Jasper’s Marmot Basin has announced plans to open one of the slopes above Whistlers Creek to off-piste skiing this winter. The Tres Hombres slope is part of Marmot’s leasehold but outside its present developed footprint.
In 2007 the Marmot Basin Strategic Environmental Assessment including site guidelines for future development and use of Marmot’s leasehold was made public. It theorized that off-piste skiing in the Outer Limits and Tres Hombres area could influence caribou use of habitat in and around Whistlers Creek valley and could result in the disturbance of caribou outside the boundary. Because of these concerns it was decided that any proposed development in this area should be determined by a Caribou Risk Assessment.
The 160-page Tonquin Caribou Risk Assessment, by University of Alberta caribou specialists, was completed in 2014. It pointed out that all the Whistlers valley slopes are part of the endangered Tonquin caribou herd’s range and stated clearly: New developments within the Tonquin range could exacerbate current conditions, and therefore would not be consistent with the need for active recovery efforts to address threats to the rapidly declining Tonquin caribou population.
Off-piste skiing has been carried on in the Tres Hombres area by a few hardy skiers each winter if snow conditions are favourable. However, this announcement by Marmot designating five expert runs on the slope and the installation of fencing and gates appears to be an increase in development.
Will there be an increase in avalanche control for this official ski slope? There are bound to be people with limited skiing ability who will be tempted to use these listed runs; what plans are there for the evacuation of casualties? What is there to stop skiers from continuing down to Whistlers Creek that is a closed area until February 16th each year to protect caribou from ingress by wolves taking advantage of ski tracks?
Because Tres Hombres is within its leasehold Marmot may feel within its rights to use the area but considering the plight of this struggling caribou herd is it not incumbent on Parks Canada under the Species at Risk Act to require that Marmot stay inside its present developed footprint?
Jasper Environmental Association