Between Revelstoke and Golden, British Columbia, Rogers Pass climbs over the Selkirk Mountains and through Glacier National Park, beckoning skiers and riders with its easy access and big-mountain terrain. It’s the place that made Greg Hill’s 2010, two-million-foot season possible; it’s been written about in every major ski publication and appeared in countless ski movies. And now, it has an uncertain future.
Before 2009, at the summit of the pass, visitors had a hotel and a service station at their disposal. With 50 guest rooms and affordable prices, the lodge offered frontcountry comforts with world-class off-piste access. Just next door, the service station and convenience store offered a place for day users to refuel. The two businesses were outlying commercial operations under a contract with Parks Canada, but both buildings closed—the service station in 2009 and the lodge in 2012—when financial challenges befell the owners. Now, with only boarded-up buildings at the summit, backcountry users have to travel to Revelstoke or Golden—a 45-minute or one-hour drive, respectively—to get a bite to eat, gas up or find a place to stay.
After a long legal process, Parks Canada has taken control of both buildings and has announced plans to tear them down. But what will go in their place is undecided, and so is the timeline for this site’s future.
“It’s a priority for us to deal with this matter,” says Nicholas Irving, superintendent of Mount Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks. “We want to move forward with purpose to address the deficiencies that exist with those structures, handle it responsibly and put that chapter behind us. Then it will give us a clean slate to consider, through our conversations and through coordinated planning efforts, what should come in the future.”
Enter Revive Rogers, a movement started in early November 2016 by skier Tom McMillan and that’s geared toward restoring lodging for backcountry users in Rogers Pass. “For dirtbag skiers like me, based in Calgary or anywhere farther than an hour away from Rogers Pass, it becomes logistically really, really difficult to access that terrain,” McMillan says. “So it’s a high-demand area with very little accommodation.”
With the launch of Revive Rogers, McMillan hopes to recreate an affordable and environmentally friendly place where users can stay when visiting the park. To help shape his ideas, McMillan wanted to hear from others. “At this point, I’ve just asked the questions,” he says. “Is anybody interested? Does anybody care?” Through a survey on his website, reviverogers.com, McMillan received 114 responses within the first week. Seventy-two percent of those responses cited the lack of accommodation as a barrier when planning to visit the park. Ninety-four percent said they would like to see redevelopment of lodging in the area.
Parks Canada hears the same problem. “We hear regularly from people how important Rogers Pass is as a recreational destination,” Irving says. “In addition to that, we hear quite frequently [about] a desire for there to be some more creature comforts available.” It isn’t as simple as launching a website for Parks Canada, though.
Soil contamination exists in the area of the buildings, left over from when the site was a rail yard, long before the lodge existed. Securing and decommissioning the buildings, along with cleaning up the site, could take some time, and Parks Canada isn’t ready to say when they will be taking the next steps. “What I can say is that it’s a priority for us to deal with this matter,” Irving continues. “So we’ve actively engaged the program leads at our headquarters in Ottawa, and are doing our very best locally to put certain efforts towards addressing the condition of the two structures up there.” Once Parks does have a clean home base to work with, they aren’t writing off any possibilities for the area.
“We recognize that there’s a lot of interest in Rogers Pass, and many people are quite sure that they have a definitive solution for us and that we should start tomorrow. That enthusiasm we appreciate and respect,” Irving says. “We know people are very, very passionate about this place, as are we [at Parks Canada], and we look forward to really helping chart out a vision that befits the place and addresses the key opportunities and needs that people have, whether they’re recreational users or they’re traveling on the Trans-Canada Highway corridor.”
Traveling the highway is an entirely different consideration that Parks has to make when it comes to repurposing the site. With 134 active avalanche paths that can run out onto the road, safety is a real concern for people who are passing through. “Visitor safety is our number-one objective, and in the winter this is comprised of the world’s largest mobile snow avalanche control program. So we factor in the visitor safety consideration, and we will need to do so as it relates to the summit area of Rogers Pass,” Irving says. This could mean having a place for people to spend time while waiting for road closures to be lifted, which might turn out to be an asset for movements, such as Revive Rogers, to help advocate for redevelopment of the area.
“Winning to me would be some sort of facility that is environmentally sustainable—is aesthetically aligned with the park—so it’s not a total eyesore, like what they have right now, and that provides opportunity for people farther than an hour away to enjoy the skiing and snowboarding that’s available in Rogers Pass,” McMillan says about the future of the site. “It sounds simple, but that would be a huge win.”
“[These] themes are very important; we’re putting in as much time and energy as we possibly can, and it will take time,” Irving responds when talking about the driving ideas Parks Canada has been hearing. “The who and what is all part of the future planning that we have to figure out.”