B.C. ski hill finally begins $1B resort
'A beautiful day for Revelstoke': $22 million contract kicks off plan for four-season resort featuring North America's longest vertical ski run, luxury homes and golf course
Published: Wednesday, January 17, 2007
A tiny one-lift ski hill in Revelstoke is set to get a $1-billion makeover, transforming it into a four-season resort complete with luxury real estate and a golf course.
Once completed, Revelstoke Mountain Resort will be one of the largest ski hills in Canada, with the longest skiable vertical run in North America.
The development follows more than two decades of frustration and failed deals, and is expected to have wide-ranging effects on a town with a history of boom and bust.
"It's a beautiful day for Revelstoke," said Mayor Mark McKee. "We have been waiting for years for the dream of this resort to take shape, and now it's finally happening.
"It creates a lot more opportunity for the people here, and it gives more reasons for people to relocate here. It is just huge for Revelstoke."
News of plans to develop Mount Mackenzie, the peak that looms behind the town, is nothing new to the people of Revelstoke, who have seen myriad plans, developers and investors come and go.
However, on Tuesday they finally saw something tangible -- the signing of a $22-million gondola and high-speed chairlift contract with Canadian firm Leitner Poma, and the resort's acquisition of renowned heli-ski company Selkirk Tangiers.
The development company, chaired by Denver property developer Don Simpson, has bought CAT Powder Skiing, which it intends to operate on Mount Mackenzie.
Crews have already begun clearing runs on the mountain, with the first eight-person gondola and quad chairlift set to begin carrying people up the hill next winter.
The resort will also feature a multi-phase residential village at its base, including more than 2,000 hotel suites, 1,500 condo units, 850 townhomes and 550 single-family lots. An 18-hole golf course and a heli-centre operating from the village are also planned.
When completed, it will have 115 runs and 21 lifts, with more than 200,000 hectares of skiable terrain. Its vertical drop of 1,829 metres will be the longest in North America -- beating out Whistler-Blackcomb -- and the fourth largest in the world.
Capital investment is expected to surpass $1 billion.
"I think it is something that the people of Revelstoke have been looking forward to for a long time," said Simpson, during a midday announcement in downtown Revelstoke attended by about 1,000 residents.
"I think it will be a world-class resort . . . maybe, eventually, the best one in North America."
The resort does have its challenges, however. It will compete with world-renowned ski hills such as Lake Louise and Sunshine Village, and it will have to attract skiers to a town that is more than a five-hour drive from Calgary, the nearest major city.
Visitors to the resort will have to contend with the at-times treacherous Trans-Canada Highway, through both the Rogers Pass and the Kicking Horse Canyon to the east, a stretch of highway that has seen numerous fatal accidents in recent years.
That problem could be eased, however, if the B.C. government goes ahead with plans to build a $350-million tunnel through the canyon, a project that could be finished as early as 2014.
Resort proponents point out the ski hill is just two hours from Kamloops Airport, which now welcomes international flights, and a 45-minute drive from Sicamous and the tourism destination of Shuswap Lake. And it does get snow, averaging 12 to 18 metres a year.
Developers are banking on interest from both the United States and Europe to make the resort viable.
Revenue from real estate sales will determine how the hill will be developed. Phase 1 of the resort's real estate, which will include 60 condos, is expected to be released in the spring.
McKee is confident that if they build it, they will come. "If you can't fix it, you feature it," he said.
"We live in a fantastic part of the province, and getting here is going to be half the fun."
Tuesday's announcement comes more than two years after the B.C. government signed off on the resort's master plan. Approval followed extensive review by the public, local and provincial governments and mediation to solve tenure and land ownership issues.
Simpson is well aware of the hill's past troubles that have seen little development on Mount Mackenzie in the last two decades.
"I'd just say I understand their skepticism," he said. "But just watch out."
Kevin Krueger, B.C. parliamentary secretary for rural development, said Revelstoke Mountain Resort could do for Revelstoke what Sun Peaks has done for his riding of Kamloops-North Thompson. The resort will spend about $40 million on mountain upgrades in the next three years.
"It creates a tremendous economic boon, tons and tons of jobs, and lots of opportunity for people in both the construction and operation of the resort," he said.
But Krueger said the new resort will not take away from Alberta ski hills.
"I think B.C. and Alberta are mutually complementary. We are building each other up."
Residents are excited, but wary.
"I've been here for 30 years, and they've been talking about it for at least 25," said local businesswoman Dinah Collette.
"There's always somebody going to do something, and then there is nothing. But there is something concrete this time, something that is actually happening."
Collette said the town desperately needs a developed ski hill to boost business, which depends largely on snowmobilers and heli-skiers during the long winter.
"Hopefully it will increase sales. We are all just hanging on with our fingernails, because we have so much slow time," she said. "Sledders come here, they drink, they sled and they sleep. They don't do much shopping."
Locals also fear the resort will push up demand for real estate, driving up prices and increasing their cost of living. Average house prices in Revelstoke already hover around the $300,000 mark.
The local council is already developing an affordable housing strategy, as well as other options, including increasing density to deal with increased demand.
"It's one of the most important issues in our community in the coming years," said McKee.
REVELSTOKE MOUNTAIN RESORT
THE SKI HILL: Work has started on eight-person gondola and quad chairlift. Plans call for 115 runs and 21 lifts.
THE MOUNTAIN: Mount Mackenzie has fourth-highest vertical drop of any resort in the world, at 1,945 metres. Mountain receives as much as 18 metres of snow annually.
THE RESORT: Village will include more than 2,000 hotel suites, 1,500 condo units, 850 townhomes and 550 single family lots.
© The Calgary Herald 2007