Thumbs down to the Skywalk
Tourists stop for a few moments to enjoy the view and take photos.
About six kilometres north of the Columbia Icefields, on the Icefield Parkway, another huge vista was unfolding before us as we rounded a corner. I was like a child. “Another one coming!” I shouted with anticipation.
I love the sweeping vistas of the Rockies on Highway 93. No transport trucks whizzing by to rattle the serenity of the mountains and valleys. My boyfriend and I travelled at a leisurely pace, gasping with awe as we rounded a corner to view yet another spectacular.
We would stop every few minutes to gulp the air and look at the view, often with other road trippers. We generally stopped at viewpoints with pullouts for cars that frequently had signs indicating the mountains in view. We took photos of other tourists. They in turn, took photos of us. I snapped one of a young lanky Japanese tourist who introduced his friend “Simpson” to us – a stuffed Bart Simpson toy. He posed with Simpson next to his heart, sparkling grin across his bespectacled face.
Rounding the next corner heading toward the Columbia Icefields, I was practically opening the car door to see this next spectacular view. But arrows pointed us away from where the viewpoint used to be. I was flummoxed. And then I saw it – the newly opened Skywalk.
Profit had commandeered our viewpoint. No chance of pulling over for a look-see and a photo. No stopping allowed.
I pouted. Then I got mad. “Why do I have to drive six kilometres down to the Brewster Icefields Hotel?” I complained to my long-suffering beau.
There I would have to pay $25 (opening deal) and take the “free” bus the six kilometers back to the Skywalk. I understand there an interpretive centre offers headphones to hear about the architectural and engineering marvel, inspiring true pride – and getting at least one skeptical listener to buy into the project. Then you ‘experience’ the glass-bottom balcony over a 700-foot drop. Gut churning for those who crawl on their hands and knees, faces shining with terror; a thrill for adventure seekers; and routine for steelworkers. When you’re done with all of that, you wait for the bus to take you back six kilometres to your car.
I’m sure the Skywalk is a marvel to behold. But you used to be able to drive up, stop, breathe the air, revel in the view, then get back into your car and drive away, all in about 10 minutes. And for free. They’ve taken that away from us and replaced it with an expensive carnival attraction for gentrified thrill seekers.
I spoke to one independent tour guide who visited the Skywalk in the spring during the first week it was open to the public. She complained to her tour operator about the cumbersome process and length of time it took for a busload of seniors to visit the site. And this in a very quiet time indeed. What’s it going to be like this summer during peak tourist season?
Ka-ching. Ka-ching for the site operator. A traffic-jam chaos for the public, one less fun thing to do without shelling out a whack of dough and spending an inordinate amount of time – so someone else can make money. It’s certainly not about us. In terms of the monumental engineering and architectural grace etc., etc., why not build the thing near the Banff townsite where development abounds. Leave what is still relatively natural the way it is. We deserve that.
What was once a perfectly lovely and free viewpoint, has become a colossus in Jasper National Park that takes away from our appreciation of the parks. Profiteers reap, harvesting Canadians’ birthright and infringing on their rights and privileges – making us just a little bit poorer.