About the Columbia Icefield
Though apparently tranquil, the Columbia Icefield is a powerful, dynamic force, shaping the regional landscape and climate. Its glaciers endlessly advance and retreat in an ancient elemental dance, in a place where time is measured in millennia.
The Columbia Icefield is located in Jasper National Park. The Icefield – the largest sub-polar body of ice in North America – is one of the reasons why the United Nations declared Canada's four Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Sites. The Icefield covers 215 square kilometres with solid ice up to 365 metres (1200 feet) deep. Meltwater from the Icefield flows to three oceans: the Pacific, Arctic and Atlantic via Hudson Bay.
Area: 215 square kilometres (130 square miles), making it the largest body of ice in the Rocky Mountains
Highest Point: Mt. Columbia, 3745 m (12,284 ft)
Average Elevation: 3000 m (10,000 ft)
Greatest Depth (estimated): 365 m (1200 ft)
Average Snowfall: 7 m (23 ft) per year
Drainage: Pacific, Arctic and Atlantic Oceans
Type: Outlet valley glacier
Area: 6 square kilometres (2.5 square miles)
Length: 6 kilometres (3.75 miles)
Depth: 90 - 300 m (270 - 1000 ft)
Icefall: 125 m/year (400 ft)
Ice Explorer turn around: 25 m/year (80 ft)
Toe: 15 m/year (50 ft)
Icefall: 2700m (8900 ft)
Ice Explorer turn around: 2210 m (7000 ft)
Toe: 1965 m (6300 ft)
The Ice Explorers
Designed and manufactured by Canadian Foremost Ltd., the Terra Bus provides all-terrain mobility to transport up to 56 passengers, Equipped with large, low pressure Terra tires, the bus can be used to transport personnel in on-road/off-road applications. Extra large side and top windows provide greater all-around visibility.
Height: 12 ft 8 in (3.86 m)
Length: 42 ft 8 in (13.0 m)
Width: 11 ft 10 in (3.61 m)
Tare: 43,000 lbs (19,500 kg)
G.V.W.: 55,000 lbs (25,000 kg)
Engine: DDA 6V92TA (DDEC), 253 HP (189 kW) @ 2100 RPM
Transmission: Clark 34000 Series Powershift
Suspension: Leaf spring - front // Walking beam - rear
Axles: Rockwell Drive Steer Planetary front; Rockwell Planetary rear
Tires: Goodyear Terra Tires 66 x 43.00 x 25
Brakes: Air over hydraulic front drums; air rear drums
Best Environmental Stewardship Practice
Brewster's Glacier Experience was recognized for its dedication to implementing the best practice in water, energy, recycling and flora/fauna protection at the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre in Jasper National Park.
Brewster's Glacier Experience received the National Level Award in 2001 as Canada’s best natural outdoor site larger than 100 hectares.
Department of Canadian Heritage presented the PERC Award to Brewster's Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre for their efforts in reducing power consumption in Jasper National Park. This Centre, jointly built in 1996 with Parks Canada, was designed to be environmentally sensitive in setting and construction, water and power consumption, and sewage and solid waste management.
To learn more about Brewster's Environmental Stewardship and awards, please click here.
Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre
During the planning stages of the new Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre, a number of different building locations were considered. These sites were appealing due to relatively flat topography that would offer easy access to the public. However, the areas had received only minor human disturbance and provided a very important natural record of the dynamics of glacier movement. The site chosen for the new Icefield Centre was the only one that met all of our requirements: substantial previous human disturbance; interpretive features that were already well represented at the Columbia Icefield; and enough room for the large parking areas required. Every attempt was made to minimize the elevation changes between parking lots and building entrances. We had to make some tough access decisions.
Most visitors traveling by private vehicle are able to manage climbing the stairs that lead to the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre from the car parking lot. For those that find it a challenge, there is a higher, paved 'handicap' parking lot, with a paved ramp of less than 5% grade. This ramp access has been extended to the west to create a paved interpretive trail through an area that marks the furthest advance of the Athabasca Glacier, providing a short, hard-surfaced trail for those unable to tackle some of Jasper Park's more challenging paths. Alternately, Brewster Tours operates a courtesy vehicle (on request) to and from the car park to assist hotel guests and day visitors.
Many trails and backcountry areas within the National Parks are inaccessible to some individuals; even some front country facilities are extremely difficult to access. Here at the Columbia Icefield, we've attempted to mitigate the constraints of the mountainous terrain for our more challenged visitors. While far from perfect, we hope our efforts have resulted in a wider spectrum of visitors being able to experience this very special place.
Many measures were implemented as a result of thoughtful, constructive suggestions received from the public. To assist us in making future visitors as comfortable as possible, we welcome any suggestions you might have!
Brewster Glacier Adventure Accessibility
One quarter of Brewster's Ice Explorer fleet that tours the Athabasca Glacier are extra-long, with special wheelchair lifts and can comfortably carry up to 4 wheelchairs at a time in addition to the regular 56 passenger seats. Regular passenger shuttles that take guests to the Ice Explorer are not wheelchair-equipped, so private specialty vehicles carry wheelchair passengers to the Ice Explorer. Brewster also hosts an annual training course to key staff members, for advice and instruction on accommodating physically and mentally challenged visitors.
Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre Accessibility
Both main entrances to the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre are equipped with automatic doors with interior and exterior sensors. The Centre has an elevator that services all four floors; the Glacier Exhibit Gallery, main floor, food floor and hotel floor. The grand view deck on the second floor has picnic tables designed for ease of seating and are also wheelchair-accessible. There are plenty of barrier-free stalls in both the women's and men's washrooms. On the ground floor and on the food floor there are 'family room' washrooms for people who need the assistance of a caregiver. All corridors and public areas are kept clear and unobstructed, and have no steps or elevation changes. All public doors are equipped with lever-type handles. Two of the hotel rooms are specially equipped to accommodate wheelchairs. All hotel rooms have two-part fire alarms that include a strobe-light alarm for the hearing impaired plus the usual siren alarm. All public areas in the Icefield Centre are non-smoking for the comfort of all visitors, and the health of those with respiratory concerns. There are no air-conditioning systems to introduce moulds or bacteria; our windows open for fresh, mountain air.
"The view that lay before us in the evening light was one which does not often fall to the lot of modern mountaineers. A new world was spread at our feet; to the westward stretched a vast Icefield probably never seen by human eye and surrounded by entirely unknown, unnamed and unclimbed peaks".
Norman Collie wrote this paragraph upon his co-discovery of the Columbia Icefield, on August 18th, 1898. While exploring the mountains along the Great Divide in the wilds of the Canadian Rockies, Collie and Hermann Woolley climbed to the summit of Mt. Athabasca and were the first recorded people to look out over the great plateau of ice now known as the Columbia Icefield.
Over the next 40 years, a few mountaineers and early tourists trickled along their route, and in the 1920s Jim Brewster operated his "Great Glacier Trail" horseback outfitting excursion through the Columbia Icefield area while traveling between the railway outposts of Jasper and Lake Louise. His hardy clients could stop in the Castleguard Meadows to explore the edges of the great Icefield. Excursions onto the dangerous Icefield and its glaciers were guided events, on foot, snowshoes or even on horses equipped with spiked horseshoes to better grip the ice.
In 1936, work began on a road along Collie and Woolley's, and Jim Brewster's routes, linking Jasper and Lake Louise. The Brewsters recognized the importance of the Columbia Icefield and built the Icefield Chalet, opening to the traveling public at the same time as the 230 km road was completed in 1939. Unfortunately, World War II was soon raging in Europe and the new road and Chalet saw few visitors. One group to take advantage of the gravel route was the U.S. Army's 87th Mountain Division who set up camp near the Saskatchewan Glacier, and tested over-snow vehicles on the Columbia Icefield.
Following the war, tourists and adventurers began arriving in increasing numbers, many of them anxious to explore the surface of the Columbia Icefield. In 1948, Allan Watt introduced the first motorized glacier tour using a 1929 Ford truck modified to run on tank-like tracks and skis. In the 1950s and 1960s a fleet of 10 passenger Bombardier snowmobiles replaced the half-track. In the fall of 1968, Brewster Tours bought the concession and began experimenting with different tracked equipment, including Greyhound bus bodies mounted on tracks. This experimentation led to the design and construction of a vehicle specifically to provide safe and comfortable excursions on the Athabasca Glacier at the Columbia Icefield, and in July 1981, the first 'SnoCoach' went into service. Now called the 'Ice Explorer', Brewster's fleet includes 22 of these 56 passenger 6-wheel drive machines, including 9 that are wheelchair accessible.
In 1998, we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the discovery of the Columbia Icefield by Collie and Woolley. Since 1898, over 10 million visitors from around the world have stood on the mass of ice and felt Collie's wonder and exhilaration.