'They take millions of people out without incident:' Local tour guide surprised by crash
EDMONTON -- Jasper resident Norm Bergen has grown up exploring the Rocky Mountains. He’s also a tour guide and knows the area where the snow coach crashed very well.
“It’s got a tremendous history of not only enjoyment but also of educational and preparational processes,” Bergen said.
During the Second World War the icefields were a test site for a military over-snow vehicle and used by allied forces for combat training. It’s also a popular area for rock and ice climbers.
“There are many incidences that occur but it’s a place of extreme beauty but also when you go out on those adventures you need to have a guide with you or you need to have a really good knowledge of what you’re doing and what ice and rock will react to,” said Bergen.
Although some climbers have died on the icefields, Bergen said he can’t recall something like Saturday’s crash ever happening before.
“Pursuit uses such tremendous safety standards so I was shocked and surprised that there was an incident up there at all because they take millions of people out on the glacial ice without incident,” he said.
Banff Jasper Collection by Pursuit, which operates the tour, highlighted its track record over nearly four decades of operation.
“We’ve had 16 million passengers safely taken out onto the ice over all these years, it’s a favorite of literally millions who have come here. Over 39 years, sure there’s a few bumps but nothing serious with fatalities or critical injuries,” said David McKenna, President of the Banff Jasper Collection by Pursuit.
Bergen himself has taken many bus loads of tourists to take the icefields tour.
“It’s probably one of the most beautiful things to be able to see,” he said.
“The snow coach has glass domes all around the sides and the top so your vision of that area is so important and it is just incredible.”
The vehicle is not designed to travel faster than 40 kilometres per hour.
“They’re a six wheel drive snow coach. They have the big tires on it that are similar to farm tractor tires and it’s a very, very slow method of travel up to the ice,” said Bergen.
Bergen said the vehicle drives on a gravel road, hitting some steep sections as it heads along the side of the mountain to the ice.
“The difficult part is where the gravel is there that they’re driving on and that’s a very slow and very, very scenic view and like I said earlier it’s just extremely unusual to have an incident of this nature,” he said.
That rocky terrain also made rescue efforts difficult.
“Members of the public who were in the area at the time stepped up and I can not thank them enough for the work that was done on their part,” said Sergeant Rick Bidaisee of the Jasper RCMP detachment.
Pursuit staff also responded to the crash site to help.
“All of these people that came to this rescue are all heroes,” said Bergen.
The area will remain closed until officials can determine exactly what happened.
”An important issue for us to all understand what occurred, how it occurred and what we can do to prevent this kind of thing from ever happening again,” Bergen said.