Gateway Gazette

Some Things Should Never Change: Keeping the Wilderness Wild in Banff National Park

SKOKI, written in black ink in my worn leather journal, it had been part of my bucket list.  Imagine the excitement  when my partner called me in January, telling me that he had booked us in for two nights at the end of March.  We reserved our light touring skis, made our packing list and counted down the days.

As someone working in conservation with a network of outdoorsy friends, I had heard much about this magical place.  The cabin, the food, and the ski, often linked with an epic story about weather and a place called Deception Pass.  I had skied at Lake Louise Ski Resort but had never ventured beyond Temple lodge.

The awaited day arrived and the shuttle dropped us off at the top of the ski out, the air crisp, the sun shining.  We donned our skis and backpacks and stride by stride, left the resort behind moving into the untracked beautiful snowy wilderness.

Going to Skoki is like travelling back in time.  An 11km self-propelled trek to a log cabin built in the 1930’s with no electricity.  A journey into the backcountry, savoring the simple pleasures of a wilderness experience, the incredible mountain landscape, the wind swept patterns, the occasional signs of wildlife tracks, and a perfectly camouflaged white ptarmigan.  The beauty of this place is the untouched wilderness, the fact that in almost 100 years, Skoki has hardly changed.

As anticipated, the experience met our expectations, and all of the rave reviews of fellow travelers.  The log cabin, all nestled in the snow, was rustic yet cozy. The food was delicious and the views were incredible at every turn.  After skiing, we found ourselves reading in the window seats and playing cards with other guests. There were no phones or distractions, it was quiet and peaceful lit by candles and kerosene lanterns.

There is something to be said for being outside all day, the physical output that results in a satisfied tired, rosy cheeks, and a contented mind.

It is a gift to know there are places that give us the time to connect and reconnect with a simple time and place, with ourselves, and with nature.  For me, these experiences typically involve a tent in my backpack and my hiking boots.  Wilderness is timeless and this is why these places should not change.

As I skied those couple of days, and I calibrated to the rhythm of my pace, I found myself present, looking around and marveling at the majestic beauty of it all.  Whether you wish to experience the backcountry or prefer a walk in Johnston Canyon, the draw to these areas is the natural wilderness as it has always existed.

Over the weekend, I thought a great deal about the Lake Louise Site Guidelines, and how a new blueprint for possible development of the ski resort beyond Temple Lodge, into this untouched wilderness, will fundamentally affect this experience.  How more, bigger, and better should not apply in our most protected areas.  How a big event like the Olympics is not about nature or national parks.  For me, whether skiing into Skoki, or at the resort, the beauty of the experience is the comfort of keeping it the same and not further impacting wilderness.

Not expanding our development footprint in the national park isn’t about keeping people out, it is about honouring the priority of what attracts people to this area in the first place, and making sure we take care of that for all time.

Whether skiing to Skoki or having a picnic at Lake Minnewanka, I want to know that these experiences are timeless, and that we can enjoy the same wilderness character today and a century from now.  Let’s not forget what makes these places special and ensure that our wilderness doesn’t change at the expense of further development.

Yours in conservation,
Anne-Marie

CPAWS, Southern Alberta

 

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