Parks Beyond Borders: Winter Fun, and Budget Cuts, Come To Canada's Banff

Snow Days Comes to Banff

Banff National Park’s “Snow Days” Festival returns this year for a second-annual appearance with a packed schedule from January 12 to February 10, 2013.

A release from Banff Lake Louise Tourism invites visitors to “celebrate winter with a fun-filled month of new activities, adventures and animation.”

The event starts with a “Mountain Adventure Weekend” that includes a “a flurry of activity in the town of Banff, including the new ‘Slide & Ride’ slope in the heart of downtown where experts from the park’s three ski hills, Mount Norquay, Sunshine Village and Lake Louise, will be on hand to equip adventurers for some introductory skiing and snowboarding. The ski resorts will also be celebrating the FIS World Snow Day on January 19 and 20 by offering free lift tickets to children aged twelve and under.”

If ice climbing is more your sport, Banff Avenue will be the site of a forty-foot ice climbing wall where even never-ever visitors can try their hand at scaling the frozen mass with complimentary gear and instruction throughout the month.

Plan ahead over the two weekends of January 18 and 25 for what the tourism folks are calling “Everyone’s favourite festival, ‘Ice Magic’,featuring an international ice carving competition at Lake Louise and endless activities for the little chippers in your life.”

New this year will be a “Race Amazing Banff’ competition where teams of two compete for mountain supremacy and prizes as they participate in less serious “sports” such as “human curling” and ice canoeing on January 26.

A “Take It To The Street” ball hockey tournament ends the month of activities with teams battling it out in round-robin play on the iconic main street of Banff Avenue. “Amidst it all, visitors will be able to round out the festivities by enjoying an endless array of ongoing winter activities, including dog-sledding, geocaching, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, sleigh rides, outdoor performances and après-ski revelry.”

Julie Canning, President & CEO of Banff Lake Louise Tourism, says, “SnowDays is a wonderful reflection of the vibrancy that exists in Banff National Park in winter. Our community partners do an amazing job of bringing to life the best of what the park has to offer at this beautiful time of year.”

The SnowDays festival was developed in partnership with Parks Canada, the Town of Banff, Banff Heritage Tourism & Banff Lake Louise Tourism to share with visitors the majesty of this UNESCO World Heritage Site in winter.

Banff’s New Superintendent Sees Opportunities in Budget Cuts

With the second Snow Days announcement circulating, an article by Colette Derworiz in the Calgary Herald on January 5, 2013 interviewed Banff National Park’s new superintendent Dave McDonough about challenges brought on by Parks Canada’s budget cuts.

“Like all government departments, we had to reduce,” McDonough said, “so what we are doing is really looking at focusing on key priorities.” That comes as Banff National Park has “lost staff, contracted out grounds maintenance, started the process to privatize the hot springs and reduced the hours at the Banff Avenue visitor information centre this winter.”

With reduced options, the new super seems ready for a focus on the basics—“It’s looking at new ways of doing things, really focusing on key priorities that will improve ecological integrity, really improve Canadians' connection to the park and engaging others to help us do that.”

Derworiz’s article quoted Kevin King, regional vice-president for the Union of National Employees, saying the cuts are “so significant, it truly is going to be a bellwether regarding how Parks operates and looks to Canadians and our international visitors going forward. If the origins of the national park system can be commercialized, what else can be commercialized?”

Under a photograph of the new superintendent cross country skiing, the article said “McDonough is currently focused on the winter season.”

“The winter offers the most opportunity right now,” he said. “As we move into the shoulder seasons and particularly the winter, that’s where ... there’s room to grow.”

The article pointed to work with the private sector in expanding winter recreation opportunities. “Our success in Lake Louise really shows that there is a real interest and it’s a great opportunity to get out and really enjoy the park,” he said. “In Lake Louise,” the article said, “the park collaborated with the tourism industry to improve the trails in the area.”

Derworiz wrote that, “McDonough, an avid cross country skier himself, said they are working with partners to determine whether they can do additional track setting around Banff. They are also looking at plowing pullouts and parking lots to provide better access for visitors to the existing areas such as the Cascade fire road. In addition to winter activities, he said the park is trying to find ways to make the park relevant to all Canadians — including options such as additional cycling trails and Norquay’s summer use plan.’” Those plans include a via ferrata—“a mountain path fixed with cables, ladders and bridges — proposed at Mount Norquay.”

“Although tourism groups have applauded the moves,” the piece said, “conservationists suggested the changes show a changing focus for the iconic park. ‘My big concern is that when they talk about improving visitor experience, their measuring sticks have to do with quantity, not quality,’ said Mike McIvor of the Bow Valley Naturalists. ‘They just want to get as many people here as possible. The numbers don’t begin to account for the quality of the experience.’”