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Alberta Alberta conservationist says Olympic skiing an ‘inappropriate activity’ for Banff National Park

Skiers leave the resort after a power failure shut down all operations at the women's World Cup downhill ski race at Lake Louise, Alta., on Dec. 2, 2017.

Jeff McIntosh/THE CANADIAN PRESS

A well-known Alberta conservationist says the idea of holding alpine skiing in Banff National Park as part of a potential Calgary Olympic bid is bad and shouldn't even be discussed.

"This is not a debate. This is a bad idea," said Harvey Locke, a Banff resident who is an expert on national parks, wilderness and wildlife. "The very idea that someone could provoke a conversation about an inappropriate activity in a national park – and then say we have to debate it – is wrong.

"We have to reject it."

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The director of Calgary's 2026 bid exploration project has suggested that Canadians need to have a "philosophical conversation" about whether Lake Louise would be an appropriate venue for an Olympic event.

There are concerns related to the environmental effects of holding Olympic events in a national park. It's a decision that would ultimately have to be made by the federal government if Calgary were to go ahead with such a proposal as part of a bid.

Jonathan Wilkinson, parliamentary secretary for federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, said there's been no formal proposal from the bid committee.

"Any proposal that would be brought forward would have to be considered in the context of our formal commitment to ecological integrity," he said. "Without a proposal, it's not possible for Parks Canada to make any judgments about whether or not this event could occur at Lake Louise."

Wilkinson said the federal government has reached out to the bid committee to see what a proposal might involve.

Lake Louise holds annual World Cup men's and women's downhill skiing, but it has never played host to an Olympic event. Alpine skiing was held at the Nakiska ski resort, just outside the national park, during the 1988 Calgary Games.

Environmental concerns range from protecting wildlife to management of additional visitors to the requirement for new infrastructure.

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Wilkinson said all of those would need to be considered by the federal government.

"It would have to fit in the context of not further disturbing the existing environment there," he said. He noted that significant additional infrastructure could be problematic.

Locke said the Lake Louise Ski Resort has tried to build at its base in the past.

"The opportunity to force staff housing, athlete housing, media housing at the bottom of the ski hill is the wedge that they can drive to try to create that," he said. "Ski hills are like being in the real– estate business – that's actually how they make most of their money."

A spokesman for the ski resort said it would be happy to have a discussion with the Calgary bid committee and the federal government about holding Olympic events.

"We hold the World Cup races every year," said Dan Markham. "We certainly believe we can manage quite well putting those events on, as well as a lot of events that didn't occur in the '88 Olympics – things like slopestyle events and ski cross."

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He suggested it's premature to talk about whether the ski resort would need additional accommodations or facilities.

"We couldn't tell you that until we actually get a chance to see what they are interested in doing for hosting," said Markham.

Locke pointed to Canmore, a town just outside the park, that hosted nordic events in 1988.

"It has had a real-estate boom ever since," he said. "There's no reason that pressure wouldn't be put on Lake Louise."

There's simply no room for more development in Banff National Park, Locke added.

"The problem we have in Banff park is that we already have a park that's bursting at the seams," he said. "We need to be moving the other direction, taking pressure off Banff park."

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Locke suggested the federal government needs to dismiss any talk of holding Olympic events in the national park immediately.

"It was a bad idea in the late '60s when it came up and killed Calgary's Olympic bid. It came up again in the '80s, and Calgary only succeeded in its Olympic bid because there was a commitment to have the events at Nakiska (outside the park).

"And now here we go again. We are talking about having it in Lake Louise in 2026. It's another bad idea."

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