By Daniel Katz, Bow Valley Crag & Canyon
Wednesday, November 23, 2016 1:43:53 MST PM
Sunshine Village Ski and Snowboard Resort says they are “shocked and dismayed” that Parks Canada is prohibiting parking along the Sunshine access road beginning next fall.
Last week, Parks sent a letter to the resort stating they are implementing a parking ban on the eight-kilometre stretch of roadway in the interest of public safety and to help address issues with vehicular congestion.
“Parking on the access road poses public safety risks to visitors who park their vehicles along it as this road was not built to safely accommodate parking and pedestrians,” said Christina Tricomi, communications officer with the Banff field unit, in a statement.
The resort has been utilizing the access road to accommodate extra cars for more than 35 years. Parking is allowed on one side of the road except in avalanche runout zones.
Sunshine Village operates a shuttle service that stops in 13 locations on the road to pick up and drop off resort guests, and vehicles driving on the road are managed by 13 flaggers on busy days.
Dave Riley, COO of Sunshine Village, says the resort has been trying to work with the federal agency for decades to try to come up with locations where they could expand their parking, including widening or terracing the road, only to have all of their proposals rejected.
“In the meantime, we’ve been forced to park on the road on our busy weekends and holidays,” he said, adding that areas such as Upper Lake Louise and Johnston Canyon also suffer from not having enough stalls for the number of vehicles which arrive on busy days. “This letter is very unfair singling out Sunshine Village because there are several locations within the park where parking on roads happens during peak times. The difference is, at Sunshine Village, we have a very large staff taking care of the safety aspects of it.”
The access road can accommodate parking for up to 500 vehicles, while Sunshine’s parking lot holds 1,600 cars. On weekends and holidays, when the resort is crowded, cars are often left parked on the road heading into Sunshine as drivers have no other options.
Banff resident and Sunshine pass holder Ben Heather says he regularly parks along the Sunshine Village access road when he arrives at the resort because the lot is usually full.
“We probably shouldn’t be on the side of the road, but with the amount of people who come into Banff, what else are you going to do?” he said.
Banff National Park superintendent Dave McDonough said a number of factors came into their decision to enact the ban.
“We need to look at the combination of snowy winter conditions, parked cars, the heavy traffic volume, buses and emergency vehicles, and pedestrians walking back and forth. It creates a safety hazard that we feel is not a sustainable solution to the long-term parking issues at Sunshine,” he said.
According to Riley, Parks Canada is provided with indemnification because the agency is covered by Sunshine Village’s insurance policy.
“They have virtually no exposure,” he said. “If they don’t understand that they are indemnified and there is an insurance policy that covers them, we’re going to work with them to help them understand that.”
McDonough says that Sunshine was warned by Parks Canada several times over the years that they would need to find alternatives to parking on the road.
“By allowing parking this year, and then implementing the elimination of parking on the access road in 2017, it provides them with a year to work on an alternate solution,” he said.
Riley stated the resort was never notified of a date by which it must come up with a solution to their parking woes. He is requesting that Parks extend the fall deadline because it is unrealistic, noting it took two years to get approval to replace the TeePee Town chairlift.
“We’re asking them to reconsider that because in a best-case scenario, if we all agreed where we would expand our parking today, we don’t think it can be done in 12 months because of the detailed environmental analysis, public scoping, the processes that have to be followed,” he said. “We think they’ve been too aggressive in putting a date on it of next fall.”
Riley indicated the resort has conceptually designed parking expansions both within the leasehold and down the access road.
“There are several locations that are in the setback of the road that aren’t in the designated wilderness that are suitable for small, satellite parking areas that are right on the access road,” he said. “There are more flat locations than we would need to find the right amount of parking to bring it into balance.”
McDonough stated that Parks Canada is committed to working with Sunshine to find long-term solutions to their parking challenges.