It’s not easy building bridges. It’s been hard enough to get to this point – building bridges between different government agencies, engineers, inspectors and contractors.
Why should the actual bridge be any easier?
At the bridge site, the whinny and wail of drills competes with the rush of Canoe River – the beast that will soon have this 100-foot metal harness over top of it.
The bridge will connect the powder-top road leading to the Canadian Mountain Holidays lodge to another trail for snowmobiles only leading to the Crystal Ridge sled-assisted ski area – the first of its kind, says Curtis Pawliuk, GM of the Valemount Area Recreation Development Association.
But first is the assembly – bolt by bolt – each joint tightened, ready soon for a move across. How? They don’t know that yet.
The parts for the bridge were not as complete as they were supposed to have been. But bridge worker Mac Cochrane says “it just takes a little more time.”
“The weather’s great!” Cochrane yells from atop a ladder at the height of the beached bridge. “Even if everything else is going wrong.”
“Hey!” Curtis Pawliuk admonishes him from below. “Things are going great!”
They and Rick Plamondon are the only ones working on the bridge today, a warm fall Friday, but many have helped get the bridge to where it lies right now.
Lakes District Maintenance pitched in their equipment, like their crane truck, without which the bridge work could not have proceeded, Pawliuk says. He adds people like Cochrane who are working essentially on a volunteer basis, are the heroes of the project. Cochrane is a certified bridgeman, with pile driver and bridge inspection tickets. He has worked with LDM for 15 years, doing mostly maintenance on bridges all over the Valley, mostly for logging.
“And I’m just a snowmobiler,” Pawliuk says.
Pawliuk has been the bridge builder up to this point, ensuring there’s a firm foothold between various agencies and people over the past several years. He was up in the wee hours two weeks ago for the delivery of the bridge which had to be off the highway by 5am because it was so wide.
Once the 100 foot long structure is moved across the river, snowmobilers can park at the Westridge parking lot about 5km south of Valemount and guide their sleds down the curvy road a dozen kilometres to the bridge and then across it. Their skis or snowboards strapped to the back of their machine, ready for amazing views of the Premier Range. At the very top, skiers and snowboarders can look over Valemount and at all three mountain ranges that crescendo to this valley.
The site is not readily accessible to the public until the bridge goes in, because the other access point crosses private land. The Valemount trails will allow backcountry enthusiasts to access a powder ski area within an hour of parking their truck.
The snowmobile uses a separate uptrack to shuttle skiiers to the top; one member of the group then meets the skiers at the bottom and brings them back up.
Sled-skiing is growing in popularity, Pawliuk says. With so many snowmobilers already coming to the Valley, it makes sense to improve the range of activities they can do. Many skiers have purchased snowmobilers for the express purpose of finding more remote ski areas.
The four completed ski runs on Mt. Diefenbaker are intermediate to advanced in difficulty.
Once the bridge is in place, and the snow flies, VARDA will host a grand opening.
The lion’s share of the funding for the project has come from CBT, but VARDA has also received money from Yellowhead Helicopters and the Vegreville Snow Chasers snowmobile club.