Kicking Horse Mountain Resort opened for business a scant nine months after British Columbia's then-premier Ujjal Dosanjh gave it the green light. Such rapid development is unheard of in the United States, where the governmental approval process is costly and cumbersome, and where well-organized, well-funded environmental groups battle proposed ski area expansions as small as 8 acres.
While it's true that there are many profound differences between the way Canadians operate and the way Americans do, the key difference here is that ski area development in the U.S. is opposed on the basis of its perceived environmental impact-and in Canada is supported for its potential economic benefits (as long as it is outside of a national park). In Western Canada, in particular, where entire economies continue to be based on declining extractive industries such as forestry, fishing and mining, resort development is seen as a viable path to what Dosanjh called "economic diversification." It doesn't hurt that Canada is a country with few people (just over 30 million, which is less than live in California), lots of land (only Russia is larger) and 7 percent unemployment nationwide. "This is about finding jobs for young people in the new economy," explained Dosanjh. The people of Golden agreed: In a 1997 referendum, 94 percent of the 50 percent of eligible voters who voted, supported the expansion of Whitetooth into a big-time four-season resort.
But the rapidity of the Kicking Horse development is unusual even for the land of the maple leaf, where Canadian-style political shenanigans, the land-rights claims of various "First Nations" native tribes and a simple lack of funding have held up other resort developments for decades. The KHMR project benefited not only from a political climate that wanted to return favors to its investors, but from a lack of significant opposition from either environmentalists or First Nations tribes. Also key: The fact that Kicking Horse is on private land and not within a national park, where environmental action is at its most fervent. In Banff National Park, less than two hours east of Kicking Horse, daily skier capacities and bed caps are being reduced in an effort to decrease impacts on the park.