Operators of the Mount Norquay ski hill are seeking to replace their chairlift on their premier North American run with a gondola.
That’s just one of the upgrades the hill’s owners hope to make, saying the status quo on the mountain that towers above the Town of Banff ensures heading over a fiscal cliff.
“Without the project, Norquay cannot generate sufficient funds to make the investments required to provide a competitive skiing and sightseeing experience while serving as Banff’s community ski hill,” said a press release from Mount Norquay.
The North American Chairlift that transports skiers to the top of the steep, heavily-mogulled run was first erected in 1948 and upgraded 48 years ago.
It’s a plan that would require federal approval since it lies within Banff National Park. In 2020, Parks Canada rejected a plan for a gondola extending from the town to the top of the resort’s mountain.
In addition to the two-station gondola ascending from the base lodge, the project would expand the Cliff House on the mountain face while removing buildings such as the North American Lodge that are spread out across the property that the company says compromises the sensitive alpine environment.
It would also enhance access to its Via Ferrata climbing route and relocate and restore ski jumping judging towers.
“The Cliff House Gondola requires the Cliff House expansion to accommodate the increased number of visitors required to financially justify the new lift and ensure resort balance,” said the operators.
“It’s a single project — replace the lift — which requires relocating the life and visitor centre.”
The plan, called Norquay Vision 100, would also enhance the shuttle bus system from the Town of Banff below.
The hill’s owners insist the scheme is not only environmentally sensitive but would enhance the surrounding ecosystem and support the Banff National Park Management Plan 2022’s conservation criteria.
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A new gondola, they say, would capture some of the market from its Sulphur Mountain competitor, thus reducing vehicular traffic in Banff town.
“For nearly 100 years, Norquay has served as Banff’s backyard, an iconic destination for skiers and sightseers, often providing visitors their first introduction to Banff National Park,” said Norquay General Manager Andre Quenneville.
“As we start to look towards our second century of operation, we are putting plans in place to improve the visitor experience and make ourselves more accessible as well as environmentally and economically sustainable.”
Some environmentalists backed Parks Canada’s 2020 decision, saying those upgrade plans threatened to damage the area’s environment by increasing human pressure.
“There must be limits to development and growth in the National Park. Statistics Canada’s 2016 census put the Town of Banff’s population at 7,851, less than 200 people short of the policy objective of keeping the town’s population below 8,000,” says a statement on the Alberta Wilderness Association’s website.
“Some feel very strongly that the town and the park more generally have reached, if not exceeded, their social carrying capacity. AWA hopes Parks Canada will hold to their limits and prioritize the ecological integrity of Banff National Park.”
Norquay says its latest plan would ensure the at-any-one-time guest population in Banff town would not exceed 3,800.
Liricon Capital, which owns Mount Norquay, is also seeking to create a rail line to take visitors from the Calgary International Airport to Banff.