut approved would be to make sure other people—hikers, skiers, climbers—can use it and access it relatively easily,” she said.