33 miles West of Invermere, British Columbia, a group of investors appear to be closing down on the final legal steps to gain approval for construction of Jumbo Glacier Resort, a massive ski area with 14,640 skiable acres (Whistler/Blackcomb is 8,171 skiable acres), 23 chairlifts spanning four different glaciers, 5,627 vertical feet of skiing peaking out at nearly 12,000 feet, and summer skiing on Jumbo Glacier with 2,300 vertical feet of skiable terrain. On the site of what used to be a sawmill, a base village would be built with 5,500 beds on 272 acres. The project, which has been pushing down the approval pipeline since 1990, would require 20 years of construction activity estimated at $15-20 million a year.
The Jumbo glacier area has already seen some use by Canadian skiers, who tour in to access a backcountry hut or go heli-skiing, and by the Canadian race teams, who use snowcats to train on the glacier in the summer. But to us Americans at least, who are more reluctant than counterparts in many parts of the world (especially Europe, several of whose residents are investors in the project) to drop a load of skiing infrastructure onto pristine landscapes, the proposed numbers and scale of Jumbo Glacier Resort are pretty mind-boggling. The resort claims the project will create 800 full-time jobs once completed, which seems a rather low number given the massive scale of the resort.
Jumbo Glacier Resort moved one step closer to its final approval this fall when it was granted status as a Mountain Resort Municipality, despite having not a single resident. Beyond the normal environmental concerns that come up when dropping a Goliath 14,640 acre development into the middle of mostly untouched wilderness, the most troubling aspect of Jumbo Glacier Resort may be its marketing, which uses global warming to defend its value proposition:
"The most significant aspect of a warming trend for the Jumbo Glacier Resort project is that a change of a few degrees may substantially alter the conditions of the ski industry in Western Canada. It may render snow making uneconomic or ineffective and force skiing to occur only at higher elevations. If ski resorts at lower elevations were to become inoperable, a project like Jumbo Glacier Resort, with a base elevation of 1,700 metres and a top elevation of 3,400 metres, could become the only place in B.C. where it will be possible to ski on a consistent and economical basis."
The proposal is nothing if not contentious. The skiing potential is outrageously good, but the cost, and the idea of racing to develop a ski area because others will be rendered inoperable by global warming sets a pretty scary precedent. What do our readers think?