Skiing with Putin |

Skiing with Putin

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Summit County, CO Colorado
Summit Daily/Mark FoxRoger McCarthy will leave Vail Resorts on Friday on his way next challenge halfway around the world.

“Content” is not a word that necessarily defines Roger McCarthy.

In following his own particular professional modus operandi, McCarthy is leaving his position as chief operating officer of Breckenridge Mountain Resort and co-president of Vail Resorts’ mountain division to take on the challenge of his career ” he’ll head up the ambitious development of a new resort in a remote, resource-rich corner of southwest Russia.

“To a large degree, it’s getting in on the ground floor. It’s kind of like building the best damn ski area that you can imagine ” right out of the box,” McCarthy said in a recent interview, sitting comfortably in his corner office that looks out over Breck’s Peak 8 base area. The affable former head-honcho at both Breckenridge and Keystone resorts works his final day in a seven-year career at Vail Resorts on Friday.

The 57-year-old McCarthy’s move to the other side of the world doesn’t really surprise, however. From New Zealand originally, his global career has been defined by a number of lofty undertakings. After holding a series of jobs at Canada’s Whistler Mountain in the 70s, 80s and early 90s ” overseeing that resort’s rise to prominence ” McCarthy switched gears then, too. In 1991, he threw in with a group that resuscitated the then-bankrupt Mont Tremblant ski area in Quebec. By 1995, Mont Tremblant was the no. 1 resort in eastern North America, a position that it still maintains today.

“I enjoy the challenge, and the mental stimulation,” he said.

‘They haven’t even cut a tree yet’

At first blush, McCarthy’s abrupt departure to the southernmost corner of Russia (near the formerly thriving city of Sochy) seems, well, sort of crazy.

But there ” under most of the ski world’s radar, it seems ” a real revolution is taking place. Against the backdrop of lush Black Sea beaches and steep, snow-covered peaks just miles from the coastline, a unique public-private project to turn the area into a premier bundle of wintertime resorts is already in full swing.

In Sochy and the nearby mountain village of Krasnaya Polyana, the Russian government and a cadre of uber-wealthy powerful Russian industrialists (oligarchs, really) have forged a unique development partnership that will pump more than $12.5 billion bucks into the region.

According to Forbes magazine, “With seven gondolas planned for the area, Krasnaya Polana represents the largest concentration of ski industry investment in the world.”

McCarthy is hitching up with one of the major players, oligarch and nickel mining magnate Viktor Potanin, whose private investment company Interros is developing the brand new resort, Rosa Khutor. After a number of months feeling each other out, both McCarthy and officials from Interros eventually won each others’ confidence.

“These guys are just a class act,” McCarthy said of his new Russian bosses, who include a former director of the World Bank. “They just see the world a different way from the way we do.”

That goes for Russian President Putin, too ” who very publicly has been eroding new freedoms in the country, jailing prominent industrialists and silencing democratic voices of dissent along the way. Despite the unusual public-private partnership that has developed, and Putin’s dicey unpredictability, McCarthy expresses confidence in the Russian president as well.

“(Putin) is driving this thing,” McCarthy noted. “He’s also a heli-skiing freak. I hope I get to go skiing with him someday. I probably will.”

But first things first. Starting around the third week in May, McCarthy will be waist-deep in plans to raise the new Rosa Khutor resort from almost nothing, on an aggressive timeline.

“They’re going to build three gondolas, one high-speed six, a fixed-grip quad, two platter lifts, and three or four carpets ” all that stuff needs to be operational before December of next year,” McCarthy said, ticking off a mental list. “They really haven’t even cut a tree, yet.”

There’s really little time to waste, though. Things are moving incredibly fast in the region because Russia has its sights set on an Olympic torch someday burning over the city of Sochy ” one of three finalists for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.

“(The Olympics) adds kind of an interesting dimension,” McCarthy said. “Because it puts you on the world stage in terms of getting it right. It also ups the motivation for everybody else.”

“I think these guys have a very good chance (of getting the Games),” he said, with a wry smile.

Undoubtedly, McCarthy is taking a risk of sorts. He leaves behind major successes at both Breckenridge and Keystone, ski areas that today record more skier visits in one year than in the whole of Russia.

“I sort of see myself as much less of a pioneer and more of somebody who wants to do something great, and create a very special place,” McCarthy said. “It’s just perfect timing for me, in a lot of respects.”

Other ski resorts execs heading across the world

– Keystone Resort’s Chuck Tolton is leaving for Urumqi, China, to start up another ski area, Ping Tian. He will be joined by Billy Mattison, the assistant ski patrol director at Vail Mountain.

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