This is the Life: Jumbo is a downhill business decision

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When I dipped into media coverage of the B.C. government’s approval of the Jumbo Glacier Resort ski development I didn’t come across anything that surprised me. The anti-crowd was still against and the (much smaller) pro-group was still for.

Twenty years to get to a decision is a remarkably long time because that means for two decades there have been too many reasons for the government in power not to give the application a go-ahead. I wonder what the current brain trust believes has changed?

During my reading of the news coverage, I found myself dismissing the opinions of skiers who also call themselves environmentalists. These are the folks who drive all over hell’s half-acre to get towed upward to mountaintops, but then complain about just about anything else that has a negative environmental impact. I also decided to ignore the folks who just want another place to ski, damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead.

Still, though, I was left with plenty of questions. Why would a government that from all appearances is on shaky ground come the next election choose to pick a fight with the Ktunaxa Nation, which considers Jumbo to be sacred ground and vows to anything it takes to stop the project? Have Premier Clark and her cabinet decided its only hope lies with the urban vote, one that is more likely to ignore the obvious environmental impact of the development and to dismiss the clear (the polls I found all found Kootenay residents to be at least 65 per cent against it) sentiments of Kootenay residents? Or maybe it was just as simple as a ruling party seeing an opportunity to deep-six MLA Bill Bennett, a constant thorn in its side, for once and for all.

I kept coming back to Steve Thompson, Minister of Forest, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (note the key addition of the word “operations” to the title), and his claim that his approval proves that the province is open for business.

Of course the province should be open for business, and to business. Without jobs the economy dies, so it’s a bit of a motherhood and apple pie argument.

But should the province be open to bad business? That, I think, is the real question.

I suspect demographic expert David Foote would be shaking his head in wonder. Don’t you people understand, he might ask, that the proportion of the population that is fit enough to downhill ski is declining as precipitously as the vertical drop Jumbo developers boast about? A decade ago, he was warning about the wisdom of investing in ski developments. Nothing has changed, at least to my mind, that would make them a haven for smart money today. Add to that the climate change that seems likely to reduce the length and reliability of the traditional ski season and the result is that we are proposing to embark on a process of attracting dumb money into an extremely controversial project.

There is ample evidence to suggest that a $1 billion ski development won’t do a lot for the economy, at least in the longer term. No one is going to existing ski hills in the Kootenay and Columbia region and coming home frustrated because they couldn’t get a day’s skiing in due to a lack of space on the slopes. And there is little evidence that I have found to suggest that Jumbo will draw an entirely new group of enthusiasts to the area. No, the business, at least on the ski hill, will simply come at the expense of others already in operation, and most of them have been in financial difficulty at least once in the past couple of decades.

So the true net benefit to Jumbo is a gorgeous area for people with plenty of cash to spend, who can afford to buy a high-end condo or build a second or third very expensive home, many of which will be used for no more than a handful of weeks each year.

The construction phase of the project, if it really does go ahead, is likely to provide the only tangible short-term benefit — jobs and material purchases will be a boost to the local economy and the provincial coffers for a couple of years. But don’t we want a government that thinks just a little further down the road, to the day when there are the same number of skiers spending the same total number of dollars, only spread over more ski hills? Or one that sees the folly in encouraging development at the expense of ever-declining accessible areas of wilderness?

The Jumbo Glacier Resort is a dumb idea that has been embraced by a desperate government that measures its future only as far as the next election.

Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.