A small Indian band with a strong focus on independent business development could be one of the big winners in a decision by the British Columbia government to grant approval for a major new ski resort just west of the Rockies.
"The phone is already ringing off the hook. People want to talk to us about joint ventures. And a contingent [of investors]from France is coming to visit us next week," Dean Martin, CEO of the Kinbasket Development Corporation, said Wednesday.
The KDC is the business arm of the Shuswap Indian Band, which has 300 members living on reserve near the town of Invermere (pop. 3,000) in southeastern B.C.
The Ktunaxa First Nation, an umbrella organization made up of seven regional bands, including the Shuswap, is opposed to the development. But the Shuswap have taken a different stand, and are the closest band to the proposed site of the new Jumbo Glacier Resort.
The controversial, $900-million project was approved by the government Tuesday, after two decades of review and debate.
Environmental groups were arguing for preservation of the site, which is revered in the East Kootenays because of its spectacular wilderness scenery and wildlife values.
But Mr. Martin said the Shuswap Band began supporting the project eight years ago after carefully reviewing the proponent's plans, and concluding the resort could be built without undue environmental damage.
"We knew if there were any negative impacts we'd most likely be the ones affected because of our proximity," he said. "So we made sure our interests were being addressed."
Mr. Martin said the KDC is involved in commercial and residential developments, has a construction company, runs a golf course, has a forestry operation and is interested both in helping to build the Jumbo Resort and in securing land within the planned alpine village.
"We're more than just lift operators. We look forward to playing a significant role in this project," Mr. Martin said.
The project would see a 104-hectare resort community built in Jumbo Valley, about 55 kilometres west of Invermere, just north of the Purcell Wilderness Conservancy and about a four-hour drive from Calgary.
The plan calls for two hotels, 1,360 residential units, 6,250 beds and more than 20 ski lifts onto the slopes and glaciers above.
The Jumbo Glacier master plan says the goal is to build the only ski resort in North America with lift access to a glacier and with year-round skiing "of such a calibre that it will be spoken of with the same awe as heli-skiing in the Bugaboos or vacationing in Zermatt, Switzerland."
The plan promises "a boutique-sized, high-quality resort designed in an authentic mountain character in accordance with sustainable development principles … and supported by a first nations heritage theme."
It would also feature a gondola and aerial tram, to give access to a teahouse atop Glacier Dome, 3,000 metres above the valley floor.
The loss of the wilderness atmosphere on Jumbo Mountain, and the potential impact on grizzly bears and other wildlife in the valley, have long fuelled criticisms from environmental groups. One of the leading opponents, Wildsight, has promised to continue the fight.
But Bill Bennett, the local Liberal MLA, said he thinks the project will be good for the economy of the region without having any significant environmental impact.
"Yes, there will be a gondola and teahouse on top of that mountain," Mr. Bennett said. "I know how that gets people who hike up there and enjoy the wilderness. I get it. I hike too, but there is an issue of fairness to the general public in terms of what they get to see, and where they get to go. This gives them a chance to get up there and see the Lake of the Hanging Glaciers, and experience what is an exceptional view."
Mr. Bennett said he expects Jumbo will be unique when it is finished, built along the lines of a tightly contained European ski resort, rather than the North American model which is based on ever-increasing condo development.