New report cuts skier visits in half at proposed GAS resort in Squamish 

Provincial study refutes proponents' projections

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Garibaldi at Squamish (GAS) has its numbers all wrong when it comes to how many people it would entice to play in the mountains by Howe Sound at its proposed four-season resort.

According to a new study commissioned by the province, GAS has overstated its skier visitation numbers by half in its application to the Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) for an environmental certificate.

The independent report by MNP pokes holes in other visitation numbers, dismissing the projected number of Nordic skiers and ice skaters, as well as summer visitor numbers. It also debunks the theory that adding another ski resort to the region — the so-called "clustering effect" seen in Utah and Colorado — will boost business for all, saying that "the proponent fails to present strong and convincing evidence for the validity and applicability of the cluster effect."

Local MLA Jordan Sturdy, who has been following the multi-billion-project closely given the concerns raised in his riding, including concerns raised by Whistler, said the new numbers aren't a huge surprise.

"It sounds like it is consistent with feedback from other stakeholders in the area," he said.

In its application GAS said it looks to welcome 730,000 incremental skier/snowboarder visits at build-out in 2029-30; the MNP report pegs that number at closer to 300,000 to 450,000.

Among other things the report cites the "flat" skier market of the last 10 years as well as difficulties in attracting visible minorities into winter sports.

"In our assessment, it is not clear what unique features will allow Garibaldi to become a "compelling resort product" in order to compete with other western Canadian and U.S. destination offerings for domestic and international works," states the report.

The same is true of GAS's projected 60,000 Nordic visitors, pared down to 30,000 to 45,000 as a "more reasonable" for Garibaldi.

And the 60,000 ice skaters, now revised to 20,000.

MNP calls the annual summer visits "overly optimistic" at up to one million, trimming it down to 300,000 to 400,000 as "a more reasonable projection in the Garibaldi scenario."

When asked if this aspect of the project throws into question other parts of the GAS application, Sturdy said: "That's a good question. I think you really do have to look at any submission with a critical eye. I don't generally let one aspect colour the whole thing. I would look at it in the various components — the environmental, social and the economic impacts."

One aspect not covered in the MNP report, but of pressing concern, is the impact on traffic of adding 22,000 bed units (Whistler is capped at 54,000) to the corridor, potentially housing 8,000 people just north of Squamish in single family homes and townhouses as well as condo/hotels.

The GAS application states that the effect of increased traffic congestion and increased vehicle collisions are considered to be "not significant."

But traffic on the Sea to Sky Highway is becoming a bigger problem almost every weekend.

Add in the fact that the region is set to grow in the coming years, with or without GAS, and traffic becomes an even bigger issue.

"We can't help but think that transportation issues are already becoming more concerning and something that we will have to be planning for now, not later," said Sturdy.

Whistler has commissioned its own traffic study in light of the GAS application.

"I think the other thing we need to keep in mind is that nobody wants to see an unsuccessful development," said Sturdy. "It's in absolutely nobody's interest."

The EAO is expected to make a decision on a certificate this fall.

Attempts to reach GAS project manager David Negrin before Pique's deadline were unsuccessful.



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