Switching from Winter to Summer

Now that the lifts have stopped turning for the winter ski season, a flurry of activity begins in preparation of our opening for the summer season on May 15th. In summer, as in years past, Lake Louise operates the Glacier chair as a sightseeing lift, and keeps the restaurants and daycare open year ’round as well.

Busiest of all staff during the brief shut-down time are the lift mechanics and millwrights, who have their hands full converting Glacier chair to summer operating mode. There are a few modifications that are made each spring in order to make the lift suitable for summer use. First of all, every third chair is removed from the line and replaced with a gondola cabin, and this is for a few reasons. First of all, having both open chairs and enclosed gondola cabins makes the lift a true all-weather lift – people can use the chairs on nice days, or use the gondola cabins when the weather is not so nice. Also, most of the people who ride the lift in summer have never been on a lift of that sort before, and may be frightened of riding in an open chair. The cabins provide a more comforting ride for those folks.

The other big change to the lift comes in the form of clutches that are added to the bottom and top stations. What these clutches do is allow the carriers (chairs and gondolas) to come to a complete stop as they enter the station, and then again just before they leave. This gives riders ten seconds or so to get on/off the chairs (or in/out of the cabins), which is especially important for those who are unfamiliar with the lifts and need that extra time.

Since the lift is used as a sightseeing lift, the running speed is slowed from a seven-minute trip into one lasting a liesurely fifteen minutes, giving guests a good chance to take in the views and spot any wildlife that may be visible. Once at the top, it’s a short walk or shuttle ride to Whitehorn Lodge, which acts as our Wildlife Interpretive Centre during the summer. There are daily presentations in the theatre, and guided walks and hikes of various duration. Provided that trails aren’t closed due to bears or avalanche conditions, guests can also hike anywhere on the upper mountain on their own. In order to hike on the upper mountain, guests must use the lift for access, since the whole area between the base area and the top of the summer lift are closed to all foot traffic. Even if staff need to enter this area (e.g. for lift maintenance or garbage pick-up) we must do so sparingly, and we also need to contact our environmental services monitor and follow strict protocols.

This is all due to the fact that the lower front side of the mountain is prime bear habitat, and our summer operating agreement dictates that we interfere with bears’ movement through and presence in this area as little as possible. What makes this habitat so appealing to bears? It’s the combination of ski runs and forest that provide the forest edge habitat that bears like so much. On the open runs, many plants that are important food sources for bears can be found, where they wouldn’t do so well growing in the shade of the forest. The forest itself provides cover or refuge if bears feel threatened.

Oddly enough, the bears don’t really seem to notice the lift moving over their heads, usually going about their grazing with barely a glance upward. For guests lucky enough to time it right, the lift offers a great vantage point and opportunity to get close to bears without endangering themselves or the animals. Last summer, with more than one set of mom-with-cubs, there were times when one could count six or seven bears sighted in one lap of the lift.

Bears are also the reason the entire base area and parking lots are surrounded by a three km-long electric fence, with a Texas gate on the road by the entrance to parking lot #1 to allow vehicle access. This fence exists to keep bears away from where the main concentration of people are and to keep to a minimum any potential for bear-human encounters, which can be bad for both. Those skiing at Lake Louise over the last three weeks or so of the season may have noticed that all traffic was routed onto Easy St. as they got close to the base area. This was so that we could begin clearing snow for the electric fence where it crosses ski runs. The fence surrounds all parking lots, then goes up the side of Sunnyside and across the top of Sunny T-Bar, where it continues across Easy St., past the World Cup Race Centre building and over to the Operations building.

Also a part of our operating agreement, this fence must be checked at the start of each day, with all observations recorded in a log. If there are any problems with the fence, they must be corrected before we can open for the public. A few summers ago, when we had a different Texas gate at the entrance, twice staff arrived at the resort in the morning to find that a bear had managed to get across during the night and was stuck inside the perimeter. Parks Canada was called right away, and after a few temporary exits were made in the fence, the bear was gently coaxed back outside and we could continue with our day.

With the spring melt well underway, we’re looking forward to the day when we can venture back onto the mountain and get started on our summer projects. Until then, we’re in clean-up mode, and will work around the base area for the next while waiting for the snow to disappear. As mentioned in my winter wrap-up, I’ll continue to post over the summer and straight through into next winter, so stay tuned!

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