Close to two million visitors a year flock to Jasper National Park, one of Canada’s largest national parks and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to enjoy the breathtaking mountain vistas. Brewster Travel Canada, a leading travel and tourism provider, had a vision to give those visitors a more adrenaline-filled and interactive experience. The result is the Glacier Skywalk, a cliff-edge experience that extends along the Sunwapta Valley, where visitors can learn about glaciology, geology, and the unique ecosystem of the Columbia Icefields while enjoying unparalleled views.
Visitors to the curved, cable-supported,
glass-floored walkway of the Glacier Skywalk in
Jasper National Park are treated to unobstructed
views of the Sunwapta Valley.
Executing the complex design had to be performed
under strict environmental and wildlife regulations
that ensured minimal impact on the surrounding
The low-impact ecotourism structure integrates seamlessly with the natural landscape that surrounds this magnificent area. The new kiosk building and six interactive displays are set up along a 400-meter split pathway along the mountainside. Visitors can take in the scenery while standing on a cantilevered, steel-and-glass floored observation platform that extends 35 meters from the cliff wall and 280 meters above the Sunwapta Valley.
Working with Mother Nature
Building anything in a national park is a rarity. Working in the park and directly on a mountain face posed significant environmental and logistical challenges. The area is home to mountain goats and bighorn sheep, as well as to a number of native alpine plant species, so it was critical that construction had a minimal impact on the surrounding ecology.
Adjustments were made to standard practices to accommodate the strict environmental and wildlife requirements for building in this protected area. Construction on the Glacier Skywalk had to ensure negligible impact to goats and sheep during their rutting and kidding seasons. A wildlife monitoring program tracked the animals during the course of the build, and workers were trained in the use of non-harmful deterrents to move an animal out of an area. Noise restrictions were placed on certain activities, areas were cordoned off to protect native plants, and daily environmental site reviews monitored erosion. Skilled operators performed selective blasting procedures when excavating footing pockets where the structure attaches to the cliff face, and a netting system installed on the vertical face captured debris.
Transforming a Rock into a Hard Place
Even a mountain can be unstable. While blasting and excavating one of the footing pockets, the team encountered a large crack in the rock at the bottom of the north footing. This compromised the integrity of the underlying rock that was set to be the future foundation of the Glacier Skywalk. This complication had the potential to prevent the project from proceeding.
The challenge was to find a design solution to manage the fracture in the rock, and an installation method that was feasible on a precarious cliffside. After reviewing several scenarios, the team chose to use steel casings driven into the rock, as this would allow the rock anchors to safely transfer loads through the weaker areas. The next challenge was to determine how to accomplish this on a cliff edge, at the bottom of a 10-meter footing pocket, while keeping the adjacent highway open to traffic. The team collaborated with a company that specializes in bridge abutment foundation and casing to develop a system that would work. They modified a crane-mount drilling rig with a special apparatus to access the difficult location within the constraints of the site. This allowed the steel casings to be driven into place safely, and the project to continue on course, resulting in the timely delivery of the award-winning Glacier Skywalk.
“The Glacier Skywalk began as an ambitious vision and a challenging project that would not have come to fruition without the expertise of PCL Construction and our other development partners, Sturgess Architecture and RJC Engineering,” said David McKenna, President of Brewster Travel Canada. “Because of their ongoing commitment to this project, we were able to provide an outstanding experience to the hundreds of thousands of visitors who came out to explore Jasper National Park and the Canadian Rockies this summer.”