With just hours left in my first stay in Canmore, Alberta, I ventured out before dawn on a chilly December morning – my phone in hand.
I had spent three whirlwind days covering all the excitement of the World Cup, and now, on my first day off, I wanted to see the town so many had raved about. “It’s the most beautiful place on earth,” someone once told me. “I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”
As my gaze spanned over the low-lying buildings and up toward the mountains, I suddenly found myself taking photos of a boardwalk along a river – a wide and shallow waterway I had seen while driving through town to the Canmore Nordic Centre. I later learned it was called Cougar Creek, and just last week, I heard of its devastating overflow.
Some 48-hours of heavy rain last week led to a state of emergency in the 12,200-population town and other riverside communities in and around Calgary. At least 100,000 people in southern Alberta were evacuated, 75,000 of which were in Calgary, and 120 Canmore homes affected. Washouts tore away parts of the Trans-Canada Highway and closed all roads in and out of Canmore.
As the water finally started to recede on Monday, almost six days after it rose to destructive levels the night of June 19, residents could finally exhale. Sump pumps were still running, some people were still unable to return home, but the recovery process had begun.
Tuesday morning, the Canadian World Cup team left for a three-week training cam in Bend, Ore. Travel had been restricted to emergency vehicles throughout the weekend, but as of Monday, national-team member Perianne Jones thought residents of Canmore could pass through.
“No one on our team was really badly affected,” Jones wrote in an email. “There were a few skiers and biathletes who live in the part of town on the other side of the creek so they had to be evacuated, but their houses didn’t get wet. I don’t know 100% but I think everyone remained relatively unscathed.”
Reports indicated that Canmore escaped loss of life, but others weren’t so lucky. Four people died as a result of the flooding, which Jones heard was caused by the region receiving nearly 50 percent of its annual rainfall in three days. As many as 1,300 military members rushed to the afflicted areas to help with search and rescue, provide aid, and help people return to their homes.
“Canmore is a pretty great community, and people have been helping out like crazy, and for sure in the coming weeks there will be more and more that people will be able to do,” Jones wrote. “The first few days everyone wanted to help, but there wasn’t really much to do, but now getting things back to normal will take some serious manpower. There’s nothing like a flood to help you get to know your neighbours a little better!”
Jones and her husband Joel Jaques live in a condo complex, where she said everyone “was zipping from one unit to the next making sure everyone was OK.”
“We all look after each other, which is great, especially as I’m about to leave for 3 weeks with 8 inches of water still in the crawl space!” Jones continued.
Canadian Olympic biathlete Megan Imrie woke up Thursday morning to an evacuation notice at her condo, about a block from Cougar Creek. Her home remained dry, but she was forced to leave because of road concerns.
“We were cut off from all main roadways so I think the town wanted to make sure everyone still had access to emergency services, as well as food, water and places with power and gas,” Imrie wrote in an email. “No biggy!”
Imrie’s upbeat attitude echoed that of skiers across town. They were safe and drying out with the rest of their neighbors. For workouts, they had to get a bit creative – moving to higher ground at the nordic centre rather than rollerskiing around town – but most didn’t let it slow them down.
“We just ran, cause that’s all you could really do, and make the best of the situation,” independent skier and Team Ninja founder Amanda Ammar wrote in an email on Monday. “I mean, my house is still here, I have power and water, my life hasn’t been ripped from underneath me. So every run I did this week felt amazing in the sense that ‘we have absolutely nothing to complain about.’ ”
Living just 500 meters from the river, Ammar explained she was lucky to end up with about an inch of standing water in her basement.
“We’ve offered our place for people to stay if they need a dry spot,” Ammar wrote. “Canmore is an amazing, generous, hardworking, loving community. People are stepping up to help, and even the coffee shops were letting people hang out all day, give them free coffee, stuff like that. Fundraising has already begun, and food donations are being taken at the legion and union hall. Canmore will get through this with flying colours.”
Alex Kochon (email@example.com) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.