The Glacier Skywalk observation platform allows visitors to take in views from 918 feet over Jasper National Park. // © 2014 Theresa Storm
For the faint-of-heart, stepping out onto the new Glacier Skywalk’s translucent glass floor, jutting from a sheer, rocky cliff 918 feet high above the Sunwapta Valley of Alberta’s Jasper National Park, will be a feat of derring-do.
For the adventurous, the semi-circular observation platform, which opened May 1 on the Icefields Parkway near the Columbia Icefield (between Lake Louise and Jasper), is a playground with a panoramic mountain goat’s view of the Rockies’ peaks and glaciers.
Brewster Travel Canada, who privately funded the $19 million, fully accessible attraction, invited the public to the grand opening May 10-11. The opening featured family events at the nearby Columbia Icefield Glacier Discovery Center, which is where shuttles depart for the five-minute drive to the Skywalk (there is no parking at the Skywalk). The center is also the departure point for Brewster’s popular Glacier Adventure, an 80-minute journey onto the Athabasca Glacier aboard massive Ice Explorers.
The Skywalk, designed in collaboration with Parks Canada, gets visitors outside and gives them a unique way to connect with the wilderness of Jasper National Park. Brewster estimates it will attract 230,000 to 250,000 guests this season.
“We have the opportunity to grab onto and engage visitors in the environment,” said Rusty Noble, general manager of Columbia Icefields.
Design of the weathered steel, glass, rock and wood Skywalk is a marvel, winning an award from the World Architecture Festival as well as five other awards, so far. It’s so strong, Noble said, that two 747s could hang from the platform without incident.
A cliff-edge walkway to the observation platform has six interpretive stations about the glaciology, biology and ecology of the Columbia Icefield region, accompanied by a 39-minute educational audio tour in five languages, included in the fee. Visitors may also see big game perched on the cliff above the walkway, particularly mountain goats and bighorn sheep (a bighorn ram peered down on us during our visit).
The Skywalk has not been without controversy, focused mainly on whether it will disturb the habitat and patterns of sheep and goats. Environmental impact studies the past three years, throughout construction, have shown no disturbance and monitoring will continue for another three years.
The Glacier Skywalk is open daily, May to October. Admission for adults (over 16 years old) runs approximately $23, kids age 6-15 pay around $11.50 and kids under 6 are free. A Glacier Explorer combo (that includes the Skywalk and Glacier Adventure) saves 15 percent ($60 for adults and $30 for kids). The fee is commissionable.