Mountain Town News: Can British Columbia support a new ski area? (column) | SummitDaily.com

Mountain Town News: Can British Columbia support a new ski area? (column)

Allen Best
Mountain Town News

VALEMOUNT, B.C. – With Whistler as the shining example of a thriving mountain resort, British Columbia has signaled a great enthusiasm for new mountain resorts.

But is there enough business for them all? More specifically, even as Vail buys Whistler, can the province support a Vale?

That's one question in the wake of last week's news that the province has approved a master plan for a new resort in the Cariboo Mountains, just west of Valemount. This is an 80-minute drive west and across the Continental Divide from Jasper.

Plans for the next 20 years look impressive: 2,000 lodging units and a ski area that, at full development, will have a vertical drop of 2,050 meters, or 6,726 feet. That would be the most in North America and third largest in the world, according to the developers.

Tommaso Oberti, the designer of Valemount Glacier Destination, stresses the access to glaciers at over 3,000 metres (9,850 feet), which would make it unique in North America. He also brags about the virtues of the climate, calling it a "major snow dump zone."

"It has an incredibly favourable climate in that it's not exposed to the arctic outflows that Jasper and Lake Louise are exposed to and it's also not exposed to the Chinooks that Fernie and southern British Columbia resorts are exposed to, and it's not exposed to Pacific storms," Oberti told the Jasper Fitzhugh.

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Colorado-based Rick Kahl, editor of Ski Area Management, a trade publication, sees the remoteness of Valemount as a challenge. It's five hours from Edmonton, six hours to Calgary and eight hours to Vancouver. You really have to want to get there," he observes. On the other hand, the resort's effort to provide year-round offerings strengthens its plan, he says.

Construction of the resort is expected to begin next spring, with an opening late next year. The company projects 130,000 skiers in the inaugural 2017-2018 year. Investors in the $175 million project are Hunter Milborne and Greg Marchant, both of Toronto.

Elsewhere in British Columbia, the Jumbo Glacier Resorts remains moribund. The $1 billion project got a permit from the provincial government in the last decade but did not undertake much physical construction in its allotted 10 years.

"Likely there were other factors in the decision to proceed slowly, not least the declared opposition of one of the two First Nations whose territory overlapped," the Vancouver Sun observed in a June 2015 story. The issue of a provincial permit is in the courts, the Sun reported in December.

But just how strong is the market for new ski areas? That's among the questions posed by the proposed Garibaldi project between Whistler and Vancouver. An old idea reinvented, Garibaldi is opposed by Whistler, which argues that the ski area has marginal snow conditions. But one of the more damning statements has come from Paul Mathews, a ski area designer who is headquartered at Whistler.

In a February 2016 story in the Vancouver Sun, Mathews observed that the skier market in British Columbia – as in the United States – is essentially flat. He pointed to the expansion of a little town ski hill at Revelstoke into a major resort.

While Revelstoke has finally achieved 170,000 skiers per year, visitation to the area's other 10 ski hills—including Sun Peaks, Big White, and Kicking Horse – has declined by the same proportion.

"In B.C. new resorts are parasitic," he said. "We seem to have hit our ceiling."

Whether new Chinese skiers will raise the ceiling in British Columbia after the 2022 Winter Olympics is anybody's guess.

Using crowd funding to finance a ski area

ROSSLAND, B.C. – Maine's Sunday River tried a new approach to raising money. It asked customers to invest in the resort. Now Red Mountain in British Columbia is doing the same thing.

In appealing to its customers, the ski area hopes to raise $5 million to $10 million. The CBC says that chief executive Howard Katkov compared the campaign to fans owning the Green Bay Packers of the National Football League. They will, however, not gain an ownership stake.

"If nothing else, it's a pretty good PR campaign," observed Rick Kahl, editor of Ski Area Management, a trade publication.

Red Mountain is one of the older ski areas in North America. A rope tow was installed in the 1930s followed by the first lift in 1947, and a major expansion was done just a few years ago.

M.A.X. ski pass now has 32 member resorts

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – Is there any ski area not participating in a friends-with-benefits ski pass?

The powerful Epic Pass launched by Vail Resorts has everyone's attention in the ski industry. Among the rival passes is M.A.X. Pass, which was launched last year and now has 32 participating ski areas. The most recent to join was Crested Butte. Other member resorts range from Maine to California and from Quebec to British Columbia.

Crested Butte latest to put kibosh on plastic bags

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – Crested Butte is joining the long list of mountain towns that are crimping the distribution of free single-use plastic bags at grocery and other stores. The Crested Butte News reports the ban will not take full effect until September 2018.

Even after the ban, stores will be permitted to distribute paper bags that have at least 40-percent recycled content.

The News reports conflicting testimony. One resident wondered why the fuss when there were no plastic bags flying from fences. Another resident, after spending a year in France, "where there are no bags at all," said Crested Butte didn't need the freebie bags, either.

In Colorado, Telluride first said adios to plastic bags followed by Aspen, Breckenridge, Vail and several others.

Banff hotels to get aid of Calgary hotel staff

BANFF, Alberta – With the bloom off in the oil-powered economy in Calgary, hoteliers in Banff are experimenting with a new program. On weekends, hotel staff is being imported from Calgary, an hour away, to clean rooms.

"Banff and Lake Louse hospitality businesses are experiencing unprecedented labour demands as we see a continued increase of visitors to the destination," said Darren Reeder, executive director of the Banff & Lake Louise Hospitality Association.

Sluggishness noted in high-end real estate

JACKSON, Wyo. – As in Aspen, the robust high-end real estate market has lost some of its excitement.

Inventory of real estate in Jackson Hole in the first half of 2016 was at the lowest since the market peak in 2007 and the third lowest in 25 years, according to statistics compiled by David Viehman of Re-Max Obsidian Real Estate.

With the decline in listing, there has also been a decline in sales volume.

New study IDs causes of Four Corners methane

FARMINGTON, N.M. – Satellite images taken from space between 2003 and 2009 found a 2,500-square-mile "hotspot" of methane in the Four Corners area where Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah meet.

The cause of the methane hotspot wasn't clear, although there was good reason to be concerned. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas. It dissipates after 12.5 years but is far, far more powerful than carbon dioxide in its brief life in trapping heat in the atmosphere.

A study conducted by NASA's Propulsion Laboratory finds that natural gas drilling operations are largely responsible. Just 250 sites are responsible for more than 50 percent of total methane emissions, and all of them are related to energy extraction.

The aerial survey found natural gas storage tanks, compression stations and processing facilities were the largest contributors of methane into the atmosphere, along with venting from the San Juan Coal Mine. The area south of Durango and around Farmington is one the nation's largest producers of coal-bed methane.

The Durango Herald reports that representatives of the oil and gas industry disagree with the study's conclusions. They argue that natural gas production has been unfairly blamed. They say natural gas seeps, landfills and agriculture should awlso be high on the list of emitters.

Colorado two years ago adopted regulations designed to tighten up emissions of methane from natural gas drilling. The regulations became a model for national regulations adopted by the EPA.

This year, carbon dioxide emissions from natural gas associated with the energy sector will exceed those from coal for the first time since 1972, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Hot springs amoeba will do nasty things

JACKSON, Wyo. – Go sit in the Kelly Warm Springs and you could get into some real life-threatening trouble. Or not.

The hot springs is located in Grand Teton National Park. A single-celled parasite detected in the springs can enter human nasal cavities before consuming brain matter. It typically causes death, but chances of infection are minimal.

"What we don't really know is if it there all the time at the same level, or does it get masked sometimes and literally not show up," said Sue Consolo-Murphy, the chief of science and resource manager at Grand Teton.

During the past half-century, an average of 2.5 cases have occurred per year, mostly in the Southeast.