Ski Run and Vegetation Management Strategy
Sunshine Village has 137 trails/runs at the Ski Area that provide a range of high-quality ski opportunities for visitors to Banff National Park. The ski runs are situated in a variety of bio-climatic zones from upper alpine to lower sub-alpine.
The core of the Sunshine Village Ski Area experience is the open alpine environment. In the winter, open alpine slopes, ample snowfall along the Continental Divide and spectacular scenery provide an exceptional skiing and snowboarding experience. In the summer season, the spectacular alpine scenery is enhanced with exceptional wildflower displays. However, alpine vegetative communities are fragile and require thoughtful planning as well as conscientious operations on a day-to-day basis from Sunshine Village staff and management.
The Resort and Parks Canada understand that ski run and vegetation management is important for ecological integrity as well as the visitor experience.
Regulatory and Planning Context:
The 2006 Ski Area Management Guidelines provide the overarching policy and planning foundation for the four mountain park ski areas. The Banff National Park Management Plan sets forth a vision for the future of the park, and strategic goals and key actions for achieving the vision. The Species at Risk Act (SC 2002, c 29) (“SARA”) identifies certain species that must be protected. Rare plants listed in the Alberta Conservation Information Management System (ACIMS) identifies certain species which are managed according to the ACIMS standards. The direction for the Sunshine Village Ski Run and Vegetation Management Strategy is outlined in the 2018 Site Guidelines and Strategic Environmental Assessment.
The ski run and vegetation management approach for the ski resort is consistent with the approved design capacity limits and with the ecological management parameters as outlined the 2018 Site Guidelines and regulatory direction for SARA and ACIMS.
The Long-Range Plan as well as any development and use proposals for Sunshine Village must demonstrate that the ecological management parameters have been fully considered and effectively addressed.
Considerations specific to native vegetation communities are:
- Managing for changes to vegetation structure and maintenance of alpine vegetation communities.
- Ensuring the protection and recovery of Species at Risk such as Whitebark Pine individuals and communities, as well as rare species such as limber pine.
- Maintaining the diversity of subalpine and alpine vegetation characteristic of the Sunshine Meadows environment.
Native species and communities should dominate vegetation throughout the Ski Area reflecting regional and local vegetation structure and diversity. This is supported by:
- Glading and thinning to stimulate natural vegetation patterns and structure and reduce wildfire fuels.
- Below tree line, the maximum width of new runs is 50 meters.
- On either side of runs, a strip of forest at least as wide as the run must remain (excepting gladed areas) for all new runs or modifications to runs, if possible.
- Forested areas between runs are irregular in shape and of sufficient size to provide effective wildlife habitat and movement cover.
Native vegetation should serve as an anchor against soil and terrain erosion. This is supported by:
- Construction, terrain modification and vegetation removal activities that avoid the disturbance of saturated soils or surficial deposits.
- Construction and terrain modification that do not alter rock flow features.
- Identification and stabilization of existing erosion sites.
Habitat conditions for rare and sensitive species should be maintained, including critical habitat for all species listed under the Species at Risk Act. This is supported by:
- Favourable habitat conditions, stand and age distribution of Whitebark pine so as to sustain the ecological function of the species, are enhanced and maintained over time across its expected range at the ski resort.
- Old growth Larch are protected where possible. It is likely the only potential old growth Larch that may need to be removed in connection with this Long-Range Plan are in the vicinity of the upper Goat’s Eye II lift line corridor for safety purposes and are very few in quantity. The glading areas and the Wolverine Lodge sites can avoid old growth Larch.
- The composition and structure of vegetation provide habitat for the expected range of native species.
- Rare and sensitive vegetation communities, and the terrain features and habitat conditions that support them, are maintained, or restored.
- Annual surveys quickly detect non-native species, and they are immediately removed using pre-approved protocols. All results are recorded and reported annually to Parks Canada.
Objectives for Resort Balance:
Each of the four ski resorts in the mountain parks has a natural variety of ski terrain - beginner, novice, intermediate, advanced, and expert. Sunshine Village has a nice diversity of terrain within the leasehold boundary. Much of the ski terrain is above treeline, which provides an exceptional visitor experience with wide open vistas. During poor weather days, visitors are pushed down to the protection of the lower slopes and forested areas where they have better visibility and protection from the elements.
The 8,500 SAOT limit under the 2018 Site Guidelines results in a skier density per hectare which is lower than many other ski resorts in North America. This creates a high-quality visitor experience.
Sunshine Village does lack high-quality gladed areas for skiing as the tree stands have been fire suppressed for decades. Most of the tree stands are overly tight for safe and comfortable skiing, although some skiers and snowboarders still use these areas. This Long-Range Plan proposes glading (thinning) in the Goat’s Eye terrain pod. This project will provide improved tree skiing at Sunshine Village while reducing wildfire risks.
Scope and Context:
In connection with this Long-Range Plan, during the summer of 2021, Sunshine Village hired a professional consultant to create a site map and inventory of all whitebark pine, rare plants, limber pine locations and any non-native vegetation within the project areas as described in this Long-Range Plan.
For the past several years, Sunshine Village conducts training each summer for its staff to be able to identify whitebark pine and limber pine. This is to help prevent accidental disturbance to the species.
Below is an overview of the risks associated with whitebark and limber pine at the Long-Range Plan project locations:
- Designating certain temporary facilities and approvals as permanent:
- No risk to whitebark pine in connection with this component.
- Goat’s Eye II lift and associated runs and glades:
- Whitebark pine exist mostly near the upper elevations of this component as it is within the elevation band where the species are expected. Additional site-specific surveys will be completed prior to any ground disturbing activities. Species will be avoided with adjustments to tower placement. The project has the flexibility to avoid whitebark and limber pines. This is similar to the successful TeePee Town project in 2015. During that project, Sunshine Village adjusted chairlift towers up or down the rope alignment to avoid whitebark pine trees. Whitebark pine trees were also marked for protection to avoid accidental disturbance. The glading activities in Goat’s Eye can avoid disturbance to any whitebark or limber species discovered by survey.
- A day lodge located at the top of the Wolverine and Jackrabbit chairlifts
- No risk to whitebark pine in connection with this component as it is below the elevation band of whitebark and/or limber pine. Much of the site has been previously disturbed from prior ski run and chairlift construction although some tree removal (fir, spruce, lodgepole pine) will be necessary for skier circulation and viewscapes (fir and spruce).
- Additional capacity for the existing TeePee Town chairlift, and a parking rail for the chairs
- No risk to whitebark pine in connection with this component.
Fire has been suppressed within the developed area for many decades. The glading projects at Goat’s Eye will reduce fuel near the chairlifts and facilities. Maintaining ski runs throughout the ski area maintains fire breaks and supports protection of the facilities and lifts from wildfire.
Native vegetation plays a number of important roles in local ecosystem function and is a key element of native biodiversity. Vegetation anchors soils and terrain against wind and water erosion and mass wasting, and it functions to capture and release water as part of the hydrologic system. Native plant communities contribute to structural habitat diversity in support of wildlife habitat and species diversity.
A wide range of vegetation types are present in and around Sunshine Village, resulting from variable elevation and topography. Within the lower subalpine ecoregion on the Ski Area, native vegetation is dominated by closed Engelmann spruce and subalpine fir forests. Lodgepole pine is less common, proportionate to the remainder of Banff National Park, and deciduous trees and grasslands are of limited distribution. The majority of the Ski Area is located within the upper subalpine zone, characterized by a mix of Engelmann spruce, subalpine fir, whitebark pine and alpine larch stands. At higher elevations in the upper subalpine, alpine larch becomes an important component of many stands, and whitebark pine is more common. At the highest elevations of the subalpine, forest cover is reduced to scattered islands of stunted trees and a complex mosaic of herb and shrub communities dominates.
Alpine tundra communities occur at and above the transition from the Upper Subalpine to the Alpine ecoregions.
Old growth forest and aged trees found within the Sunshine Creek and Healy Creek drainages have developed due to an extended history without fire, and they may be considered in part the result of long-term fire suppression efforts.
Banff National Park’s historical fire regime changed significantly in the 1900s, with reductions to human-caused burning as a result of fire prevention programs and with the suppression of lightning-caused fires. A reduction in the area burned through natural wildfire has most impacted ecosystems with the shortest fire cycle, such as those in the bottom of the Bow Valley.
Within the Sunshine Village Ski Area, lower-elevation subalpine lodgepole pine forests of the Bow Valley were historically characterized by fire cycles of approximately 100–150 years. Higher-elevation Engelmann spruce and subalpine forests in the Ski Area region are characterized by a historical fire cycle of 150–200 years. Old growth stands in the area, and in the mountain parks overall, are now considered to be overrepresented with regard to the distribution of stand age groups.
While unique within the Ski Area boundary, the uniqueness of old growth stands on the Ski Area in relation to other stands in the local landscape may be considered somewhat less so. Old growth stands on the Ski Area are of considerable size, but there are many others in the surrounding valleys that are larger. Stand mapping for the area indicates that old growth stands in the surrounding Healy Creek and Brewster Creek valleys are relatively common, and there are other more significant old growth stands where the natural historical fire cycle is much longer.
Whitebark pine is an essential element of ecosystem composition and function in many subalpine and treeline forests at high elevations throughout the mountain national parks, including all four mountain park ski areas. At the Sunshine Village Ski Area, whitebark pine occurs scattered throughout an elevation band beginning roughly at 2,000 m and extends to treeline. Sunshine Village’s observation is that the species is predominantly in the vicinity of the TeePee Town Express, Angel Express and Goat’s Eye, on west, southwest and northwest facing slopes.
Despite its wide range, whitebark pine is susceptible to several key threats and has been listed as Endangered on Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act (SARA).
Long before whitebark pine was designated as a species at risk, historical run clearing and lift development at the Ski Area may have resulted in the removal of whitebark pine. Similarly, ongoing vegetation maintenance at the Ski Area, such as brushing, maintaining glades, and removing hazardous branches, may have affected individual trees. Despite these impacts, whitebark pine continues to persist on the Sunshine Village Ski Area. To some degree, the persistence of whitebark pine on the Ski Area may be attributed to ski run clearing, glading and vegetation management that clears and leaves open spaces within maturing forest cover, where whitebark pine may successfully germinate and mature.
Under SARA Sections 32 and 58(1), whitebark pine individuals and their identified critical habitat are legally protected. Accordingly, special consideration of the species and protection measures for whitebark pine must be included as part of Sunshine Village’s operations and development planning in association with the application of other best management practices.
The Sunshine Meadows are widely recognized as an exceptional example of an alpine vegetation community. The contiguous extent of the meadows is unparalleled within the mountain parks. The Sunshine Meadows are located on a large plateau and extend from Fatigue Pass, north to Mount Bourgeau and west to Healy Pass and the Monarch Ramparts. Further, the meadows comprise a diversity of alpine vegetation, the botanical characteristics of which are a key aspect of the ecological value. In addition to the federally listed whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis), 69 known rare plant species have been documented within Sunshine Meadows. A rare plant survey conducted by Tannas (2017) identified five species of sufficient conservation concern that their status is ranked and tracked by the Alberta Conservation Information Management System, with rankings ranging from S1 (highest level of concern) to S3, including:
- Taraxacum scopulorum, alpine dandelion (S1)
- Arenaria longipedunculata, sandwort (S2)
- Botrychium simplex, dwarf grape fern (S2)
- Agoseris lackschewitzii, pink false dandelion (S3)
- Boechera lemmonii, Lemmon’s rockcress (S3)
The majority of the rare plants identified by Tannas were located along the Wawa Ridge. The exception was the pink false dandelion, which was found along the Simpson Pass East Trail.
Non-native vegetation is present within the Developed Area is limited patches.
Wildlife corridors are landscape features widely considered to serve important roles in wildlife conservation by connecting habitat patches and facilitating daily, seasonal and life cycle movements. Wildlife corridors facilitate movement among patches of habitat, providing accesses to food and cover to meet daily needs, as well as facilitate connections between seasonal breeding, denning or migration areas. In landscapes that are increasingly developed and fragmented, wildlife corridors enhance habitat connectivity and reduce the adverse effects of habitat fragmentation.
Animal use of wildlife corridors can be categorized into several types along a continuum from short, localized movements to long distance movements over tens or hundreds of kilometres. Short-term movements occur as animals strive to meet their daily foraging and other life requirements. Medium- and longer-distance movements occur as part of seasonal migrations to access food resources and matting/reproductive opportunities, for dispersal required to maintain gene flow or to colonize unoccupied habitat patches, and for movement between source-sink habitats.
Corridors are not only strips of habitat that animals travel through quickly to get from one patch of habitat to another. Animals may need to forage, avoid mortality, find resting places, and avoid human disturbance while moving across landscapes at any scale. Wildlife corridors serve as habitat “linkages” providing required resources while small species pass across the landscape over the course of days or weeks. Corridors also serve simply as life-long habitat and provide multi-generational habitat connectivity for corridor-dwelling species that slowly disperse across the landscape over generations. Like wildlife crossing structures, wildlife corridors should allow for the maintenance or restoration of five key ecological functions:
- Reduced wildlife mortality and increased movement within populations.
- Meeting biological requirements such as finding food, cover, and mates.
- Dispersal from maternal or natal ranges and recolonization after long absences.
- Redistribution of populations in response to environmental changes and natural disturbances; movement or migration during times of stress.
- Long-term maintenance of metapopulations, community stability and ecosystem processes
Landscape connectivity may be considered as the degree to which the landscape facilitates wildlife movement and other ecological flows. No two landscapes are likely to function the same way for wildlife movement. Terrain, habitat type, levels of human activity and climate are a few factors that influence wildlife movement and ecological flows. Identifying effective wildlife corridor and road crossing structure characteristics depends largely on the species of focus. Corridor characteristics are ideally focused on the identification of habitat suitability for a range of focal species that collectively serve as an umbrella for all native species and biological processes. With the broad purposes of wildlife corridors and habitat connectivity in mind, and for the purposes of this strategic environmental assessment, wildlife corridors are considered to be “…spaces in which connectivity between species, ecosystems, and ecological processes is maintained or restored at various levels”.
In Banff National Park, much of the productive habitat optimal for wildlife use is concentrated in valley bottoms, overlapping with fragmentation and degradation from human development. In the Bow Valley, the loss and fragmentation of montane habitat from development has resulted in reduced connectivity and impaired ability of some sensitive wildlife, including bears, cougars, and wolves, to move through the area. The Banff Bow Valley Study recognized that impaired corridor function for these species could negatively affect interactions between carnivores, ungulates and plant communities as well as increase the potential for human-wildlife conflicts. Accordingly, the maintenance and restoration of wildlife corridors in Banff has been an ongoing priority of the Banff National Park Management Plan.
Multi-species wildlife corridors adjacent to developed areas may be more successful if they are sufficiently wide to buffer wary animals from disturbance, have relatively flat topography, provide high-quality habitat, and retain sufficient vegetation cover to provide security for animal movement between habitat patches. For instance, wolves are considered to be a wary carnivore species that tends to avoid encounters with people. Wolf use of corridors increases with increases in habitat quality and corridor width, and wolf use decreases with increases in corridor length, slope, snow depth, and the presence of people.
At the same time, it is well understood that even sensitive and wary wildlife species can move through and inhabit both natural and modified landscapes that do not even closely match idealized corridor conditions. Most large carnivores are habitat generalists that can move through marginal and degraded habitats, and a corridor designed for them does not necessarily serve habitat specialists with limited mobility, or the specialized habitat needs of corridor-dwelling species. Many mountain stream valleys are naturally narrow, steep, and constricted, and they afford less than ideal conditions for the movement of large carnivore species. The same characteristics restricting valley bottom carnivores may afford more idealized cover and conditions for the habitat and movement of other species such as small mammals, bighorn sheep or mountain goats. The restrictions to carnivore movement associated with narrow, restricted, steep terrain and deep snow cover describe the natural condition of the Healy Creek valley both upstream and downstream of the Resort base area, even if no development were to exist.
The Healy Creek valley connects the montane habitat of the Bow Valley to quality alpine habitat along the Continental Divide and on to the Vermilion Valley to the west. The Upper Healy Wildlife Corridor consists of the Upper Bourgeau Slopes corridor located on the north side of the Ski Area parking lot and the Eagle Slopes corridor located on the south side of the parking lot and Healy Creek.
A full range of species uses the Upper Healy Wildlife Corridor, including bighorn sheep, deer, mountain goat, elk, coyote, cougar, wolf, Canada lynx, wolverine and black bears, and grizzly bears in the summer. [20 ]Winter transects and snow tracking, summer wildlife trail monitoring, and GPS radio-collar data together show that the Upper Bourgeau Slopes area is more highly used by wildlife than the Eagle Slopes. The Eagle Slopes corridor on the south side of Healy Creek provides a less-used, alternate movement route for wary species, including wolverine and lynx, connecting the Upper Healy Wildlife Corridor with the Sunshine Creek valley. Undeveloped lands at the east end of the lease adjacent to Healy Creek serve as a junction for wildlife moving between the Bourgeau and Eagle slopes and the Healy Creek valley to the east. Together, the Upper Bourgeau Slopes and Eagle Slopes corridors are used by a wide diversity of wildlife species.
Habitat in the Upper Healy Wildlife Corridor area also provides uncommon winter range for bighorn sheep and is an important traditional rutting ground. Year-round habitat for bighorn sheep in the area is classified as very high quality to moderate quality, and the Mount Bourgeau-Healy Creek area supports one of the largest winter sheep herds in the park. During winter, sheep almost exclusively use the southwest slopes of Mount Bourgeau adjacent to the Bourgeau base area parking lot. The area also provides moderate- to good-quality habitat for mountain goats, which are also concentrated within habitat on the Upper Bourgeau Slopes. Mountain goats frequently use steep trails to access minerals and water near the Healy Creek valley from surrounding high-elevation habitat.
Vegetation and Ski Run Management by Area:
- The alpine zone has no road access and work which may negatively impact vegetation generally occurs over the snow. Any exceptions are communicated in advance to Parks Canada. A restricted activity permit will be applied for prior to beginning the work which outlines the means and methods.
- Gladed areas will be maintained to “re-glade” if vegetation grows back in, while avoiding listed species. A restricted activity permit will be applied for prior to beginning the work which outlines the means and methods.
- Developed, clear-cut ski runs will be maintained if vegetation begins to grow back in, while avoiding listed species. A restricted activity permit will be applied for prior to beginning the work which outlines the means and methods.
- Wetlands, creeks, or riparian areas will be avoided when possible. If work needs to occur in or around these areas, a restricted activity permit (or any other required permit) will be applied for prior to beginning the work which outlines the means and methods.
- Vegetation will be managed around buildings, lifts, and other facilities. A restricted activity permit will be applied for prior to beginning the work which outlines the means and methods.
- 2008 Best Management Practices will be used in connection with any vegetation and ski run management work.
Proposed Future Conditions:
Following the Ski Run and Vegetation Management Strategy and details outlined above, the Developed Area reflects natural conditions in the context of a ski resort which is a leader in protecting ecological integrity and function of the ecosystems. The ski area operation and development protect natural features and sensitive and rare vegetation, prevents displacement of sensitive wildlife from important regional habitat and maintains adequate flow required for aquatic habitats.
Future conditions will be met as follows:
- Native species and communities dominate vegetation throughout the ski area, reflecting regional and local vegetation structure and diversity. Native vegetation serves as an anchor against soil and terrain erosion.
- Glading and thinning stimulate native vegetation succession and support the role of fire.
- Habitat conditions for rare and sensitive species are maintained, including critical habitat for all Species listed under SARA.
- Non-native invasive plants are controlled. The Resort will work with Parks Canada Vegetation Management Specialist on Integrated Pest Management Plans and approvals. as required.
- Priority is placed on the management of vegetation communities that serve as habitat for wildlife, and in particular the ecological integrity of their primary movement corridors.
- Erosion control, re-vegetation and restoration activities are prioritized by Sunshine Village and generate successful outcomes which protect the ecological integrity of the ski area as a whole.
Monitoring and Management Guidelines:
Each development project will have its own Environmental Protection Plan (EPP) developed prior to construction. They will be submitted to Parks Canada for review and approval. Mitigation and Best Management Practices will be specified for each project. The timing of the same will be outlined in the EPP. For example, some activities are required to occur on an hourly or daily basis while others, such as post-project restoration occur at the completion of the project. Depending on the scope of the project, follow up monitoring may be required the following summer or two. Areas where compensatory planting has occurred would be monitored to determine if site conditions remain suitable for growth and cover.
The success of noxious weed controls would be monitored at the locations of sites where noxious invasive species have been observed, with the focus on road sites, reclaimed and partially reclaimed areas.
Sunshine Village would ensure reclamation performance standards are met for plant density and cover, and non-native species, for all sites undergoing reclamation.
Sunshine Village would report annually on invasive species management, based on the data collected.
Each summer Sunshine Village will collaborate with Parks Canada Banff Field Unit Resource Conservation Manager and wildlife specialist to provide annual staff training to ski area team members and review of any/all wildlife response plans.
 Parks Canada. Strategic Environmental Assessment for the Site Guidelines for Development and Use, Sunshine Village Ski Resort, pp. 82. 2018.
 Parks Canada. Strategic Environmental Assessment for the Site Guidelines for Development and Use, Sunshine Village Ski Resort, pp. 78. 2018.
 Parks Canada. Strategic Environmental Assessment for the Site Guidelines for Development and Use, Sunshine Village Ski Resort, pp. 83. 2018.
 Parks Canada. Strategic Environmental Assessment for the Site Guidelines for Development and Use, Sunshine Village Ski Resort, pp. 84. 2018.
 Parks Canada. Strategic Environmental Assessment for the Site Guidelines for Development and Use, Sunshine Village Ski Resort, pp. 85. 2018.
 Parks Canada. Strategic Environmental Assessment for the Site Guidelines for Development and Use, Sunshine Village Ski Resort, pp. 86. 2018.
 Parks Canada. Strategic Environmental Assessment for the Site Guidelines for Development and Use, Sunshine Village Ski Resort, pp. 86. 2018.
 Parks Canada. Strategic Environmental Assessment for the Site Guidelines for Development and Use, Sunshine Village Ski Resort, pp. 29. 2018.
 Parks Canada. Strategic Environmental Assessment for the Site Guidelines for Development and Use, Sunshine Village Ski Resort, pp. 30. 2018.
 Parks Canada. Strategic Environmental Assessment for the Site Guidelines for Development and Use, Sunshine Village Ski Resort, pp. 31. 2018.
 Parks Canada. Strategic Environmental Assessment for the Site Guidelines for Development and Use, Sunshine Village Ski Resort, pp. 33. 2018.
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