Avalanche Exposure at Jumbo Glacier Resort

The Jumbo Glacier Resort proper, the overnight tourist accommodation, has been designed and is located in a portion of the Jumbo Valley that is NOT subject to avalanche risk, as confirmed by every review and study since 1990.

However, as is common in mountainous regions and at many resorts in North America and around the world, the resort’s daylodge and service buildings are partially located in avalanche zones according to the latest interpretations and standards developed by the Canadian Avalanche Association (CAA). This was indicated in a recent avalanche study done by Alan Jones of Dynamic Avalanche Consulting.

The daylodge is partially located in a white zone, in which there is little or no avalanche danger, and partially in a blue zone, in which there is minor or moderate avalanche exposure (assuming there is no avalanche control). Buildings such as daylodges are permissible in blue zones according to the standards.

The service building is partially located in a red zone, in which inhabited structures are not permissible according to the CAA, and partially in a blue zone. The service building will be an uninhabited storage building

The Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) of British Columbia has issued a stop work order on both structures based on the fact that the project’s environmental certificate contains a condition in which no structures can be built in avalanche zones.  This is a black and white interpretation of a commitment that was drafted in the 1990’s based on avalanche mapping of the time (which shows that the buildings are not in avalanche zones).  In order to resume construction of the two buildings, the proponent will ask for an amendment to the condition to better reflect present-day standards and current technology and mitigation practices.

The report by Dyanmic Avalanche Consulting was commissioned by the Glacier Resorts (the proponent) at the request of the EAO and its findings did not come as a surprise.

The location of the daylodge and of the service building had to be changed at last minute from the location in the master plan. Those on site relocated them according to prudent judgement and available avalanche mapping under the threat of a pending October 14, 2014 construction deadline imposed by the EAO.

The contractors working for Glacier Resorts Ltd. were not permitted and able to re-establish access to the resort site until when a new temporary bridge on Jumbo Creek was re-established, and construction of a permanent access could start.  Permission was granted on August 20th, 2014, after freshet closure.

The temporary bridge needed prior to the installation of a permanent bridge was opened at the end August. The surveyors and construction crew moved in at the beginning of September and discovered that aerial photography and surveys had failed to identify a small creek that crossed the intended dayldoge site under the dense forest and shrubs that had regrown since the previous logging operations.

Since the option of diverting the creek would have required new permits that would not have been available in time to meet the October 14th deadline for start of construction, a relocation and redesign of siting was immediately necessary.

The available land lease and zoning only extended to the north side of the planned location, closer to the Wolverine (more recently named Pink Panther by the heli-ski company) and the Karnak avalanche paths shown in the master plan drawings. The people on site relied on the master plan avalanche mapping and on the evidence of tree cover matching the avalanche mapping to prudently locate and survey a new site for the daylodge and the service building. The chairlift departure station and planned alignment were not affected by the newly identified creek or by avalanche paths.

The drawings were revised and resubmitted for permits, based on the available avalanche mapping and on the expertise of the project team, which indicated without a doubt that following the opening of the ski area any avalanches would have been smaller, not larger, because of planned and effective mitigation measures such as bombing — similar to those of other ski areas. The crew on site cut the trees blocking the view of Glacier Dome, unknowingly preparing the ground for the wrong optics of the controversy that soon followed.

Following the controversy generated by the heli-ski company, claiming that avalanche size was greater than predicted in the mapping prepared for the master plan, and that the daylodge was in an avalanche zone, expert reports were prepared to determine what was the substance of the heli-ski claim.

The expert reports indicated firstly that the daylodge was not located where the heli-ski company’s report and images had made it appear to be relative to the Pink Panther avalanche that they triggered in 2009, and disclosed to the public following the daylodge construction. More importantly the expert reports indicate that according to the new classification of avalanche risk (previously avalanche risk was classified with a single boundary line) the daylodge is in part in a blue zone. The service building is partly in a red zone, and despite the fact that location has not been hit by avalanches that demolished the trees in front of it, and despite the fact that the local team knew that once the ski area operations start the avalanche risk of the service building will be mitigated, the developer, Glacier Resorts Ltd., will respect the determination of a 30 to 300 year risk occurrence and will not use the service building in winter.  Regarding the daylodge and the occurrence of risk:

A) The Blue Zone is an area of potential (moderate) avalanche risk that is located between the red (high risk) and white (low risk) avalanche zones. The Day Lodge is located at the far end of the Blue Zone where it could only be affected by infrequent, low impact pressure powder snow avalanches, which limits the risk.


B) It is safe and it must be permissible to build a daylodge in a Blue Zone with application of avalanche risk mitigation measures that reduce the risk to people and structures to an acceptable (low) risk level. 

There is an abundance of industry examples of buildings in ski areas and of mitigation techniques that support the above noted points.

Regarding the political aspects of the controversy, and what we hear is being said in the British Columbia legislature, anyone who stands for justice should be surprised that the NDP Opposition seems to ask the Government to stop this project when in fact Glacier Resorts Ltd., the proponent, was invited and encouraged to do this project by three NDP governments, and went through the East Kootenay CORE Table land use approval and most of the EA Act process under those governments. It was the Opposition’s government that granted the Interim Agreement, guaranteeing the Master Development Agreement subject to a Master Plan approval for this project.