In 2013, Loni Klettl, along with a handful of Jasper winter enthusiasts, business owners, skiers and conservationalists penned a letter to Parks Canada’s then-CEO, Alan Latourelle.
In it, they decried Parks Canada’s plans to close off large sections of Jasper National Park to skiing in the name of caribou conservation.
“We know that the closure of these areas is being undertaken only because it is imperative that Parks Canada be seen to be doing something and not because there is a committed belief that the closures will result in the stabilization of the herd,” the letter said.
In hindsight, the letter was fairly presumptuous: the writers were projecting certainty that Jasper’s caribou herds were doomed no matter what. There was also a rather desperate tone.
“It’s not just wolves who prey on caribou,” it pleaded. “Calves fall prey to bears, wolverine and sometimes even eagles.”
But five years on, from a skiers’ point of view at least, it seems that sense of desperation was justified. Parks Canada did enact sweeping caribou closures across Jasper National Park. Following the Tonquin Valley/Portal Creek closures in 2009, delayed backcountry access was implemented in the Whistlers Creek area and the North and South Boundaries in 2013. Then, in late December 2014, came the stump that broke the skier’s binding, so to speak: the Maligne Valley, with its generous snowpack, safe, sub-alpine access and plentiful, panoramic views, was suddenly off-limits to humans. Nearly 100 years of ski history had come to a halt—from November to March, anyway. For those whose hearts sang when they thought of traversing the heady horizons of the Bald Hills, or their first reconnaissance over Evelyn Pass, or zipping down crazily on Jeffrey’s Creek, desperation had turned into devastation.
“I feel shackled,” Klettl wrote not long after the “Christmas closures” came down. “This park is trying to harness our wild spirit of exploration.”
To the credit of park managers of the day, the shutdowns did not come without efforts to find other skiable alpine areas not affected by conservation measures. In the wake of the closures, there was also considerable resources put into new ski offers in the valley bottom. Decoigne, a former warden station on the park’s west boundary, for example, was propped up as a cross country option. Grooming followed. Marmot Meadows at Whistlers Campground was rebranded as a winter “hub”—think skating, fire pits and skiing—and visitor experience personnel were consulting with local experts as to the viability of Pyramid Mountain and slopes above the Miette Hotsprings. As well, JNP’s then-Superintendent, Greg Fenton, accepted a proposal by two local skiers to turn a decrepit park asset into a ski cabin in the Miette Pass area. For a while, skiers held out hope that even without the Maligne Valley, skiing would still remain a priority for park managers.
Three years later, Decoigne is but a numb memory of frozen feet; an ambitious “expert” cross-country track in the sensitive aspen forest behind Marmot Meadows has been abandoned; and anyone still curious about Pyramid Mountain … well, they can go for it, if they have the legs and the lungs. As for the cabin proposal, as Klettl says, that document “fell into the meltwaters of the Miette.”
Klettl, Jasper’s loudest and proudest ski promotor, defender and writer, says that since the caribou closures and Parks Canada’s subsequent efforts at placating the winter user, alpine skiing and touring seems to have fallen off Jasper’s radar significantly. To emphasize her point, she notes that nowhere in the Maligne Lake section of JNP’s latest Winter Adventure Guide is the word “ski” to be found.
For their part, Parks Canada says its activity guides are designed to capture the imagination and spirit of a broad audience of current and potential visitors and that they are not meant to list every activity that can be practiced in the park.
“Skiing is possible in the Maligne Valley and skiers looking to access this more challenging ski experiences are welcome to visit the Visitor Information Centre or consult a variety of trail guide books written by experienced users,” communication staff said in an email.
Klettl knows this, of course, but wishes that Parks Canada would show some enthusiasm for the gains that she and other users made when places like Trapper Creek and Moose Lake were designated as ski destinations in the Maligne Lake area. Achieving those designations was a big deal for winter users when the closure boundaries were being drawn.
“That was a real score,” she said.
Instead, skiing in that area isn’t talked about—at least that she can see. Certainly the Winter Guide’s omission of the sport in the very place where Jasper’s powder pioneers first laid tracks indicates the park’s aloofness to the activity, she says.
“I think it’s intentional,” Klettl said. “For some reason they’ve chosen other things for people to come here to do.”
Bob Covey // firstname.lastname@example.org