Calgary

From evacuations to smoking busy, wildfires affecting mountain businesses

Altitude, topography and wind all affect where smoke from the fires pools and while Mount Assiniboine Lodge and Sunshine Village sit empty,others nearby aren't affected or are reporting banner summers.

Mount Assiniboine Lodge and Sunshine Village are empty, while nearby accommodations are doing fine

Dave Riley, chief operating officer for Sunshine Village, says it's been a 'tough time' for the resort. (CBC)

Assiniboine Lodge, a day's walk into the B.C. backcountry, is sitting empty.

The first week in August should be peak season, with the historic lodge booked solid: 30 guests at roughly $400 per person per night.

But nearby forest fires have closed Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park as of Monday morning. Assiniboine Lodge management helped orchestrate the evacuation of lodge guests and staff, as well as campers and users of the nearby Naiset Huts.

Over 50 people took a quick helicopter flight out to Mount Shark, an hour's drive from Canmore, Alta. The rest were hiking out.

Jane Carswell, a reservations assistant for the lodge, confirmed the facility has cancelled bookings for the week — with full refunds — and will be empty until at least August 4th.

"We're just waiting for further information from B.C. Parks, what the next steps are, how long this might last," Carswell said.

Others unaffected

The fires burning just across the Alberta border in B.C. have been fickle, and businesses in the area geared to hiking and backcountry activities have experienced widely divergent effects.

Just a stone's throw from the Mount Shark helipad where Assiniboine guests were flown, Mount Engadine Lodge has been enjoying what general manager Simon Harvie characterises as "its best July ever."

Altitude, topography and wind all affect where smoke from the fires pools, and Harvie says the Spray Valley in which his lodge sits hasn't had many issues.

"We've really only had one bad smoke day. Other than that, the weather has been beautiful every day, and business has definitely been stronger than previous summers," he said. 

Tourist businesses in the area generally say that despite the fires that have been burning for weeks, visitor numbers have been high. Many cite free entry to the national parks this year, and tourism tied to Canada's 150th birthday, as reasons.

A representative for Shadow Lake Lodge, also in the backcountry to the northwest of Assiniboine Lodge, said business there is unaffected.

Other closures

Assiniboine is the second major closure in the area. Sunshine Village, less than 30 km to the northwest, was shut for the second time in a little over a week on Monday morning.

Roughly 300 hotel guests and staff were moved out, many of them to accommodations in the nearby town of Banff.

Parks Canada ordered the shutdown after the Verdant Creek fire, just across the B.C. border in Kootenay National Park, spread over the weekend.

Dave Riley, chief operating officer of Sunshine Village, described it as a "tough time."

Sunshine is known mainly as a winter ski resort, but operates a hotel and gondola in summer, and has been "trying to expand as a summer destination," Riley said.

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