“Do you want to jump?”
I wouldn’t usually accept this invitation when standing on an alpine lookout high above a rushing river. But I jump anyway … and again, and again. Turns out my guide and I both have to keep hopping to achieve the desired effect: Making the Glacier Skywalk in Jasper National Park tremble like a suspension bridge.
This isn’t the first thrill I encounter on the award-winning catwalk, a cantilevered structure that juts 30 metres out from the cliff face. It takes me a minute or two to venture out onto the glass floor, which, like the ones at the CN Tower in Toronto and Grand Canyon Skywalk in Arizona, delivers the disconcerting impression of stepping into thin air. It’s also one of the few lookouts in the world where visitors will immediately stare at the floor, rather than out a window or over a railing at the beauty beyond.
Here along the Icefields Parkway, the 230-kilometre ribbon of asphalt linking Banff and Jasper, that beauty is world-renowned. Each year, about a million travellers come by car, bus and bike to admire its glacier-clad peaks, turquoise lakes and rushing waterfalls. Thousands of these visitors venture deep into the surrounding wilderness, but they are the exception. According to Parks Canada, less than a third leave a paved surface.
Fostering deeper connections with the outdoors is one of the main goals of the Skywalk, explains David McKenna, president of Banff-based Brewster Travel Canada, which owns the new attraction. “We’re luring people into nature in a very controlled, safe environment that also educates and cultivates respect for the park,” he says, adding that the Skywalk allows visitors to explore independently and “take a step into the wilderness that feels a little bit daring.”
Still, the seven-year project has drawn plenty of opposition, even after Parks Canada approved Brewster’s environmental assessment in 2012. Given the project’s scale, visibility and $21-million price tag – McKenna calls it “the first significant attraction to be built in a mountain national park in 50 years” – this controversy is unlikely to disappear any time soon, what with a tiny percentage of Jasper zoned for outdoor recreation projects like the Skywalk, which opened in 2014.
Read the rest of the story in the Globe and Mail.
WHERE TO STAY
A relentlessly spectacular 2.5-hour drive south of the Skywalk, the luxurious Delta Hotels Banff Royal Canadian Lodge features a mineral pool and full-service spa.