Opinion » Editorial


Last week Vancouver Sun columnist Patrick Nagle wrote about the hidden costs to British Columbians of the recently announced development of the White Tooth ski area near Golden, B.C. Nagle was not exactly enthralled by British Columbia’s Commercial Alpine Ski Policy. "The first thing to understand about ski hill development is that it is exactly the same as the railway proposals of the 19th century," Nagle wrote. "In exchange for building a ski lift (the railway), the developing company gets land and government services." True to a point. Ski area development is increasingly about real estate development, as the economics of the ski industry long ago surpassed the point where lift ticket revenue covered the cost of operating a ski area. But the province also receives a modest return for the use of Crown land as ski runs. More significantly, the CASP encourages investment in B.C., which creates jobs (and they are not all minimum wage service industry jobs) and in many cases a local economy, including numerous small business opportunities. Whistler is, of course, the ultimate example in B.C. of the sort of investment and economy the ski industry can generate, but other examples can be found at Sun Peaks, Panorama, Fernie, Kimberley, Mount Washington and soon at Rossland and Golden. The point is, it is the role of the provincial government to create a climate for investment in this province. The CASP provides an opportunity for a ski area developer (the right to develop land in exchange for uphill lift capacity), but the size of that opportunity (the amount of land and how much development) is spelled out in a master plan well ahead of time. If the province doesn’t like the deal, it won’t approve the ski resort or its expansion. Compare this established policy to some other recent, ad hoc government initiatives to bring investment into the province and create or maintain jobs: fast ferries, awarding of a SkyTrain contract to Bombardier in exchange for the company setting up a plant in the Lower Mainland, direct cash investments in Skeena Celulose and Western Star Trucks. The ski industry is not entirely benign. Development and expansion of ski resorts does have an impact on the environment. But developments are controlled, regulated and, when done properly, can co-exist with wildlife and the natural environment. Indeed, ultimately ski resorts are dependent on preserving their natural surroundings for their long-term success. British Columbians need to understand this because tourism — and mountain resorts in particular — is one of the strongest facets of the provincial economy. Many of us in Whistler have been a little bit smug about the forest industry, its problems and its impact on our neighbours, Squamish and Pemberton. While we have enjoyed steady growth through the ’90s, at a time when forestry-dependent towns and much of the province have suffered, we haven’t offered them much in the way of alternatives or hope, other than to imply they should get on the tourism bandwagon. So where do they get on? There is a cost and a benefit to British Columbians for ski area development, just as there is a cost and a benefit to logging and a cost and a benefit to preserving lands lands like the Elaho Valley. Understanding and weighing those costs and benefits is what land use decisions, such as the one at Golden, are all about.