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Council to consider other sites for sledding besides Snape’s Hill

Snape’s Hill as seen from Willow Avenue in the heat of summer. | J.Stockfish photo

Jason Stockfish |

While Jasper is in the dog days of summer, council decided to consider alternative sites for sledding besides Snape’s Hill due to safety concerns.

For years, Snape’s Hill was a local go-to for tobogganing and other winter activities for Jasper kids and families.

However, in 2016, following a risk assessment report by an outside agency, it was determined that it was not safe to continue these winter activities at the popular spot. 

Most recently, the idea of allowing tobogganing to return to the hill was revived by Coun. Wendy Hall at a meeting on Jan. 11, when she suggested a winter park area could be created to facilitate a safe return of winter recreational activities.

At that time, council directed administration to devise a report looking into the matter and return with recommendations, which it did at the recent committee of the whole meeting on Aug. 9.

In its report, administration cited “a number of existing constraints and potential risks that would need to be mitigated” if Jasperites were to once again use Snape’s Hill for winter activities.

“While this modest hill may appear innocuous, the close proximity to Willow Avenue and the lack of an appropriate run-out area where riders can decelerate and come to a natural stop would require traffic control measures to be undertaken to restrict vehicles.” 

As a result of this determination, administration’s first recommendation was that the committee receive the report for information and look into finding other possible sites in the south end of town for residents to go sledding.

Administration also put forth two alternative recommendations for council’s consideration.

The first alternative was for the committee to recommend council to approve “a maximum of two temporary closures of the intersection of Willow Avenue at Geikie Street, four days at a time, to allow tobogganing on Snape’s Hill during the winter of 2022-2023.”

Coun. Ralph Melnyk asked if administration was envisioning these temporary closures occurring at times when families would most likely want to create events, such as Christmas and Family Day.

John Greathead, director of Operations and Utilities, answered in the affirmative.

“That’s exactly what that recommendation was for,” Greathead said.

“We do know that there is a sentiment that the tobogganing in that area was a nice thing to have and…it feels like a loss of service that we don’t have that availability, so really we were trying to consider a workaround and trying to make it possible.”

Coun. Hall voiced her support for this alternative, saying that testing the idea for the winter of 2022/23 would be a good way to gauge its merits, while exploring options concurrent with administration’s recommendation to look for alternate locations in the south of town.

“It’s a high-density area but it’s high density for families,” Hall said.

“It may be amazing.”

The second alternative put forth by administration involves “seasonally closing the intersection of Willow Avenue at Geikie Street from November 1 to March 1, to allow for tobogganing on Snape’s Hill during the winter of 2022-2023.”

Administration recognized a few significant constraints and potential risks with closing the intersection for the season.

One constraint would be the need to divert traffic around barriers placed in the high-density area, Greathead noted.

Another issue would be the current lack of parking in the area would only worsen if some of the existing stalls were eliminated with the closure.

Most importantly, access for emergency vehicles and personnel, should they need to respond to any situations in the area, would be significantly impeded by the barriers closing off the intersection.

CAO Bill Given noted that administration included the temporary closure option because if council decides to close the area in the winter, in administration’s view, temporary closures would be preferable to a seasonal closure.

In the end, the recommendation to investigate other potential sites passed, with Coun. Scott Wilson the lone voice of opposition.

Wilson explained that he was concerned with the time council was spending on creating a policy specifically in regard to tobogganing.

“It’s a simple sport, and honestly, I think the municipality and council has more pressing issues,” Wilson said.

“Maybe if it’s an outdoor recreation policy and tobogganing is incorporated in that, sure. But if we start making policy on tobogganing, how about cross-country skiing in the fields?”

After the motion was approved, Ireland put forth a separate motion to direct administration to prepare and present a draft policy and administrative procedures regarding tobogganing on municipal lands.

“Tobogganing is a wonderful activity, but there are risks,” Ireland said.

The mayor explained the municipality has an obligation to not only protect users but to safeguard taxpayers against lawsuits, adding that without a policy, the municipality is unnecessarily exposed to potential legal issues.

“We can’t protect against all of the physical risks, but we should do what we can to protect the municipality from legal risk,” he said.

“A policy need not be prescriptive in how to use a toboggan but simply gets us to the point where we can have approved signage that would express caution to users.” 

After a friendly amendment offered by Wilson, the wording was changed from tobogganing to the much broader “recreational use of outdoor municipal facilities,” and the motion passed unopposed.

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