Cuts to Kananaskis ski trail grooming could be avoided with parking fees, group proposes

A cross-country skiing organization has pitched a pilot project to Alberta Parks and the provincial government that it says would offset budget cuts and keep popular Kananaskis ski trails groomed throughout the winter.

Nordiq Alberta submitted pilot project proposal it says would cover $200K expense

Although trail grooming and track setting will continue in the West Bragg Creek area, the provincial government has announced an end to that service in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. (Bragg Creek Trail Association)

A cross-country skiing organization has pitched a pilot project to the provincial government that it says would offset budget cuts and keep popular Kananaskis ski trails groomed throughout the winter.

Alberta Parks announced in February it would stop grooming and setting the trails in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Mount Shark and Ribbon Creek.

The reduction in grooming and setting was one of the measures taken by the government to reduce Alberta Parks' budget and save $5 million. 

But Nordiq Alberta, the governing body for cross-country skiing in the province, submitted a proposal this week to implement parking fees at Peter Lougheed Provincial Park that it says should cover the cost of maintaining the trails — which is around $200,000.

"We are hopeful, even optimistic, that the government will buy into this. One reason, of course, is that, as we all know, Alberta Parks is investigating options for revenue streams and possibly user fees," Ken Hewitt, a volunteer with Nordiq Alberta, told the Calgary Eyeopener on Thursday.

"We think that this is … easy and quick to implement for the coming winter season. And from it, Alberta Parks, as well as the rest of the community, will get a real test case as to how willing and how able the ski community is to pay for it."

It is one of several groups that are mobilizing to come up with a solution to keep the trails in skiing shape, and Nordiq Alberta's proposal has been submitted to Canmore MP Miranda Rosin and Alberta Minister of Environment and Parks Jason Nixon.

The formula

Though grooming will continue at the Canmore Nordic Centre, and track setting will continue in the West Bragg Creek area, the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park trails are some of the most popular in the province.

Alberta Parks estimates there are about 100,000 site visits to Peter Lougheed Provincial Park in the winter, which represents about 40,000 vehicles, Hewitt said.

If a $10 day-parking fee — or a $50 annual fee — is collected from even 30 per cent of those motorists, it amounts to the figure needed to keep avid skiers hitting the slopes.

"People coming to ski at Peter Lockheed Provincial Park will go online and book a parking pass, and print their parking pass, and bring it with them, put it on their dash — just as you might at a traditional parking lot in an urban area — and go off and ski for the day," Hewitt said.

Lots will be patrolled by volunteer crews, and then if a parking pass is not found on a vehicle, they will request retroactive payment, or leave a brochure to explain why it is beneficial.

"It's a pretty simple system, it's an honour system. You know, there's no legislated capacity here to enforce this," Hewitt said.

"We're asking people to contribute. And we think, from the ski community that we know, we think that the vast, vast majority of skiers will be happy to pay."

The essence of the proposal

The essence of the proposal, Hewitt said, is that the government will then continue to groom the trails with the same government staff and equipment that it used for decades.

And at the end of the season, the money that they would have saved by cancelling the program will be recouped by the program.

"As far as I know … the staff are still there. We understand that Alberta Parks' plan is to transfer them.… And so we hope that they're still available," Hewitt said.

"There are two major pieces of machinery that are used for grooming in Peter Lougheed Park and in Ribbon Creek. One of those is owned by Alberta Parks and the other is leased. And again, to the best of our knowledge, we're pretty sure that that leased machine is still sitting in the park."

'Find a way to pay'

At least one other group has also submitted a proposal to keep trails groomed. Representatives with the Fortress Mountain Resort, for example, said they submitted one to Rosin in April but have yet to hear back from the government.

Meanwhile, the Calgary Ski Club is planning on submitting a proposal that won't be ready for submission until next year.

They are likely all galvanized by the same cause: finding a way to stay on the trails, for the intrinsic value Hewitt said skiing provides.

"It's a pretty simple answer: if you want to keep skiing on groomed trails, we've got to find a way to pay," Hewitt said.

"Physical and mental well-being is a big part of what we're talking about here. And as an aside, there's a tourism value for people that visit the area as well."

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.


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