I am writing in response to the letter by Rod Gibbons published in The Pioneer on November 14th. I am a resident of Invermere, a self-employed ski and mountain guide who, at 66 years of age, still guides powder skiers and ski mountaineers, six to seven days a week all winter long. My private clients come mainly from Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Great Britain, Sweden, the USA and Canada. Some have done two trips a year with me for over 25 years now.
I have done extensive ski guiding with helicopters and without them, in Canada and in the Alps. My accomplishments as the only Canadian-born mountain guide with over 30 plus years of ski and mountain guiding in the Alps and my off-piste powder skiing adventures are well-documented. I have also guided powder skiers for CMH Heli-skiing in the Bugaboos, in the Cariboos and, during my last winter in 1981/82, as assistant manager at CMH Panorama Heli-skiing, long before it was called RK Heli-ski.
I believe thatthe statements made in the media by the RK Heli-ski employees should be seen as part of the campaign of intimidation that started with the lawsuit against the Jumbo Glacier Resort project following the Environmental Certificate of 2004. One should ask why, if the resort village were in an avalanche path, this was not brought up at that time a perfect opportunity lost.
The truth is that the RK representatives are equivocating between the location of the day lodge for the skiers, and the resort village itself. The day lodge is close to an avalanche path (but not in an existing avalanche path), but the risk is vastly exaggerated because one can easily see that the risk could be monitored or mitigated by skiing on the slopes, and with controlled avalanche release systems. The resort village itself happens to be not only outside the potential zone of influence of avalanches, but also where RK Heli-Ski has testified it does most of the skiing and pick ups because it is the most protected area of the entire upper Jumbo Creek Valley.
Regarding the difficulty of successful avalanche monitoring and protection as if it were a very uncertain art, I very much disagree. I wish to add that I also understand that Karl Ernst, an expert in avalanche danger mitigation in B.C., is among those who do not agree with Rod Gibbons. Avalanche prevention and mitigation is successfully practised at most ski areas in North America and in Europe, and it will be easy to do it successfully at Jumbo Glacier Resort where necessary, as in the other ski areas.
In my 30 plus years of guiding throughout the entire Alps, I have seen many alpine villages located in far more inhospitable avalanche terrain than that witnessed in Jumbo Creek. Just Google villages like Andermatt, Davos, Saas Fee, St. Christoph am Arlberg, Zuers and St. Anton am Arlberg, and Val dIsere in France, and the list goes on and on. These villages have survived for over hundreds of years with elementary mitigation measures and, as soon as they had explosives, they started to release threatening avalanches before they became harmful to their villages. Finally, let me note that Cliff Hotel at Snowbird in Utah was designed and is successfully operated at the bottom of a big avalanche path. There are innumerable examples of successful avalanche monitoring, prevention and mitigation where necessary, and a just a little more information will counter this disappointing intimidation campaign.
John W. Hogg
Member in good standing of the
Association of Swiss Mountain Guides