Imagine an epic wilderness: rugged mountains adorned with glaciers and snow, glacial waterfalls trickling down slope into fields of slate and shale forming crystal blue ponds before dropping down to the coniferous tree line. This is how I would describe British Columbia’s Purcell Mountains. It’s honestly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, and I got to explore a glacier for the first time in my life!
It’s been a priceless experience so far, but what brings us exploring here is something that’s threatening the natural beauty and wild of this place. There’s a proposed plan to construct the Jumbo Glacier Resort and Jumbo municipality in the area. Since the plan of the project in 1991, it’s faced opposition from environmentalists, locals, competing ski businesses, and First Nations. Development would be taking place in moderate to high-risk avalanche zones, demonstrating lack of safety standards and compliance from expired environmental certificates. To renew the certificates, developers had to prove to the provincial government that “substantial” development was underway. They attempted to do this by pouring two slabs of concrete as building “foundations” on unprepared ground, both slabs in avalanche hazard zones. The environment ministry deemed this not a substantial start and that developers would have to resubmit an assessment, which is a huge set back. The project may or may not be dead depending on if developers start over and resubmit.
A popular message of opposition seen on bumper stickers and posters around British Columbia is “Keep Jumbo Wild,” and there are many reasons to do so. One reason that encompasses many others is threatening the grizzly bear populations. Grizzlies are an umbrella and indicator species, meaning their health is indicative of the health of other species and of other potential problems affecting the ecosystem. Chasing them out with Jumbo Glacier Resort would mean chasing out other wildlife species and the essential “wilderness” characteristics of the area that has been loved and protected for years.
Not only is the grizzly valuable on an ecological level, but on a spiritual level as well. The Jumbo Glacier Resort has faced major opposition from the Ktunaxa First Nation who traditionally used the Jumbo Valley area of the Purcells. To them, Jumbo is Qat’muk, the grizzly’s place of spiritual healing, and the grizzly is one of the Ktunaxa’s principle spirits, making the Jumbo Valley of high spiritual significance. The developers of Jumbo Glacier Resort would be bulldozing Ktunaxa culture, a culture that originally occupied and controlled this area.
Not only is the Jumbo Glacier Resort not planned to be in a safe area, but it’s also a threat to the ecologically and spiritually important grizzly bear, and the Ktunaxa Nation’s culture. So where is the good in this development? It’s hard to find. According to Arnör Larson, an esteemed climber and concerned citizen that we spoke with, at most public hearings he’s been to within the past 20 years, there’s been around 95% (estimated) public opposition to the development. We also spoke with the first Canadian to climb Mount Everest, Pat Morrow, who seemed pretty sure in saying that the project is basically history now. Only time will tell whether Jumbo Glacier Resort plans will be a jumbo success or jumbo failure, but for now we can enjoy the wild beauty of the undeveloped Purcells, drinking straight from the glaciers, breathing in the fresh mountain air, and maybe observing a few grizzlies on our hikes.