UBC Undergraduate Research

A sustainable ski resort? : tourism development in Valemount, BC Dengler, Lia 2013-04

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1   A Sustainable Ski Resort? Tourism Development in Valemount, BC Lia Dengler  Report prepared at the request of the Green Party of British Columbia in partial fulfillment of UBC Geography 419: Research in Environmental Geography, for Dr. David Brownstein.  April 2013 2  1 Executive summary  Tourism development is a hot topic in many small single industry towns in British Columbia. While a resort development can bring much needed economic stimulus to a stagnating resource economy, it also creates new challenges and fundamentally alters the nature of the community itself.  This research examines the sustainability of a proposed all-season ski resort development near the Village of Valemount, in the interior of British Columbia. It uses a literature review to try to discern the most common challenges and benefits associated with ski resort development, then evaluates the formal proposal against the 10 guiding principles of the Green Party of BC. However, it is important to note that this study is confined to a literature review, and without a consultation of stakeholders in the project, it may overlook current debates of local support or opposition related to this development.  While ski resort developments are often controversial and high impact, the Valemount Glacier Destination (VGD) proposal exhibits an unusually high stated commitment in environmental and social sustainability. However, more information, and time, is needed to see whether it can fully meet all the goals it claims to achieve. With respect to the 10 guiding principles, several are satisfied and several are not. According to the definitions provided by the Green Party, the resort fulfills the principles of social justice, non-violence, gender equality, and diversity. However, the principles of sustainability, personal and global responsibility, and ecological wisdom are not met. The principles of grass roots democracy, community based economy, and decentralization are uncertain, with evidence for both sides, and require more information to know with certainty if they are fulfilled or not. Therefore, it may be necessary to monitor the status of the project information as it becomes available to ensure the Green Party stance best reflects the actual development of the project.   3  2 Research question  Does the proposed Valemount Ski Resort Development satisfy the criteria of a “green” project, according to the 10 guiding principles of the Green Party of BC?  3 Project introduction  3.1 Study area Valemount is a small town located at the confluence of the Rocky, Caribou, and Monashee mountain ranges. It is very close to Mt. Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies, a popular destination for sightseers. It is 300 km SW of Prince George, and 120 km west of Jasper. Its relatively modest population of approximately 1100 is supported by a mix of forestry related activities, the public sector, transfer payments from senior governments, and tourism (Pheidias Project Management Corporation 2012b).  3.2 Project proposal The proposal is for a year round, four season glacier skiing and sightseeing resort. In the summertime, lifts will be used to access spectacular mountain views as well as high altitude glacier skiing. It is intended as a showpiece destination, designed to attract international guests and emulate the experience of the European Alps. It will feature the ski run with the longest patrolled vertical drop in the world, at 2400 metres, and will have a controlled recreation area of 20 000 acres, a ski run terrain of 2500 acres, and a total capacity at full build out of 12 000 people. At build out, it will also include a village base with up to 2 000 new bed units, approximately 10% of which will be designated employee housing, and several new restaurants. In addition to the ski lifts and sightseeing platforms, several other recreational facilities, including snowshoe and cross-country ski trails, a snow tubing area, and a full size hockey rink will be developed (Phedias Project Management Corporation 2012b).  3.3 Proponent information The proposed resort is designed by Oberti Resort Design, a well established architectural firm based out of Vancouver, and managed by Pheidias Project Management Corporation (PPMC), 4  which shares the same office. This partnership has been responsible for a number of resort proposals and developments in British Columbia, including the Kicking Horse Mountain resort near Golden, an expansion to Crystal Mountain near Kelowna, and the highly controversial Jumbo Glacier proposal near Invermere, BC. The Jumbo proposal has been controversial since its inception in 1990, and has recently been given the green light with the provincial approval of the Jumbo Resort Master Plan in November 2012 (Metcalfe 2013).  4 Literature review  Before evaluating a ski resort, it is important to have an idea of some of the common issues, challenges, benefits, practises and solutions with respect to sustainable ski resort and tourism development. While a more limited quantity exists specifically pertaining to Valemount, there is a large body of work on various facets of ski resort and tourism development in other areas. A brief literature review is provided here, presented within broad areas of environmental, social, and economic sustainability.  4.1 Environment Environmentally, ski resorts are known to generate numerous negative effects. These can include increased energy and water use, increased solid waste, increased emissions from transportation, deforestation, impacts on vegetation, fish, and wildlife habitat, air, sound, and visual pollution (Call 2012, Chipeniuk 2005, George 2003, Clifford 2002, Holden 1999, Good 1995). In face of such evidence, it is hard to argue that they create environmental benefits. However, in some cases, such as Jackson Hole, Wyoming, the environmental cost of a ski resort is seen as somewhat beneficial in that it is less detrimental than the environmental degradation that would have occurred had resource extraction continued in the area (Chipeniuk 2005).  While it is inherently almost impossible to incur zero environmental effects as a result of a new project, it is possible to minimize environmental impact through careful planning and adherence to existing guidelines. For ski resorts, an example of one such guideline is the Sustainable Slopes Charter developed by the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) in 2000 (NSAA 2005). Although it has been proven to be ineffectual in practise, due to the voluntary nature of the 5  guidelines (Rivera et. al 2006, George 2003), it does provide a comprehensive checklist of principles and practical options for reducing the environmental impacts of ski resorts throughout the construction and operation phases. In this document, the key areas of concern for ski resorts include: water and energy use, waste management, fish and wildlife, forest and vegetation, wetlands and riparian areas, air and visual quality, transportation, education and outreach, emphasizing the importance of reducing impacts across a range of environmental criteria as well as educating the public about them (NSAA 2005). Furthermore, in the long term, there is the consideration of climate change, and the uncertain effects on the ski industry (Scott et. al 2006, Holden 1999). While it is believed that the Valemount Resort is of a sufficiently high altitude to be unaffected by climate change for some time (PPMC 2012a), resorts in other areas such as the Northeastern United States are facing decreased ski season lengths, more variable snowfall, and an increased need for water resources for artificial snowmaking in as little as fifty years (Scott et. al 2006).  4.2 Social From the point of view of existing residents, there are several key social sustainability issues pertaining to resort development. Perhaps most importantly, is the disconnect that often exists between existing residents, the developer, and governmental agencies. There may be a real or perceived lack of control by local residents, and a fear that the resort developer, often a large corporation, will become the sole controlling factor in the community (Nepal 2008). To some extent, this can be mitigated if the ski resort lies within the municipal boundaries of the nearby town. This allows the municipality to collect property taxes and have more influence over the actions of the resort, but it also means they must provide municipal services such as electricity and water, which can be expensive (Nepal 2008). Furthermore, in the BC context, under the 2004 BC Resort Strategy and Action plan, the decisions of local governments with respect to resort development may in some cases be overridden if the provincial government deems the resort to be in the broader public interest (Chipeniuk 2005).  Some additional common social issues with ski resort development include the following:  Increased real estate prices and a higher cost of living (Nepal 2011, Chipeniuk 2005) 6   Out-migration of long-time residents to more affordable or undeveloped areas (Chipeniuk 2005, Nepal 2011)  Trends of counter-urbanization, rural gentrification, and the segregation of existing town and new resort community (Nepal 2011), changed social structures within the community (Nepal 2011, Clifford 2002)  Lessened sense of community and place (Chipeniuk 2005, Gill 1994)  Overwhelmingly, the literature points to the importance of community and stakeholder consultation when developing a tourism resort (Nepal 2008 and 2011, Aspinal et al 2011, Richins 2009, Chipeniuk 2005, Gill 1994). This would help develop a common ground between the developer, residents, local government and other authorities, and identify potential concerns and benefits. Ideally, there would be continued opportunity for public consultation throughout the resort process, and for some guarantee for this feedback to be incorporated. Richins (2009) provides a good example of a case study of extensive community consultation with respect to tourism planning in Noosa, Australia. This study uses an inclusive community based sustainability framework to evaluate and plan for ecological, cultural, economic and socio- community sustainability within the development of the community, and to establish a larger community vision. While the local context is clearly very different, and it is too early to measure the success of this particular model, it does provide a theoretical framework for evaluating and planning for long term sustainability in tourism development.  4.3 Economic Economically speaking, the creation of a ski resort will create jobs, during both the construction and operations phases, although jobs in the service industry tend to have relatively low wages (Clifford 2002). In the interest of economic diversification, developing a local tourism industry is a popular approach by many small resource-oriented towns in BC. Support is generally larger for multi-strand tourism projects (Nepal 2008), for otherwise they can effectively function like a single firm resource town. Especially in the early stages of resort development, it is easy to sacrifice residents’ quality of life in the interest of economic growth (Gill 1994).  7  However, it is important to consider the high capital cost of a ski resort, and how it is being financed. For large resorts, the capital cost is generally such that the small towns that host them cannot afford to pay the upfront cost of development, so the money tends to come from investors outside the community, which means the community has reduced control. While Valemount Glacier Destination  promotes itself as “well-positioned to capture a share of the world skier market” (PPMC 2012b pg. 176), trends across the North American ski industry as a whole show a lack of growth or even decline in the past 25 years (Clifford 2002). Stock prices of American ski companies have crashed in the late 1990’s to mid 2000’s, and while the large resorts seem to be growing, it is at the expense of the declining smaller hills. Of course, the larger resorts also have a higher capital investment and therefore a higher risk (Chipeniuk 2005). Often, there is a need to incorporate real estate development and other tactics to diversify the resort revenue stream in addition to lift tickets (Clifford 2002), however, this must be balanced with the social costs of uncontrolled tourism development.  Finally, there may be challenges arising from limited nature of small town planning and administration itself. In a study by Chipeniuk (2005) that surveyed 24 resort towns or resort towns to be in BC, Colorado, and Wyoming, it was found that in many cases, planners and administrators for small communities in the interior of BC do not fully appreciate the scale and complexity of the planning challenges associated with large scale resort development. Planners in smaller communities were generally less realistic about the about the impacts, benefits, and challenges of resort development compared to those in larger, more established centres such as Whistler and or Jackson Hole. As well, smaller communities may not have their own planning departments, leading to a disconnect if they are only served by planners from a larger regional district to which they belong. The author found many of these small town characteristics present in the Valemount case.  8  5 Evaluation of Resort Proposal against the Green Party Guiding Principles  Please note: unless stated otherwise, information in this section is quoted from the Valemount Glacier Destinations Formal Proposal document. The citations have been excluded for clarity and lack of repetition.  5.1 Sustainability Positives Negatives Principle met?  Proposed actions for sustainability and impact mitigation in the short term  Some partnerships and initiatives have the potential to continue into the future  Insufficient evidence and knowledge of planning for the very long term  Unknown environmental effects of climate change (ex. Scott et. al 2006)  Overall trends to declining ski industry (Clifford 2002) No  5.2 Social Justice Positives Negatives Principle met?  Development of tourism industry in wake of declining logging industry may provide economic opportunity to help more citizens fulfill their potential  Joint project ownership by the Simpcw First Nations in the initial stages  No documented instances of discrimination based on gender, race, citizenship or sexual identity  May also cause further challenges and inequity for some groups; some groups will undoubtedly profit at the expense of others  Additional challenges in transitioning from a resource to resort community (Gill 2000) but in this case, the transition is already well underway Most likely yes   9  5.3 Grass Roots Democracy Positives Negatives Principle met?  Valemount has taken a proactive approach to tourism development over the last 20 years,  In 2000, a community- based economic development strategy for Valemount affirmed the town’s interest in tourism development and explored various options for doing so (Pfister 2000).  Extensive public consultation and academic study for an earlier ski resort on Canoe Mountain, which was sidelined in 2008 (Nepal 2008, Pfister 2000)  Support from various community players including: the Mayor, Chamber of Commerce, Yellowhead Outdoor Recreation Association, Valemount Ski Society, Simpcw First Nation, local Snow-Cat Operator and tenure holder  Lack of information on intended citizen involvement in the construction and operations stages of the resort  Some lack of transparency in the resort planning process, for example, VGD formal proposal document is not publicly available  Developer involvement in Jumbo shows that in reality, residents are not always considered in the process  Uncertain   At this point, more information on the role of citizen involvement during the construction and operation phases of the resort is needed.  As well, residents’ attitudes to this particular iteration of a ski resort development near Valemount is currently unknown  5.4 Non-violence Positives Negatives Principle met?  Overall, community attitude to this resort proposal is relatively positive  Site selected partly due to its lack of irreconcilable local conflicts  Yes   Seems unlikely that violence would erupt as a result of this ski resort  No documented protests or excessively strong opposition 10   5.5 Community Based Economy Positives Negatives Principle met?  Resort development as a deliberate means of economic diversification and stimulus  Proposed partial ownership and investment in the initial project stages by local Simpcw First Nations  Potential for an additional  First Nations resort base at full build out  Investors have not yet been announced – potential for foreign or non-local control  Conflict with Canadian Mountain Holidays Heli-Skiing tenure area  Limitations on local control due to provincial regulations (Chipeniuk 2005)  Local officials and planners may not fully appreciate the scale and complexity of a large ski resort development (Chipeniuk 2005) Uncertain   Need for further information to make a decisive recommendation, due to the high importance of this principle  5.6 Gender equality Positives Negatives Principle met?  Evidence of cooperation and consultation in non- gender related issues related to this project  No known issues with unfair hiring processes, discrimination, etc.  Limited information on hiring practises of developer  Sometimes there is only information if there is a problem with gender equality yes  5.7 Diversity Positives Negatives Principle met?  Considerations for wildlife  Considerations for aboriginal groups  No known major issues with cultural, sexual, or racial discrimination in the study area  Limited information with respect to the true scope of biological and human diversity within the study area yes  11  5.8 Decentralization Positives Negatives Principle met?  Community first approached consulting company to investigate the possibility of a skiing destination, not the other way around  Applied for extension of municipal boundary in 2008 to gain more control over the Canoe Mountain resort development  March 2012, Valemount Ski Society conducts a signature campaign, which resulted in over 500 signatures in support of the project  Support from community players in Valemount including: the Mayor, Chamber of Commerce, Yellowhead Outdoor Recreation Association, Valemount Ski Society, Simpcw First Nation, local Snow- Cat Operator and tenure holder  Currently, province can virtually override local decisions with respect to tourism development (Chipeniuk 2005)  Provincial mandate to promote tourism development and economic growth (Chipeniuk 2005, Pfister 2000)  Unclear if the Village of Valemount has applied for a boundary extension to encompass the current proposal on Mt. Arthur Meighen  Invermere experience with the Jumbo Resort proposal by the same company, which was approved by the province in November 2012 and is proceeding despite very considerable local opposition and a lack of consultation throughout the process  Uncertain   Will need to wait and see how the power distribution actually plays out in practise.  Potential to go either way, depending on the actions of the province and the developer   12  5.9 Personal and global responsibility Positives Negatives Principle met?  “Tourism development involves 3 sectors: government, business, non-profit or non- government organisations” (Pfiester 2000)  Partial shared ownership between the First Nations and the developer   Unclear as to the role interest groups other than First Nations will play in the development  Hard to justify sustainability and justice at an international level based off a resort that will only affect a certain small region No   Insufficient evidence that responsibility will be shared among all levels of society  5.10 Ecological Wisdom Positives Negatives Principle met?  Environmental management stated as a planning priority  Goal: Minimize energy use, development footprint, responsible water management, tertiary wastewater treatment, minimize wildlife impacts, waste, motorized travel, visual and social impacts, include an education component; maximizing guests’ appreciation of the natural environment  “The resort base will be kept small to minimize its environmental impact and remain below the thresholds of the lengthy Environmental Assessment Act review process (pg 22)  Stated goals provide a clear set of ideals, however, an in depth environmental assessment of the impacts will only occur in the Master Planning Phase.  The All Seasons Resort Guidelines legislative framework, which will review the Master Plan should it remain below the thresholds for a full EA, is biased towards economic development  Several Old Growth Management Areas and wildlife corridors are located within the study area  No   Inherently impossible to have a project with zero impacts  However, may be possible to minimize impacts through careful adherence to existing guidelines  Based on the assessment in the Jumbo Glacier Master Plan (PPMC 2010), the assessment is likely to be extensive.  13  6 Recommendations  In conclusion, my recommendations to the Green Party of BC are as follows:   It is recommended that the Green Party does not actively oppose the Valemount ski resort development, unless information surfaces which would make this course of action desirable.  Certain sections of the guideline evaluation matrix are incomplete, and will depend on how promises and theory turns into action. It is recommended that the Green Party actively monitor the progress of the resort development, and be willing to adapt their policy stance as necessary.  In terms of the ecological impact of the resort, it is recommended that the Green Party wait to see the results of the more thorough environmental assessment that will be conducted as part of the Master Planning Process, should the formal proposal be approved, before proclaiming the environmental woes or benefits of the project.  If more information is desired from the perspective of the Village of Valemount administrators, it may be beneficial for the Green Party to speak directly to the Village of Valemount. This may also help win political support from citizens in the Valemount area.      w.c. 3 360. 14  7 Works Cited  Aspinall, A., Cukier, J., & Doverstein, B. (2011). Quality of Life Assessments and Social Sustainability: Ski Tourism Development in Invermere, British Columbia. Journal of Environmental Assessment Policy and Management 13(2), 179-201. Call, A. (2012). Sustainable Ski Resorts in the State of Utah: Working Toward the Future. (Masters thesis). Utah State University, Logan, Utah. Chipeniuk, R. (2005). Planning for the Advent of Large Resorts: Current capacities of interior BC mountain communities. Environments Journal 33(2), 57-69. Clifford, H. (2002). Downhill Slide: Why the Corporate Ski Industry is bad for Skiing, Ski Towns, and the Environment. San Fransisco: Sierra Club Books. George, A. (2003). Managing ski resorts: perceptions from the field regarding the sustainable slopes charter. Managing Leisure 8(1). 41-46. Gill, A. (2000). From growth machine to growth management: the dynamics of resort development in Whistler, British Columbia. Environment and Planning A 32 (2000), 1083-1103. Good, R. (1995). Ecologically Sustainable Development in the Australian Alps. Mountain Research and Development 15(3), 251-258. Holden, A. (1999). High Impact Tourism: A Suitable Component of Sustainable Policy? The Case of Downhill Skiing Development at Cairngorm, Scotland. Journal of Sustainable Tourism 7(2), 97-107. Metcalfe, B. (2013, March 21). A Jumbo Summer Ahead. The Tyee. Retrieved from http://thetyee.ca/News/2013/03/21/Jumbo-Glacier-Resort/. National Ski Areas Association. (2005). Sustainable Slopes: The environmental charter for ski areas. Nepal, S. K. (2008). Residents' Attitudes to Tourism in Central British Columbia, Canada. Tourism Geographies: An International Journal of Tourism Space, Place and Environment 10(1), 42-65. Nepal, S. K. & Jamal, T.B. (2011). Resort-induced Changes in Small Mountain Communities in British Columbia, Canada. Mountain Research and Development 31(2), 89-101. 15  Pfister, R. (2000). Tourism as a Community-Based Economic Development Strategy: The Village of Valemount Experience. Prince George, BC. Phedias Project Management Corporation. (2010). Jumbo Glacier Resort Master Plan. Vancouver, BC: Glacier Resorts Inc. and Pheidias Project Management Corporation. Phedias Project Management Corporation. (2012a). Valemount Glacier Destination Project Introduction. Vancouver, BC: Valemount Glacier Destinations Ltd. and Pheidias Project Management Corporation. Phedias Project Management Corporation. (2012b). Valemount Glacier Destination Formal Proposal. Vancouver, BC: Valemount Glacier Destinations Ltd. and Pheidias Project Management Corporation. Richins, H. (2009). Environmental, cultural, economic and socio-community sustainability: a framework for sustainable tourism in resort destinations. Environ Dev Sustain 11, 785- 800. Rivera, J., Leon, P., & Koerber, C. (2006). Is Greener Whiter Yet? The Sustainable Slopes Program After Five Years. The Policy Studies Journal 34(2), 195-221. Scott, D., McBoyle, G., Minogue, A., & Mills, B. (2006). Climate Change and the Sustainability of Ski- based Tourism in Eastern North America: A Reassessment. Journal of Sustainable Tourism 14(4), 376-398.  8 Works Consulted  Collins, Alan. (1999). Tourism Development and Natural Capital. Annals of Tourism Research 26(1), 98-109. Flagestad, A., Hope, C.A. (2001). Strategic success in winter sports destinations: a sustainable value creation perspective. Tourism Management 22, 445-461. Pröbstl, U. (2006). Proceedings from CORP International Conference on Urban Planning and Regional Development in the Informational Society: Ecological improvement and sustainable development in European skiing resorts by adapting the EU-Eco-Audit. Recommendations of the BC Resort Task Force. (2004). Report presented to Sandy Santori, Minister of State for Resort Development. Web.


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