The developers of a contentious year-round ski resort west of Invermere, B.C. have been told to stop construction on two buildings until new safety conditions can be met in the event of an avalanche.

The B.C. Environmental Assessment Office has found two sites — a day lodge and a service building — at the Jumbo Glacier Resort in southeastern B.C., are in an avalanche zone.

In an April 24 letter sent to Glacier Resorts co-owner Oberto Oberti, the office said the two buildings are not in compliance with provincial conditions that prohibit commercial or residential buildings from avalanche zones.

Jumbo Glacier Resort Pink Panther Avalanchce Path

An image from a recent report outlining an avalanche path impacting the site of a proposed day lodge for the Jumbo Glacier Resort. The red dot represents where the structure would be built. (Dynamic Avalanche Consulting)

As a result, Glacier Resorts must "cease construction of structures" in both locations, the letter said. 

A Revelstoke company, Dynamic Avalanche Consulting, assessed the avalanche risk to the buildings, which are located 45 kilometres west of Invermere in the Purcell Mountains.

Its 45-page report concluded that past avalanches would have damaged vegetation 15 metres from the day lodge and even showered one structure with "light powder flow."

The report says there is no evidence to suggest a dense flow of snow would reach the lodge. However, similar flows have been observed in the past, 10 to 15 metres from the service building, which put that structure in a high-risk zone, it said. 

The report makes several recommendations, which include:

  • Structures built at the service building location should not be used or routinely accessed during the winter season. 
  • Structures should be reinforced to withstand avalanche impact pressures.
  • The day lodge should also be reinforced.
  • Fixed remote exploders should be installed to reduce the avalanche hazard.
  • An evacuation plan should be developed to reduce the risk to workers and the public both within and outside of the building.

Major blow, environmentalists say

The province is asking Glacier Resorts to suspend construction and amend its plans within a "reasonable timeline" or risk an order that could force it to remove structures that have already been built at the two locations.

Karnak avalanche path Jumbo Glacier resort

A second avalanche path near the day lodge's (red dot) proposed location. (Dynamic Avalanche Consulting)

Jumbo Glacier Resort has been in the making for more than 20 years. Environmental groups opposed to the development say the decision is a major blow to the project.

In order to keep the project's environmental certificate, and keep the project alive, the company must have completed "substantial construction." 

"The developer's ill-conceived last-minute attempt to create a footprint in the Jumbo Valley has failed," said John Bergenske, the conservation director for the environmental group Wildsight

"I look forward to the minister's decision on whether the project is 'substantially started.' There should be no question in the minds of reasonable people that the project should not have been started," Bergenske said. 

Jumbo Glacier Resort is billed as the country's first year-round glacier-based ski resort, and was originally approved by the B.C. government in 2012.

Once complete, it is planned to feature up to 23 lifts, a 3,000-metre-high gondola and a ski village with more than 6,000 units. The resort would be comparable in size to Silver Star in Vernon, B.C. — or about one-tenth the size of Whistler Blackcomb.

The plan has long divided residents in the Kootenays. Those in favour argue it would bring $900 million in investments and up to 750 permanent jobs, while those who are opposed say the project will only harm the environment and wildlife.

Since its approval the project has faced multiple hurdles including court challenges and a lack of funding.

With files from the CBC's Bob Keating